Eyre do well

Chris­tine McCabe sets off on a boun­ti­ful seafood trail along the state’s wildest penin­sula

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - South Australia Holidays -

Re­mains of the day: The tide re­cedes at tran­quil Cof­fin Bay, a re­mote hol­i­day re­treat on the south­ern tip of the Eyre Penin­sula fa­mous for the qual­ity and fresh­ness of its seafood

THE plucky Sea SA ferry rolls across Spencer Gulf rid­ing a dark swell bar­relling in from some­where near Antarc­tica and erupt­ing ev­ery now and then with a pod of sur­pris­ingly chip­per dol­phins. The two-hour voy­age on this windy, mid­win­ter day feels much longer but in fact shaves con­sid­er­able time from the road jour­ney be­tween South Aus­tralia’s Yorke and Eyre penin­su­las, a route usu­ally track­ing up and around the gulf via Port Au­gusta.

Dock­ing late af­ter­noon on the Eyre’s far shore, the ferry dis­gorges its cargo of sea-shaken four-wheeldrives and trucks on to the re­as­sur­ingly firm red-dirt road to Cow­ell, where there’s not much hap­pen­ing, even at the pub, but the bak­ery is open and prom­ises sausage rolls, cin­na­mon buns and oys­ters.

Oys­ters are not the first snack one thinks of when nurs­ing a slightly queasy tummy but this is the first sign we have ar­rived in an ac­knowl­edged seafood cap­i­tal. This re­mote and vast penin­sula, buf­feted by cold, clean wa­ters, pro­duces 60 per cent of the state’s seafood and has long en­chanted ama­teur an­glers. ( My sons have their rods stowed in the back of the car and first stop, they in­sist, is for bait.)

The Eyre Penin­sula boasts that rare thing in Aus­tralia, a long, spec­tac­u­lar coast­line al­most en­tirely de­void of sea chang­ers (thus far dis­cour­aged by the tyranny of dis­tance). It is marked in­stead by old­fash­ioned coun­try towns teth­ered to the sea by wooden jet­ties and re­mote fore­shores dot­ted with proper shacks, where a pub or small sail­ing club and boat ramp con­sti­tute down­town.

The good news for vis­i­tors is the re­cent ap­pear­ance of a hand­ful of in­ter­est­ing restau­rants and sev­eral ven­tures pro­vid­ing a first-hand glimpse of the aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try. It’s an epic seafood trail, wind­ing not for three or four blocks but for hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres, show­cas­ing prime oys­ters, abalone, mus­sels, lob­ster, tuna, whit­ing, king­fish and snap­per.

So, with a strong cof­fee in the tank and bait in the boot, we set out along the dead-straight road to Port Lin­coln, flanked on one side by snow-white dunes and blue sea, and on the other by just sprung, pea-green crops. Cruis­ing into town at dusk, we have no trou­ble lo­cat­ing the Port Lin­coln Ho­tel. Set on the wa­ter­front, it over­looks a deep-wa­ter har­bour 31/ times the size of

2 Syd­ney’s. At seven storeys, it is also ap­par­ently the tallest build­ing in town, ex­cept per­haps for the enor­mous wheat si­los loom­ing above the port.

The broad, dark bay, speck­led here and there with lightly sketched fish­ing boats, has a shadow his­tory, one

Sculpted by na­ture: Mur­phy’s Haystacks, an un­miss­able land­mark be­tween Port Lin­coln and Streaky Bay pro­vided by French ex­plorer Ni­co­las Baudin, as Danielle Clode ex­plains in her book Voy­ages to the South Seas .

‘‘ In this al­ter­na­tive world of what might have been, it is the port of Cham­pagny (named af­ter Napoleon’s min­is­ter of the in­te­rior) that looks east across the twin gulfs of Bon­a­parte and Josephine,’’ she writes.

A French Aus­tralia might have made this the state cap­i­tal (Baudin was deeply im­pressed by the safe har­bour) and one can imag­ine a fore­shore of fish restau­rants, striped awnings and quaint bistros.

