Fresh oysters have been part of the NSW South Coast’s food scene for thousands of years. You only have to take a quick boat trip up the Pambula River to see plenty of evidence for that. The extensive middens along the shore, started perhaps 10,000 years ago by local Aborigines, provide the proof.
I’m sitting quite comfortably, even on a day breezy enough to put paid to whale-watching, in Brett Weingarth’s largish tinny, navigating channels from Lake Pambula to the ocean. The boat, like my guide and tour operator, is a bit rough-and-ready. But that’s all part of the charm.
Brett, aka Captain Sponge, has been an oyster farmer on Lake Pambula for years and runs Magical Oyster Tours as a sideline, providing a constant repartee that’s full of information and interest. He well knows the in and outs of the river and the lake.
He pulls up by one his oyster leases, dons a pair of waders, jumps into the water and harvests a couple dozen fresh, ripe oysters. Back on board he opens them, squeezes a lemon picked from his backyard and has me try them. I’ve never had oysters so fresh. They’re absolutely delicious.
“Bugger,” he says, showing off a very damp knee. “I thought these waders had a hole in them somewhere.”
It’s quite a different experience to an earlier lunch at Wheelers Seafood Restaurant. There, the oysters are more traditionally presented, followed by a scrumptious piece of local kingfish. The emphasis here is reliant on pure class, and it works well, especially after a solid introductory tour from co-owner Hugh Wheeler.
But are they any better? I’ll let you taste both and be the judge of that. Let’s just say that I didn’t have any complaints in either case.
A couple glasses of crisp Riesling from the nearby Canberra wine region work a treat with both dishes, cutting through them like a keen knife.
The nearby town of Eden has certainly been appropriately named. With a plethora of seafood available on their doorstep, and sitting beside the rich Monaro hinterland it’s easy to see why the early settlers thought they had landed in heaven.
I’m staying there for just one night but owners Lindsay and Lynn Evans have created something quite special at the centrally located Crown & Anchor Inn, which dates from 1845 and occupies Eden’s earliest substantial building.
It’s been lovingly restored and filled with charming colonial-era furniture. The modern deck out the back fits in surprisingly well and offers sweeping views over a very beautiful Twofold Bay to Boydtown, where the shattered remnants of ambitious entrepreneur Ben Boyd’s vision have been attractively recreated as a classy resort.
Breakfast at the Crown & Anchor is both hearty and delicious, led by a plate of beautifully prepared and presented poached eggs with bacon and tomato.
Also worth a visit is Sprout, an all-day café and providore serving a huge range of the freshest local produce. There should be much, much more of it.
Owner Karen Lott’s partner in life, Stan Soroka, owns and runs the very highly regarded Eden Smokehouse, whose produce features on the menu at Sprout. His salmon gravlax is to die for.
And while you’re in Eden, make sure to visit the wharf, which is an integral part of a lively, working port, and the Killer Whale Museum, built largely as a tribute to ‘Old Tom’, who led a pack of killer whales in quite an amazing alliance with local whalers in the early 1900s.
Eden was once a hub of whaling activity, and the historic Killer Whale Trail offers a magnetic peek at the activities of men who really did put their lives on the line each time they answered the ‘Rush Oh!’ call of the chase.
These days, whales are still central to Eden, but now the hunt is much more peaceful and limited to pointing cameras rather than harpoons at the gentle giants.
John Rozentals was a guest of Destination NSW.