As the tide retreated, we could see a few people collecting cockles at the water’s edge. Okoromai Bay in Shakespear Regional Park is one of the few spots remaining in the Auckland region where one can gather these cockle clams.
While picking cockles is ordinarily a summertime activity, fresh New Zealand cockles are delicious all year long. There is no official cockle picking season. It was only 12°C on the day we went, so we bundled up, wore protective rubber boots, and collected cockles.
Common questions about collecting cockles
What are New Zealand cockles?
New Zealand cockles are small, edible, saltwater clams. They can also be described as a burrowing marine bivalve mollusc with a strong ribbed shell, according to Oxford Languages (Oxford Languages).
How do I find cockles?
The best spot to find cockles is at the water’s edge at low tide, just below the surface.
How do I gather cockles?
Stick your hands in the soft sand slowly, as there may also be jagged, sharp oyster shells. See below for rules and limits on collection.
Where is Okoromai Bay?
Okoromai Bay is one of three major bays at Shakespear Regional Park. Located at the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, it is about 50 km from Auckland city centre in New Zealand. It is one of only a handful of areas in Auckland that still allow the collection of cockles.
Collecting cockles on Okoromai Bay
Rules and Guidelines for Picking Cockles on Okoromai Bay
As with most fishing in New Zealand, there are strict limits as to the numbers collected. At Okoromai Bay, the limit is 50 cockles per gatherer per day. For our group of three, that translated to a maximum of 100 cockles, as I was not gathering but only taking photos.
- The limits are strictly enforced, and the penalties for violations are huge. According to an article in the New Zealand Herald, “Anyone who is caught with three times their daily limit, we seize all fishing equipment including vehicles, boats, dive gear, etcetera.” The Ministry of Primary Industries is out patrolling often enough that most violators get caught.
- Count before you return to the beach. Once you are out of the water, it is too late to put them back.
- The advice from the fisheries officer I talked with was to use your phone and take photos of the group while gathering; this way, there is no question as to the number of gatherers.
- The limits protect the shellfish stocks.
- If you are in New Zealand and spot poaching, suspicious, or illegal activity, you can report it at 0800 4 POACHER.
- Collecting cockles in Okoromai Bay or just coming to see the sunken ship are among the many free things to do in the Auckland region.
- Wondering how to cook cockles? Boiled cockles are the best, although they are also great cooked on the BBQ. If want to do something a bit more elaborate, Explore Food and Wine has seven interesting recipes.
- Regardless of how you prepare them, remember to rinse them well before you cook them.
- Cockles will open when they are ready to eat. Never eat cockles that don’t open on their own.
- Or, if you prefer more creative options, check out one of the recipes in this top-rated seafood cookbook by Naomi Tomki.
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Does collecting cockles look like fun to you? Would you try it in the winter?
More from Auckland you might also like … starting with these 75 free and nearly free things to do in the city
how great you collect delicious shells on the beach, beautiful photos are of them and interesting!
It was really interesting to read about cockles, how you collect & cook them and the rules for the picking. 🙂
Thank you for the great post. I really enjoyed it.
So THAT’S what cockles are! I know the old song, but never really knew what cockles were.
Handmade Jewelry Haven Blog
Had to check this out from the ‘Things To Do In Auckland Post”.
So we currently live in south Florida and I am thinking of retireing clear across the country to Oregon. I love the coast there, and the thought of roaming the beach, digging up clams to cook for dinner really interests me. Funny thing is, I have never dug for a clam in my life. No clue how to start. So imagine my surprise when you have a full instructional post on it!!
Thank you so much for sharing this!! This makes the day dream even more vivid in my mind!
Digging up clams, or pipis as they’re called here, is so common that it’s sometimes just used as a way to hang out with friends on the weekend. You have to get a bit dirty for it as you need to reach under the top layer of mud or sand to get them.
Sounds chilly, but fun. I bet your exchange student had a blast. I have never been to a beach where you could find any sort of food, I would like to visit a beach like that sometime.
Lisa @ LTTL
She is experiencing all sorts of new things, and yes having fun most of the time.
did you end up eating them? I don’t know if I’d trust the shellfish these days, wouldn’t want to get sick…
Yes, and we enjoyed them. We didn’t eat from the bay for about 3 years after they poisoned the nearby park (despite they said after 6 months there was no trace), but now we feel confident it is fine, fresh and delicious. If you do gather and eat, remember don’t eat it if it doesn’t open on its own when cooked.
What a great activity! Like you I would have opted to stay on the shore, but it sure does look fun.
It is fun, and on a summer day I would be there with them.
Cockles and mussels alive alive-o!
I was born in Ireland and my Mom always talked about catching cockles around Dublin Bay.
That sounds like it should have a tune to go with it, but I don’t know one.
Something we have never done but would love too 🙂
Looks like fun, lovely pictures.
Yes, recommended if you get the opportunity.
