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The Great West Coast Whitebait Festival

Updated on June 10, 2015

Spring Whitebait Festival in October!

Following the success of the iconic Wildfoods Festival held each year in Autumn the organisers decided to hold a festival celebrating New Zealand's delicacy...the New Zealand Whitebait. A Spring festival!

The first Great West Coast Whitebait Festival was held in Christchurch on 20 October 2012. The start of an annual event maybe? Since then there has been an annual event, so let's hope so! I'll update and let you know if it will become an annual festival. Judging from the response it looks very likely!

The organisers were "bringing the choicest bits of the Coast to Christchurch for one day. And serving them up with a bucketload of entertainment".

The event was originally going to be held over the Rugby World Cup in Christchurch but the earthquakes put paid to that.

I haven't been able to find the dates for this year...I'll be keeping you up to date though!

Photo credit:adapted from Kevin Hall on Picasa Web Album

New Zealand Whitebait

The term whitebait refers to small freshwater fish that are delicious and edible. Whitebait is known worldwide as the young of any number of species of fish.

In New Zealand whitebait describes the young of five different native species of fish that are about four to five centimetres long.

Each spring the whitebait swim upstream from the sea in large shoals, known as runs. As the runs swim near the river's edge whitebaiters set up their nets along the river bank in anticipation of harvesting a catch of the delicacy.

New Zealand whitebait
New Zealand whitebait

Photo credit: Kevin Hall on Picasa Web Album

The Program That Was...

The day started at 10 am and ended at 5.30 pm. About 4000 whitebait lovers packed into Cramner Square to celebrate the first Whitebait Festival. Apparently about 500 kilograms of West Coast whitebait was brought to Christchurch for the event....but that ran out at about 1.30! Better get more for next year I say!

At current market prices 500 kgs is worth NZ$40,000.

"It's about celebrating West Coast whitebait. It's a little bit like Bluff oysters. There are whole legions of fans that can't wait for the season so they can start eating it." : See the report at The Press

ExcelSteel 242 5-Quart Stainless Steel Colander
ExcelSteel 242 5-Quart Stainless Steel Colander

This is just like the colander that I own and I've had it many years. In fact I've had it all 37 years of married life! It also looks much like the one used in the picture above. The holes are better for draining things like your whitebait catch, spaghetti etc than those long line openings. Everyone needs a colander in their kitchen!


Have you ever tried West Coast whitebait?

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Join the Debate

If you are a New Zealander or have lived in Kiwi land you may have an opinion. Let's hear it!

Is West Coast whitebait overrated?

Whitebait sandwich
Whitebait sandwich

How to Eat Whitebait

A popular way of cooking whitebait is making it into fritters and often eaten between slices of bread as a sandwich.

Or just serve your fritter or pattie straight on the plate with a wedge of lemon!

Whitebait may also be deep fried but fritters are a New Zealand way of serving this delight.

Fritters are like an omelet made with egg whites. This preserves the fish's delicate flavor. Some make omelets out of Whitebait.

photo credit: WhatsAllThisThen via photopin cc

Whitebait fritter
Whitebait fritter

Photo: Public Domain

Whitebait and Chips
Whitebait and Chips | Source


  • 1 1/2 pints whitebait
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 pint milk
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon wedges for garnish


  1. Separate the whites and yolks of the eggs. Beat the egg yolks and add milk and flour alternately, beating well. Add melted butter. Sir in baking powder and fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.
  2. Put the whitebait into a strainer and wash carefully. Turn them out onto a cloth, moving the whitebait along the tea cloth until they are free from water. Fold the whitebait into the batter. Season to taste.
  3. Drop spoonfuls of batter into hot fat and fry on both sides until they are golden brown. Drain on paper and serve immediately with lemon wedges.
Cast your vote for Whitebait Fritter

Cooking Utensils

You will need a frying pan for your fritters, omelet or whatever dish you make with your whitebait.

I love the color of this pan made in Germany. Why it should be assembled in China I have no idea!

It has a natural ceramic coating and because it is non-stick you can use less oil. There is a caution to clean the pan well and avoid a build up of oil. The manufacturers guarantee satisfaction.

It has 498 Five star ratings!

Do you like whitebait?

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Whitebait Sign
Whitebait Sign | Source

The Whitebaiting Season

The whitebaiting season for most of New Zealand opens mid August and runs until November 30. However on the West Coast the whitebait season is more limited for example in 2012 the season was from 1 September until 14 November. The taking of whitebait at other times is prohibited.

There are restrictions on the size of nets to be used and it is a good idea for fishermen to visit the Fisheries site to check out the standards expected....a fine of up to $5,000 may be imposed if an offence is committed!

The season for whitebaiting is during the New Zealand spring- which officially starts on September 23rd.

Photo adapted from Kevin Hall's picture on Picaso

Whitebait for sale
Whitebait for sale

You will see from the picture I have taken here that this little fish is not cheap!

Would you like to attend the next festival?

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Please let me know you dropped by and leave your comments

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    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      I'd love to try these sometime in New Zealand. I know I'd love them.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 5 years ago

      I think it's like shrimp. They look frightful close-up, but taste delicious once cooked and shelled. Whitebait looks weird to me because I don't have a taste to associate with it. The fritters look very tasty so I think I'm a good candidate for enjoying the fish.

    • floppypoppygift1 profile image

      floppypoppygift1 5 years ago

      Your opening image "lured" me in! Cheers~cb