In-water dining on a Sydney Oyster Farm tour on the Hawkesbury River

Visit a Sydney Oyster Farm

The Sydney Oyster Farm tour has been on my “To Do” list ever since I saw a photo of smiling people standing knee deep in water beside tables covered in white tablecloths. When a friend offers to accompany me – even though she doesn’t eat oysters – I quickly book our place on the tour.

Can I eat Eighteen Oysters on a Sydney Oyster Farm Tour?

I also call Sheridan Beaumont, the oyster farmer who runs the tours. I love oysters, but I’m not sure I can eat eighteen in one go. And what about my friend who can’t see the appeal of oysters?

Shuck your own oysters on this oyster farm tour
In-Water Dining

Sheridan puts my concerns to rest. Guests who’ve had similar qualms have been surprised that they easily consume all eighteen oysters. It must be their freshness, the unique environment and the glass of bubbly to wash them down. But we can take uneaten oysters home if we bring an ice brick or the non-oyster fan can opt for a cheese platter.

Wanting to experience the tour as offered, I decline the cheese platter and my friend decides to bring an ice brick.

Touring on an Aluminium Barge

Right on time, a rectangular aluminium oyster barge speeds around the corner and pulls up to the jetty at Kangaroo Point. Sheridan, wearing olive green waders over a long-sleeved blue top and straw hat steps off to introduce herself and her colleague Tom.

A tour on an Oyster Barge on the Hawkesbury River
Sheridan at the helm

In single file, we climb on board and seat ourselves on the metal benches arranged in rows across the width of the vessel. Tom hands us our waders. We’ll need them later.

Racing across the Hawkesbury River

Sheridan takes the controls at the rear of the barge and we set off. Like the pro she is, she speeds off across the wide waters of the Hawkesbury River leaving a broad foamy white trail behind. The cooling breeze blows my hair across my face, pleasant on this hot late summer morning.  

“This is fun” says a voice behind me.

Oysters on the Hawkesbury River
The Family Oyster Lease

We pass under the Hawkesbury Railway Bridge as a train thunders overhead. Pelicans float hopefully in the water behind a fishing trawler. Yachts bob in the calm waters of Parley Bay in Brooklyn. Then it’s just us, us and the wide deep waters of the river surrounded by thick rugged bush interspersed with rocky sandstone outcrops.

Gliding into the Sydney Oyster Farm

The barge slows as we enter a bay and glide past row upon row of oyster leases. The sun touches sections of the bush growing on hills edging the bay creating a palette of shades of green. It’s quiet and peaceful. “This is awesome” someone utters.

Sheridan explains that the six oyster leases here, are owned by different farmers. “We know each other, we’re mates. Our sheds are side by side”, she explains as she expertly turns the barge between two parallel lines of posts and wires.

A Family Business

“It’s pretty tight, brace yourself” she says, adding “sorry Dad” as she gently bumps one of the uprights supporting the tensioned lines. Cutting the motor, silence descends and we bob on the calm waters in the midst of her family’s oyster lease.

Sydney Oyster Farm Tour
It’s in there somewhere

Sheridan started oyster farming with her parents and is obviously at home here on the river. As she shares her knowledge her passion for oyster farming and the river shines through. She fondly refers to the Sydney Rock Oyster as a “rocky” and a large pacific oyster shell as “Boris”.   

Oyster Farming

Oyster farming is a labour-intensive operation, subject to the vagaries of the weather. Floods affect the water quality. In the last floods oyster farmers on the Hawkesbury lost 100% of their pacific oysters and 30% of their Sydney Rock Oysters. Heat kills oysters. At low tide on hot days, farmers spray their leases with cool water.

Learn how to shuck an oyster
Demonstrating Shucking an Oyster

Oysters must be protected from bream and mud crabs. The fish are attracted to the shelter and food offered by the posts, oyster trays and baskets found on oyster leases. Bream have teeth and enjoy baby oysters. Mud crabs will break a hole in the shell. Half joking, Sheridan encourages us to eat more mud crabs to protect her oysters.

Local Foragers

I ask if we can eat the oysters growing wild in the tidal zone on the rocky shoreline. Yes, we can. Sheridan explains that after this tour, we’ll be “local foragers”. The rules allow us to take 50 oysters per person per day. But, she adds, oysters, being the “kidneys of the river” should only be harvested if the timing and surroundings are right. In other words, not after heavy rain or near where there’s a lot of boating (fuel run off) or farm run off.

