Ocean-to-plate on the Far South Coast

Australian Traveller - - Contents -

WE HAD AL­WAYS PLANNED to make our road trip to the base of the New South Wales south coast our ‘seafood hol­i­day’. As city-dwellers, my part­ner and I rel­ished the op­por­tu­nity to cast our phones aside and drive to a place where the ocean is sap­phire blue and you can pick up a dozen de­li­cious oys­ters from a road­side stall for un­der $10. That is our idea of heaven, but we wanted more than just buy­ing our meals – we wanted to phys­i­cally catch our own. We’re both com­pe­tent at fish­ing and were keen to try some­thing more hands-on, but how would we know where to look? What to bring? Or what to do with it when we found it? Easy – ask a lo­cal. Scott Proc­tor grew up on the Sap­phire Coast and has spent a large por­tion of his life ei­ther in the ocean, or learning about it. Af­ter study­ing marine science at the Univer­sity of Wol­lon­gong, he re­turned to his home­town of Pam­bula, de­cid­ing to share his passion for the sus­tain­able seafood that is avail­able there through his tour com­pany, Aus­tralia’s Coastal Wilder­ness Ad­ven­tures (ACWA). Through ACWA, Scott of­fers small-group marine ex­pe­ri­ences in­clud­ing snorkelling, prawn­ing and ocean to plate. We chose the ocean-to-plate ex­pe­ri­ence, which in­cor­po­rates a tar­geted dive for abalone, lob­sters, mus­sels, cray­fish and sea urchins fol­lowed by a cook-up of the seafood har­vest for lunch. The mar­ket value alone to buy this pro­duce is hun­dreds of dol­lars, but it was the op­por­tu­nity to pick the brains of a lo­cal marine ex­pert that re­ally had us hooked. We met Scott at the Eden Vis­i­tor In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre, and from here he drove us to a re­mote ac­cess point to Twofold Bay. All nec­es­sary gear, equip­ment and a fish­ing li­cence is pro­vided and, af­ter kit­ting up, we clam­bered over rocks to the shore. A quick ver­bal run-through from Scott on snorkelling and breath­ing tech­niques, and we were in prac­tis­ing our dives. It doesn’t take long to get the

Elisha Kennedy dives into the CATCH-AND-COOK phi­los­o­phy, lit­er­ally, by tak­ing a HANDS-ON tour through the boun­ti­ful wa­ters of NSW’s FAR SOUTH COAST.

hang of it, and we im­proved with each resur­fac­ing. When we felt com­fort­able in depths of sev­eral me­tres, Scott led us fur­ther off­shore to be­gin ‘the hunt’. We snorkelled through a chang­ing ocean land­scape: rocky walls, sea­grass beds and shal­low reefs. The bay was teem­ing with marine life. On our two-hour dive we en­coun­tered wobbe­gong sharks, east­ern rock lob­sters, black and red spined urchins, starfish, abalone, blue mus­sels and a va­ri­ety of fish species. But only some of those are good eat­ing, and we were af­ter a meal. The prized abalone hide in crevices, ce­ment­ing them­selves be­tween the curves of rocks in the deep. The smaller ones are plen­ti­ful here in the bays of Eden, but the min­i­mum le­gal size to keep is 11.7 cen­time­tres, and find­ing the larger ones takes pa­tience. What we were re­ally af­ter were lob­sters, and find­ing them is no easy feat. They’re ex­tremely well cam­ou­flaged and sur­pris­ingly strong. Scott’s well-trained eye spots them, ly­ing low in the cray­weed – given away only by their thin and red­dish an­ten­nae. A quick and ag­ile grab se­cured them, and we kept them in net­ted bags at­tached to our weight belts. Deeper off­shore we found mus­sel beds, easy enough to twist off the rocks – if you can hold your breath long enough to do so. Be­tween the three of us we bag two cray­fish, four abalone and 40 mus­sels. Scott chats about the im­por­tance of bag lim­its, en­cour­ag­ing you to take “just enough for lunch”, and he al­ways varies dive lo­ca­tions. “It’s cru­cial not to har­vest too much from the same area,” he tells us. “It might be tempt­ing but it’s not sus­tain­able, for you or the ecol­ogy.” We carted our har­vest up the hill to Eden’s Ro­tary Park look­out, to cook what we would go on to con­fi­dently claim as the best meal of our lives. Af­ter two hours of in­tense swim­ming and div­ing in the salty ocean we had worked up a healthy ap­petite and, as we read­ied lunch to­gether, Scott demon­strated the best ways to pre­pare and cook our catch. We couldn’t be­lieve the im­mense sat­is­fac­tion and over­all sense of well­be­ing we gained from a sin­gle meal. You haven’t tasted fresh un­til you’ve eaten seafood that your own hands have plucked out of the ocean and thrown into the fry­pan in a mat­ter of min­utes. Our catch is paired with a lo­cal sour­dough from Wild Rye’s Bak­ing Co in Pam­bula and oys­ters fresh from the Mer­im­bula leases. “It’s so im­por­tant for me to sup­port the lo­cal pro­duc­ers,” Scott ex­plains. “In this way, we’re work­ing to­gether.” Ev­ery­thing we ate for lunch came from the lo­cal re­gion – even the to­ma­toes were grown in Scott’s fam­ily’s back­yard. At the end of our ocean-to-plate ex­pe­ri­ence, our bod­ies felt fit and full. In such a short amount of time we had gained a skillset that could feed us for many meals to come, and that is an in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

Deeper off­shore we found mus­sel beds, easy enough to twist off the rocks.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: Clam­ber over rocks to reach the shore; The bays of the Sap­phire Coast teem with life; ACWA pro­vides all snorkelling gear; Col­lect your own seafood del­i­ca­cies; A dish of freshly caught mus­sels pre­pared with other lo­cal pro­duce.

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