As it is, Port Lin­coln is a quin­tes­sen­tial Aussie town with a statue of cham­pion race­horse Makybe Diva tak­ing pride of place on the fore­shore. (Owner Tony San­tic is one of the city’s tuna mil­lion­aires and favourite sons.) But there’s an en­ergy here you don’t find in many coun­try towns. The re­cently opened Port Lin­coln Ho­tel, de­vel­oped by fel­low tuna king Sam Sarin, with the lease held in part by the AFL’s Ade­laide Crows he­roes Mark Ric­ci­uto and Si­mon Good­win, of­fers the city’s first fourstar digs, with large, con­tem­po­rary gue­strooms and a stylish restau­rant dish­ing up king­fish sashimi and blue fin tuna, tataki style, fresh from the farm.

In a re­gion where din­ing out tra­di­tion­ally has meant the pub or club, restau­rants are pop­ping up along pretty Tas­man Ter­race and a thriv­ing arts com­mu­nity ex­hibits through the large Civic Hall com­plex. Lo­cals await the ru­moured ar­rival of Vir­gin Blue to drive the growth of tourism, while Mayor Peter Davis has long har­boured dreams of con­vert­ing Bos­ton Is­land into a Queens­land­style hol­i­day vil­lage.

This heady op­ti­mism is fu­elled not by min­ing but by the fruits of the sea. In the style of a Syd­ney Har­bour cruise, where stel­lar real es­tate is a big part of the at­trac­tion, Peter Den­nis of Triple Bay Boat Char­ters points out Tuna or Hol­ly­wood Hill, home to some of the city’s fish­ing mil­lion­aires, as we bounce out across Bos­ton Bay. The houses are too dis­tant to make out but he as­sures us Lin­coln’s real es­tate in­cludes faith­ful repli­cas of the man­sions in the old US television se­ries Dal­las and Dy­nasty.

The tuna be­hind this fish boom are cap­tured in the Great Aus­tralian Bight, then drifted in large float­ing pens at a leisurely one knot to the leases fring­ing Bos­ton Bay. There they are fat­tened like foie gras to pro­vide the oily, plump flesh so prized by the Ja­panese.

Their pro­cess­ing ships are in port dur­ing our stay and ev­ery day be­suited buy­ers come out to the leases to in­spect the har­vest.

We tie up to a bob­bing pen to ob­serve the ath­letic tuna whizzing about (dur­ing sum­mer, vis­i­tors swim with th­ese fish; more in­trepid souls cage dive with great white sharks). But to­day’s weather is in­clement so Peter seeks shel­ter in the lee of a small is­land where seals and sea li­ons swim out to meet us. They must think they’ve died and gone to heaven as tuna, mus­sels and king­fish are all con­ve­niently cor­ralled in the bay.

Our tour con­cludes with a plat­ter of best-qual­ity tuna sashimi, the belly meat so fatty it al­most dis­solves on the tongue. But this only serves to sharpen the ap­petites of young sons, so it’s back to the Port Lin­coln Ho­tel to or­der a large quota of Cof­fin Bay oys­ters kil­patrick.

Syn­ony­mous with the mor­eish mollusc, Cof­fin Bay lies less than 30 min­utes from Lin­coln. Quiet wa­ters me­an­der through a labyrinth of bush-clad dunes where, as early as 1849, fish­er­men were dredg­ing for na­tive oys­ters. But the area was ef­fec­tively fished out by the 1940s and to­day Pa­cific oys­ters are farmed in­stead.

They are avail­able di­rect from the lease cour­tesy of the Cof­fin Bay Ex­plorer cata­ma­ran, un­shucked from the gen­eral store, or ev­ery which way (nat­u­ral, spiked with vodka and lime, or Floren­tine) from Mar­ion and David

Fruits of the sea: Oys­ters on the Eyre’s seafood trail

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