When I wrote my Fifty before 50 bucket list, one of the items was to eat oysters at Coffin Bay. I did that, but when I wrote the list I imagined I would be doing it while taking an oyster tour. For various reasons that did not happen, but when I saw that oyster tours were available in Smoky Bay, I jumped at the opportunity I had missed just weeks before and took a tour to discover the Smoky Bay oysters.
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A Little about Smoky Bay
Located on the Eyre Peninsula, about 750km from Adelaide, Smoky Bay is an idyllic beach hamlet. With a permanent population of only 200, it swells to more than a thousand during the summer months as visitors from near and far flock to the pristine beach.
Smoky Bay has always been a fantastic location for fishing. Even from the jetty it is possible to pull in the prized King George Whiting, as well as Tommy Ruffs, Trevally and many other varieties. We caught six different varieties in just a few hours.
In 1988 Smoky Bay was earmarked as a likely oyster growing location. Now there are more than twenty different oyster growers that call the area home. Only one though does tours out to their oyster beds, SA Premium Oysters.
SA Premium Oyster Tour
I hadn’t thought about researching oyster tours in Smoky Bay. Last time I was here there was not an oyster to be seen, it was all about fishing, swimming and enjoying the sunshine, and that’s what I was thinking about this time too. Or at least the fishing part, after all, it was winter! As we were buying bait, I just happened to notice a small flyer pinned up on the noticeboard at the caravan park. I took note of the name and did a quick google once I was sitting on the jetty.
SA Premium Oysters is a family run business operated by Jeff & Colleen Holmes. They have been almost single-handedly running the business themselves, with just a little help from their sons, since 1990. Before that they were farmers from not too far down the road, so true locals. The oyster industry started in Smoky Bay in 1988, so Jeff & Colleen were amongst the first wave of people to try their luck at growing these tasty morsels. Now Smoky Bay supplies over 30% of South Australia’s oysters.
A couple of years ago Jeff & Colleen saw the opportunity to build a viewing platform over their oyster lease 3km out in the bay from the jetty. It wasn’t without its trials, but finally in July 2019, the platform was ready and the oyster tours could begin.
There are three different tours offered by SA Premium Oysters to choose from
- Shuck ‘n Sip – a morning tour of the oyster beds with oyster tastings and a glass of wine
- Sunset Oyster Session – a late afternoon trip out to the oyster lease with oysters, a glass of wine and a perfect South Australian sunset
- Shucking Shed Tour – learn how oysters are grown and processed, followed by (of course!) a tasting session and glass of wine
We did the Shuck ‘n Sip Tour as it was the best fit for the time that we had. We actually delayed our departure from Smoky Bay to squeeze this in. We called on Sunday afternoon, not knowing if we would be able to book in for the Monday morning since, well, it was Sunday afternoon! But Colleen soon got back to us and all was arranged.
Nice and early the next morning, we arrived at the SA Premium Oysters shed in Aquaculture Park all ready to go. The weather had taken a turn for the worse overnight and it was a cold morning, but thankfully the wind was not blowing too badly. Our tour was scheduled for 8am, but I imagine that may change, as tides dictate all in the oyster industry. We were heading out to the oyster lease at low tide.
Firstly though we got a tour of the shucking shed, learning about the way the oysters are grown. We saw the tiny little seeds that they are grown from, and then shells from the various sizes that end up on our plates. The grading process was described, and we learnt about the Smoky Bay oyster industry.
Then it was up onto the barge. We were still in the shed, the barge was on a trailer hooked up to a tractor. We had a scenic, open air ride down to the boat ramp where the barge was quickly and expertly launched into the sea. Not that this is a surprise, Jeff & Colleen do this at least once, often twice, every day, regardless of if they are running a tour or not. And that is one of the great things about this tour – we were literally just tagging along on a normal work day. As it turns out, our day wasn’t quite normal, but usually it is.
About ten minutes later we were out at the oyster lease. SA Premium Oysters have leases in two different areas, but the one we visited was straight out towards open ocean, on a sand bar that creates an ideal environment for oyster farming. Visits are done at low tide when the oyster beds are exposed, allowing Jeff & Colleen to easily collect oysters they need to bring in for grading, or those they are going to feed to their guests. They couldn’t get much fresher!
The water at low tide is around knee height, but don’t worry, we did not get our feet wet. The barge was pulled over to the stairs leading up to the viewing platform, and we were able to make our way up there for fantastic views over the oyster beds. The overcast skies were threatening, and the wind was doing it’s best to freeze me, but imagine how lovely this would been on a perfect summers day – or even a winter one! The day before our tour had been stunning and would have been lovely out here. If the weather is warm, a gazebo is set up so that visitors are not standing in the hot sun, but have a shady place to relax and enjoy the oysters.
We sat at the table on the platform and devoured a whole pile of oysters. The description of the tour says half a dozen, and while I didn’t count them, I am fairly sure we had more than that! As we ate we were shown how to tell a great oyster from the good ones, it’s all to do with the fat in them. I have always liked oysters, especially straight from the sea, and these did not disappoint. That salty flavour when served “au naturale” cannot be beaten. There was lemon juice and black pepper to put on the oysters too, but I preferred them just like they were.
We sipped our drinks and relaxed, enjoying talking to Jeff & Colleen, as we waited. Today we were waiting for the tide to come back in a little so they could do a couple of jobs that they needed to get done. The tide wasn’t playing nice though, and it was not budging, so a decision was made to head back to shore. Jeff & Colleen would return to the oyster lease later to complete what they needed to do.
The ride back was a bit bumpier, but we managed to stay dry, not descending from the barge until we were safely back in the shed. To warm up we were offered coffee and some more of the best Eyre Peninsula commodity, great conversation. We were probably taking up their precious work time, but Jeff & Colleen’s hospitality was second to none.
We could not leave though without purchasing some oysters to take with us and share with my extended family who we would be seeing in the coming days. I am looking forward to ordering more in the future as I am assured they can easily be shipped overnight to Adelaide (although Smoky Bay oysters mostly tend to end up in Perth) so we would have them less than 24 hours after harvesting.
If you would like to purchase some oysters for yourself or to book one of the fabulous tours while in Smoky Bay, then click through to SA Premium Oysters website here for all the tour information and contact details.
(Note: this is not a sponsored post, I paid full price for my tour and my review is independent and honest. I get nothing out of writing this except knowing I am recommending a great product to you, my readers)
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Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred. She has lived in the state for almost her whole life, just one short stint away as a teenager with her family. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.