The word ‘frontier’ suggests somewhere little-visited, untamed and a touch perilous. The fabulous coastlines of the Eyre Peninsula is just that – 1200 miles of white sands, rugged cliffs and clean seas.
Eyre is a gigantic triangle of land, sharp as a blade, pointing out into the Southern Ocean. On the west coast, the powerful seas of the Great Australian Bight have carved out impressive red cliffs; on the east, the land is lower and sits on the more benign waters of Spencer Gulf. Both water bodies are pristine and teeming with sea life.
The ‘Seafood Frontier’ is a trail of extraordinarily fresh and succulent seafood, grown or harvested from the pristine waters in this beautiful part of the word. The seafood from Eyre Peninsula accounts for more than 65 per cent of Australia’s total seafood catch, as well as some of the world’s most prized produce.
If you can afford to dine in the finest restaurants of London, New York and Tokyo, you may have already tried the Eyre Peninsula’s southern blue fin tuna sashimi, Coffin Bay oysters au naturel and wild green-lipped abalone.
But if the budget doesn’t stretch to that, fear not, because the Seafood Frontier rewards the adventurous. It’s all about looking, learning and ultimately tasting. Those famous Coffin Bay oysters are sold for up to $AUD5 ($US3.60) each in Sydney and Melbourne. Out here? Well you can get a dozen straight off the rack for about $AUD8.
To drive the whole Frontier – and do it proper justice – would take weeks, which is why the self-guided trail is broken down into a delicious, easy-to-navigate itinerary.
Eyre Peninsula taster
The trail on Eyre has always started at the head-of-gulf town of Port Augusta (home to the very interesting Wadlata Outback Centre and Arid Lands Botanic Garden). From here, it’s theoretically a six-hour drive all the way to Ceduna at its northen-most coastal point. Highlights would include Whyalla (for the fine Maritime Museum), Arno Bay acquaculture, Tumby Bay, Port Lincoln, Coffin Bay, the Great Ocean Tourist Drive (viewing the clifftop art trail to Elliston), Streaky Bay and Ceduna.
However, by far the more colorful way to view the Eyre Peninsula Seafood Frontier tour is to look at it through the optic that really counts – the fish-eye lens.
PRAWNS: Each year, some 2200 tons of wild king prawns are caught in the cold, clean waters of the Spencer Gulf and the Bight. In contrast to farmed prawns from overseas, they’re full of flavor despite their size.
See it, taste it: Fred’s Marina Cruises offers one of the most charming tours in Australia. You’ll join old-salt Cap’n Fred in his little electric cruise boat and whirr sweetly around Port Lincoln Marina. The boat is dwarfed by the largest commercial fishing fleet in Australia, including fishing boats, cray boats plus a sizable cohort of prawn trawlers with their distinct colors and wide booms.
KING GEORGE WHITING: Whiting is a fabled South Australian fish and they don’t come much bigger than off the coast of Eyre. They’re part of a popular seafood group called ‘marine scale fish’ which includes other barbecue stoppers like Tommy ruff (herring), garfish, snapper and Southern calamari (squid). There are over 50 species of marine scale off Eyre, making it the most diverse fishery in Australia and the nation’s largest provider.
See it, taste it: No small amount of the day’s catch goes straight from the boat to The Fresh Fish Place in Port Lincoln – the region’s biggest seafood wholesaler, supplying 100 local restaurants and outlets. Take a behind-the-scenes tour to watch the catch of the day being prepared (including some high-speed whiting filleting action); you’ll also get to taste in-house smoked fish as well as pickled bivalves and octopus. The shop and restaurant sells all manner of prime deep-sea protein, such as reef snapper, snook and shark; and if you want to know how best to prepare them, sign up to the Fresh Fish Place cooking school, held once a month, with guest chefs at the helm.