I’m surprised at the stiff penalties for going over the limit, will mention it to my cuz who’s a big fisherman to see what the fines are like around here for bass, perch, walleye etc. Good to mention they have to open on their own I bet some people don’t know that. I laughed when I saw what 12c translated into, so I’m guessing you wouldn’t join in the Polar Plunge haha, me neither, (I read it can get to .5c depending on when you have it, ours is in the middle of February, so brrrr.)
No polar plunge for me. I am a wimp. However, there was quite a cold wind running through, so it did feel colder than 12.
Just like my childhood in Lampung, Indonesia. I remember those good old days, Rhonda :).
I would imagine there would be some similarities growing up on any coastilne.
What a very nice time. I have watched others do it. I can’t has I am allergic to shellfish.
Could you wear gloves to collect them, and just not eat any?
Great photos here!
What beautiful photos!! Looks like a fun, cold adventure.
It was both, fun and cold.
That looks like fun! I haven’t collected them. That’s just because I live in Nebraska. If I lived where Cockles are – I’d for sure be out there collecting them. 🙂
LOL – I would not image you see the coastline very often in Nebraska.
Funny that they limit the number of cockles….There seem to be so many!
If you saw it here on summer you would understand. There are hundreds of people out collecting cockles. If everyone over fished there would be nothing left.
Merlinda Little (Glimmer of Hope)
One of my fave seafood! The barefoot father & son is just hardcore! I cna only imagine how cold it is and yet they look so comfy without wellies =)
People who grew up here don’t seem to feel the cold the way immigrants do.
What a unique and interactive experience that looks like! A great write up!
I think it’s fantastic that there’s a restriction on the numbers you can pick. If only that applied to the harvesting of other sealife which are known to be endangered (eg blue fin tuna) or at least in danger of becoming so.
Here is applies to just about everything taken from the sea. There are different rules for each type of seafood and both size and number limits on fish. The ministry is very protective of our waters and measures everything when they stop people.
I definitely would get into doing something like this, I love shellfish….but the 50 limit would be gobbled up in just a few minutes.
They didn’t make it out to the waters edge where the cockles would have been bigger. Plus it’s 50 per gatherer, so they could have brought in 100. It’s generally enough for a meal – with lots of sides.
You do look like your dressed for different seasons.
We were. I was dressed for the current one. 🙂
I first heard of cockle shells in a nursery rhyme that I used to skip to when I was younger. I’d imagine they’re much more fun to collect in warmer weather.
Funny, I never thought about the nursery rhyme until I read your comment, but I know it too. . . . with silver bells and cockle shells.
I have never had the opportunity to collect clams, on some empty shells. Great photos!!
Have a lovely day!
L. Diane Wolfe
Yes, I went with my uncle and cousins once to the Oregon coast and we dug for cockles. Actually, my youngest cousin and I search for cockles while my uncle and other cousin dug for clams. Amazing how fast those suckers can burrow.
I was just a lunch with the Oregon tourism board, and we were talking about the similarities between New Zealand and Oregon. I guess this is one more to add to the list.
I never knew what a cockle was – thanks for the “lesson”
This sounds really interesting.I’ve seen clams in restaurants,but no such experience.
This gives us double fun – collecting and eating.
Nice photos Rhonda I haven’t actually picked cockles but I love eating them here they are popular with Londoners with vinegar and white pepper over them delicious 🙂
Have a cockletastic day 🙂
Vinegar and white pepper . . . next time we will try.
Hi Rhonda – I haven’t had clams for years … we used to go beach foraging when I was a kid … probably for whelks and cockles … but these are stunning photos and I bet the Italian student will be enamoured by this experience … gorgeous … love the view of Auckland … It’s good to see the warning sign … cheers Hilary
While she enjoyed, she was freezing.
Intriguing post. Only a week ago I was interested in viewing an oyster and mussel boat moored at Mornington. Two ways to collect thse fish delicacies it seems. Lovely photos.
Do the dredge the bottom off of the boat? We have strict limits here, so I would imagine dredging would pull up too many.
We have cockles in England and I’ve eaten them many years ago… Nice shots.
I find them really tasty, do you?
Would definitely not try it in the winter. I hate being cold!
LOL – me too.
I don’t think I’d ever had cockles or muscles, but I’ve had fried clams and love them! Despite the fact Egypt has two coasts (the Mediterranean and the Red Sea) there aren’t many shellfish here. They do have shrimp and prawns, but they don’t taste as nice as the ones I got living on the East coast of the US. There are a ton of fish here, but I don’t like fish. My hubby is a big fish fan, so he’s a happy camper! Thanks for the great pics and the explanation of “cockles.”
Have they been over-fished, or were there just not too many in the first place?
Beautiful images. The view of the city in the background is amazing. I remember how cold it can get in Auckland in winter but I’m sure your guest still found it an adventure to be on the beach in your part of the world.
The weather and timing was just right to get that view.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Wow, now that’s what I call low tide.
This is the bay we live on, it is like this twice each day.
No, but I’d go to a nice restaurant and have clams. Yummy.
Have a fabulous day. ☺
LOL – that would be the easier way to enjoy them.