The NSW South Coast sure is stunning – and if you are a sucker for fresh seafood, amazing beaches and passionate locals like I am, this is your ideal destination. Particularly Batemans Bay.
Located on the shores of an estuary formed where the South Pacific Ocean meets the mouth of the Clyde River, Batemans Bay is blessed not only with a bounty of beaches and surrounding National Park, but also all the gems that come with having one of the cleanest rivers on the East Coast, namely, world-class oysters.
One of the best ways to get a lay of the land when I arrived was by kayak. I joined up with Region X adventures and from the harbour to the river, we paddled leisurely on the calm waters taking in the marina then paddling under the iconic lifting-span bridge and up the river.
It was morning and we hadn’t yet had a coffee, but that was easily fixed – my kayak guide Warwick directed me to the Innes Boat Shed café on the banks of the river where, incredibly, Jenny was waiting to pass over our takeaway lattes.
This was not the only highlight of our pitstop however. As we sipped our coffee and let the caffeine fuel us, we were suddenly surrounded by giant sting rays who apparently made their way to the boat shed pier every morning to be fed like pets! Jenny reached down to hand feed scraps to the amazing creatures, even giving them a pat on the head afterwards. Whilst they are quite harmless, it was still good to feel the safety of my kayak as we watched the giant rays glide underneath us. It certainly was a kayak tour with a difference.
Another way of exploring the Clyde River and the amazing environment that surrounds it is on board the MV Merinda. With daily three-hour cruises from the Innes Boat Shed up to historic Nelligen and back, the tour also includes amazing fish and chips from the boatshed and commentary from our passionate captain.
We learned how Batemans Bay was almost the port of Sydney when Captain James Cook dropped anchor here in 1770. However, deciding the harbour wasn’t deep enough, he eventually moved on to Botany Bay. But since 1821 the river did become a busy thoroughfare when Nelligen, 10km’s upstream from Batemans Bay, was a major sea port with a major shipping company stationed here, as well as a thriving timber industry and a few thousand residents.
Today it is a shadow of its former self with just a few hundred people but historic buildings and sites remain to tell its story. We disembarked for a wander around, visiting the quaint museum and even discovering an historic ‘bushranger’ tree where, in 1867, the infamous Clarke brothers were captured in and tied before being transported to Sydney for execution.
Back on the river, the scenery we pass on the cruise back to Batemans Bay is nothing short of pristine. With National Park on each shore, and the protection of Marine Reserve zoning on the water, it was an idyllic environment to sit back and take in as we glided by.
Back in Batemans Bay, life was also good at the BIG4 Batemans Bay Beach Resort. Kids of all ages were loving the pools, jumping pillow, tennis courts, mini golf and more while adults simply sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the natural location on the water, with the sounds of the birds in the trees around us.
But the lure of the environment around us quickly drew me back out to explore and I couldn’t forget that this particular stretch of coast was known as the ‘Oyster Coast’. I was told to drop into The Oyster Shed on Wray Street where we could find some of the best local Sydney Rock Oysters available.
Greeted at the ‘oyster farm gate’ – a charming blue shed on the banks of the Clyde River – by two generations of the Rossiter family who have owned the oyster farm for 60 odd years, I was soon invited by Jade, daughter of current owners Enola and Mark, out to their oyster lease to see where their oysters are grown and harvested.
As we skimmed across the water in their motorboat, Jade tells how her grandfather built the blue shed 60 years ago, and the only real modern upgrade they have added is the picturesque deck on the river where visitors can sit and enjoy the freshest of oysters virtually direct from the water.
Out at the oyster lease, I am hoping for a taste of these much-revered oysters but Jade had a little surprise up her sleeve. Retrieving a two-year old Pacific Oyster from the water, the challenge was on for me to eat it.
Being an oyster lover, usually anything presented in the shell before me is quickly ‘down the hatch’. But this shell was as big as my hand and when Jade levered it open, careful not to spill any of the saltwater juice inside, I felt like I was out of my depth.
It was literally the biggest oyster I had ever seen. I didn’t even know they existed at this size and under the instruction to first drink the sea water and then pop the whole oyster into my mouth, it was a few scary seconds of contemplation that it was even possible.
Finally, with a deep breath, I popped the oyster in my mouth – it filled every bit of space and it was clear this was going to be a ‘chewing’ effort. Nevertheless, the oyster tasted as it should. Creamy with a zing of salt water – and after a few minutes, I managed to swallow the last morsel. Clearly the biggest oyster challenge I might ever have!
(A behind the scenes look at me attacking my third Pacific Oyster once I got the hang of it!)
Back on the deck of The Oyster Shed, we were able to enjoy a platter of Sydney Rock Oysters at a size we were much more accustomed to. And nicely paired with the families very own wasabi and white balsamic dressing, it was a brilliant way to spend the rest of the afternoon.
Have you been to Batemans Bay and how was your experience? Would you eat an oyster this big? Tell us in the comments!