Andrew Bain falls for a nature experience to savour off Bruny Island.
In the waters off Tasmania’s Bruny Island, an Australian fur seal is playing with its lunch, tossing the torn remains of a salmon across the waves, hounded by a cloud of hungry gulls.
A few metres away, salmon farms dot the channel. Inside the pens, the water stirs as feed is released, rousing thousands of fish into a lunchtime brawl. It’s as though every animal here has come to feed, including us.
I’m on my way to an ocean banquet, collecting the ingredients as I go as part of a new boat trip and feast created by one of Tasmania’s most respected and awarded tour operators.
Pennicott Wilderness Journeys’ Tasmanian Seafood Seduction only began this month, though it’s a journey that’s been 2½ years in the planning.
“When I’d get a day off, my favourite days were going to a place in southern Tasmania where you could just jump in and grab an abalone, and relax and have a beer on a beach,” says operator Rob Pennicott, who, in 2012, was named one of National Geographic’s 10 Travellers of the Year.
“Whenever I took a friend who hadn’t done something like that, it just blew them away. That sowed the seed for this trip.”
Our day-long journey begins from Hobart’s docks, skimming south along the Derwent estuary. It’s a trip as rich in scenery as flavour, as we follow the cliff line that runs south from the city.
Intermittently we stop, nosing the boat into caves and breaks in the cliffs, providing experiences similar to Pennicott’s other highly successful trips to Bruny Island and Tasman Peninsula. But unlike those trips, Tasmanian Seafood Seduction isn’t about thrills, it’s about appetite.
“On this trip we’re always looking for calm water,” Pennicott says. “It’s a very relaxing day, very laid back. I think people who like seafood will never have tasted it as fresh as this. It comes aboard live and you are usually eating it within half an hour.”
The reason it comes aboard live is because we’re catching the seafood ourselves. Tasmanian Seafood Seduction is believed to be the first tourist trip in the world to catch and cook crayfish and abalone for guests, who also fish for salmon or flathead and haul aboard oysters.
At Tinderbox, we turn away from the Tasmanian mainland, crossing the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to the northern shores of Bruny Island. Nestled into a bay is a collection of salmon pens from one of the farms that line the channel, forming Tasmania’s second-most productive salmon fishery after Strahan.
“We’re going to link into the circuit TV so we can see the salmon underwater,” Pennicott says as he lays the custom-built boat up against the pen. Nearby, the Australian fur seal rips apart its lunch – for the seal, these round pens are like dinner plates, drawing wild fish near.
We leave the pens and continue south, sailing through a menu. In Great Bay, deep-water oyster racks belonging to Get Shucked oyster farm furrow the sea. Pennicott Wilderness Journeys has bought a section of racks from the farm and as we pull alongside, a basket of oysters is quickly gaffed aboard.
The basket is opened and there are a couple of oysters for guests to slurp down fresh – there will be unlimited oysters at lunch – accompanied by a glass of wine or bubbly.
“We only use Bruny Island premium wines, Tassie boutique beers and Tassie sparkling,” Pennicott says. “We keep everything as local as possible. Even the smoked salmon is from the farms here in the channel.”
Over the next hour we explore the Bruny coast as much as its ocean larder. Its southern shores are etched with small bays, some backed by a single home but otherwise empty.
White-bellied sea eagles peer down from branches and spider crabs inch along the seabed beneath us in one shallow bay. It’s beautiful and it’s bountiful, as craypots are yanked aboard and the deckhand snorkels for a catch of abalone.
On nearby Partridge Island, we walk up an appetite as we stroll to its centre, where a lone pine tree rises from the remnants of a long-forgotten orchard inside what is now national park land.
Finally, it’s time for the real business of the day: lunch. In a protected cove beside Partridge Island, Pennicott fires up the custom-designed kitchen across the stern of the boat.
There are cheeses from Bruny Island Cheese and Grandvewe Cheeses, bread baked by Daci & Daci in Hobart, smoked salmon, freshly shucked oysters and steamed mussels. Meanwhile, pans sizzle with a seafood feast acquired with our own hands.
“This trip is all about unbelievable service and a special day where people don’t feel herded,” Pennicott says.
As we eat, a curtain of rain draws across Bruny Island, but in our protected cove the boat barely moves as we finish this banquet worthy of Neptune.
The writer travelled courtesy of Pennicott Wilderness Journeys.
Virgin Australia, Qantas, Jetstar and Tiger Airways fly to Hobart. All major car hire companies have desks at Hobart Airport.
Tasmanian Seafood Seduction trips run daily (except Christmas) from October to May. Trips depart from the Hobart waterfront and cost $685 a person.
pennicottjourneys.com.au; qantas.com; virginstar.com; tigerair.com.
FIVE MORE TASSIE FOOD EXPERIENCES
Farm-based cooking school less than an hour’s drive from Hobart, operated by a former apprentice to Tetsuya Wakuda. theagrariankitchen.com.
RED FEATHER INN
Themed cooking classes at a boutique hotel in northern Tasmania, run by the house chef and visiting chefs. redfeatherinn.com.au.
GOURMANIA FOOD TOURS
Walking tours of Hobart’s culinary offerings, run by a former pastry chef. gourmaniafoodtours.com.au.
A range of culinary tours visiting farms and producers in and around Hobart. herbaceoustours.com.au.
THE TASTE OF TASMANIA
Hit Hobart over New Year for the state’s top food and wine festival, on the city waterfront. thetasteoftasmania.com.au.