Baby oysters
They start off small

Unfortunately, oyster farmers on the Hawkesbury River have had a tough time of late. Fires, floods and disease have decimated their stock. Sheridan explains that all the oyster farmers have other jobs to keep themselves in business. She too has diversified – into the tourism business – and is now “living my best life”. She leaves the farming to her father.

It’s time to learn how to shuck an oyster. Picking one up in her hand she describes what to do. “Push the knife in at the hinge. Twist like turning a key and then shimmy knife to 2 o’clock to cut the adductor muscle”.

In-water dining on oysters
Awaiting our arrival

As I am the closest to her, and she hands the freshly shucked oyster to me. It tastes as she describes. “Super creamy super buttery” in a slightly salty liquor.

In-Water Dining

It’s time for some in-water dining. Sheridan reverses the barge out of the oyster lease and gunning the engine, we fly across the water towards a sheltered cove. I pick out a row of tables in the water. They’re set with white cloths. I feel a flutter of excitement. This is what I am here for.

Oyster Farmer Waders
Putting on Waders

Pulling on our Waders

The barge pulls up at a narrow jetty and I eagerly remove my shoes and pull a pair of baggy olive-green waders over my jeans, hooking the straps over my shoulder. Stepping backwards off the jetty into the water, my booted foot sinks a couple of centimetres into the smooth soft mud of the river bed. The water reaches just above my knee, its pressure pushing the waders closer to my legs.  

Bubbles and Oysters
First a glass of bubbly
In-water dining on oysters in the Hawkesbury River
Wading to our tables

I walk slowly towards the tables which are laid with platters of oysters, oyster knives and black cloth serviettes.  With my camera around my neck, nothing to hold onto and unable to see where I’m putting my feet, I feel slightly unsteady. Hopefully I don’t trip and fall into the water. I worry unnecessarily.

Knee Deep in Water Eating Oysters

Someone hands me a glass of bubbly and I wade to my designated table. Sheridan reminds us how to shuck our own oysters. Wrapping the oyster in the serviette, I insert the knife “at 45”. Or at least I try to. It’s not as easy as Sheridan makes it look, and I take time to get perfect the technique. Aaah. The feeling of success as the knife gives and I “turn the knife like a key and shimmy it to the right”.

Learn to shuck oysters
Shimmy the knife to 2 O’Clock
Hawkesbury River Oysters care of the Sydney Oyster Farm Tour
And enjoy!

Pressing down on the table as I insert the knife into my second oyster, I’m surprised to feel the table top give. It’s not wooden. Sheridan has repurposed plastic oyster trays. Placed upside down on the posts of an old oyster lease, they make the perfect table top.

A Most Enjoyable Morning

All too soon I have consumed all of my eighteen oysters. My friend, who doesn’t like oysters, managed two. It’s time to return to Kangaroo Point. Speeding back across the water, wind in our hair, we reflect on a most enjoyable morning, one I’d be happy to repeat.

If you enjoyed this tour of the Sydney Oyster Farm, you might like to read about another one that is similar, but different – this tour of the Broken Bay Pearl Farm which also operates on the Hawkesbury River.

Useful Information

  • Sydney Oyster Farm offers three different tours. The Immersive Tour includes in-water dining. For more information and to book, click this link.
  • Tour dates and time vary according to the tide.
  • The tour involves getting on and off an adapted Oyster Barge. Guests need to be independently mobile to access and disembark the boat and tour sites.
  • Bring socks and wear long pants to make the waders more comfortable if doing the Immersive Tour
  • There is no shade –wear a hat and sunscreen or long sleeves and bring water

Comments

  1. What an incredible experience!!! Thank you for sharing. I truly love the way you write about your adventures——- makes you feel you want to jump to it straight away.
    Enjoy your travels in Jordan & Georgia. Will follow you & look forward to having you back with us all in Aus.

  2. It was a perfect three hours Joanne. I would recommended it highly, even if you’re not an avid Oyster eater, it’s a fabulous shared experience. Cheers

  3. Well that’s definitely a unique experience. Thank you Joanne for sharing the information. Enjoy your trip and I will follow you on social media. Safe travels.

  4. Another good reason to revisit the Hawkesbury.
    There is always something to discover!

  5. This tour is definitely on my bucket list. I love oysters and there is nowhere to have them in such a fun setting.

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