WILDCATCH ABALONE: Abalone is exotic indeed. Top-draw wild-caught green-lip abalone – shucked and extra-large — sells for around $A250 a pound retail. It’s most loved by Asian diners and more than 95 per cent of Eyre’s produce goes overseas. The expense comes from the fact divers must enter dangerous (often shark-filled) waters to carefully hand-harvest each shell. The off-shore abalone divers work up and down the coast, usually a solitary operation with a crew of two. It’s a competitive, somewhat secretive industry with a lot of money at stake, so the closest you’ll get to one will be when it’s served on a plate.
See it, taste it: Rather like the equally exotic truffle, abalone is one of those tastes that, once acquired, is hard to give up. Beautiful Streaky Bay in the region’s northwest corner has a fish processing operation and its own abalone brand called 2Brothers Abalone which is available at their retail outlet. The town is also home to one of the very best eating experiences on the Peninsula, a character-filled waterfront shed called Mocean . Within, you can dine on wild blacklip abalone, flash fried in butter on a bed of tomato, avocado and wild rocket. Price? Just $A26.
TUNA: Southern blue fin tuna is a signature species that is now inextricably bound up with Port Lincoln’s history and its recent (spectacular) fortunes. In a nutshell, local fishermen and entrepreneurs figured out a way of catching wild tuna, rearing them in huge floating ponds and on-selling them to the Japanese who paid top dollar for premium fish. Possibly true (possibly apocryphal), the story goes that tuna led to the town boasting more millionaires per head than any other in Australia.
See it, taste it: For the tuna story, you won’t go wrong with Fred’s Marina Tour (see ‘Prawns)’, but if you’re mad keen to get up close, you may need to sign up with a Why Not? Fishing Charter. Do a day’s deep sea fishing between Jan and April and you’re in the box seat for wild tuna that grows up to 575 pounds – though if you hook one, get ready for a fight. Perhaps it’s easy to try tuna sashimi at the evergreen Del Giorno’s on Lincoln’s foreshore or the 1802 Oyster bar and Bistro in Coffin Bay.
KINGFISH: Sweet, firm and exquisite when served raw, yellowtail kingfish is one of the most delicious fish around. It’s yet to earn the respect it deserves from Australian diners, but the Japanese haven’t been as slow to appreciate it, highly prizing the Hiramasa kingfish, fabulous examples of which swim in the Spencer Gulf.
See it, eat it: Adventure Bay Charters offers a new Seafood Bay Cruise. Guests motor out into Boston Bay for two hours to learn about aquaculture industries, with visits to Hiramasa Kingfish farm, tuna ponds and a mussel farm. Tastings happen during the experience – and sashimied kingfish is a definite highlight.
OYSTERS: Eyre Peninsula’s ‘Pacific Oysters’ are grown up and down the coastline to please shuckers and slurpers with their creamy, plump flesh and ocean-fresh flavor. Oysters are grown at Cowell, Streaky Bay, Smoky Bay, Denial Bay and St Peter’s Island, but it’s the Coffin Bay name that endures, owing to nutrient rich waterways and super-clean tidal flows. It doesn’t hurt that the area is jaw-droppingly lovely.
See it, taste it: Collect oysters straight from the racks on a Goin’ Off Safari tour. Operator David ‘Lunch’ Doudle will also help you harvest some other local seafood accompaniments, including clams, mussels and a wild salmon if you get lucky with the beach rod. He’ll even cook it for you – right there on the beach or back at your accommodation.
SOUTHERN ROCK LOBSTER: If you’re ever invited to pick up a mighty Southern rock lobster (or crayfish), think twice: these animals are big and powerful. The valuable crustacean is exported live, especially to Asia where it’s prized for its sweet firm flesh and extraordinary color. Be warned, prices are stratospheric, thanks mostly to insatiable demand from China.
See it, taste it: Lobster is sold at Mori Seafoods in the Marina, where the crustaceans are also processed for export. If you don’t have the readies, try the ‘crayfish spiders’ in the Fresh Fish Place: they’re lobsters with the head and tails removed, leaving body and a bunch of legs (like a spider). They’re not as pretty, but at $A14-28 per pound (cooked) who cares!
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