If there is one thing that I love as much as Australian blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra), it is New Zealand paua (Haliotis iris). And I’ll go pretty close to the ends of the earth to get it. Southland to be precise; the remote south coast of remote New Zealand’s remote South Island, or even the more remote Stewart Island that hangs off the bottom of that. If you do happen to get there and find someone else holidaying in Southland, as often as not they will be a Southlander themselves. It is that kind of wonderful place with wonderful people where there are plenty of reasons either not to leave or to make an effort to get back if you do. As long as you are of the opinion that paradise can be often cold and wet, then this is it.
If you really time it right and get lucky, you might even get some paua without getting too wet, but this means getting to the right spot in the short window of the bottom of the lowest tide of the month as far as I can work out. If you strike out, there is at least always a pretty good chance of some lovely greenlip mussels (Perna canaliculus) for consolation. Off Southland, you will be doing well to get clear enough water for good snorkelling visibility, so it seems to me that you still want the bottom of the tide for that and to find a sheltered spot in shallow water on any typically murky day and just fumble about as best as you can. A sure haul of big ones would probably want you in some more challenging water and ideal conditions, but in the end you just have to make do with what you get.
Get yourself across the Foveaux Strait from the south coast to Stewart Island (Rakiura) on the other hand, hire a kayak for a few nights out in some of the huts around Paterson Inlet, take a decent wetsuit and your mask and snorkel and things certainly get easier. They don’t get warmer mind you, and it still rains on more days than it doesn’t, so you just gear up and embrace it as ‘part of the charm’.
I have to say that I hate those recommendations of ‘things that you should do before you die’, like paraglide naked in the moonlight with whale sharks in Lappland. But still, if eating fresh paua (or any seafood you took part in landing) at the bottom of New Zealand turns out to be one of them, you are sure to be glad of it.
Cook them as you would other abalone, sliced and tenderised in my view, sautéed hot and fast in butter (see here). Generous serves in a sandwich of that cheap soft white bread you mightn’t let your kids eat, particularly when camping, can be perfect (and a filling with an (irrelevant) market value of $10 on 10c bread is somehow strangely and ironically decadent).