Spectacular Eyre Peninsula
Spectacular Eyre Peninsula
The beauty of travel in Australia is that there are still relatively undiscovered places to explore. The Eyre Peninsula, ‘Australia’s seafood frontier’, is definitely among the best of the hidden treasures.
Published Selector Summer 10/11
Jumping into the chilly waters of the Great Australian Bight I wondered what I’d let myself in for. Only a wetsuit separated me from around 55 massive Southern Bluefin Tuna. Some of these lightening-fast fish are up to a metre long and weigh 45kg with razor-like teeth capable of shredding stray fingers that get in their way. To make things more hectic, sardines were being thrown into the water, causing the tuna to go into a feeding frenzy as they all competed for their lunch.
But as part of Adventure Bay Charter’s Close-up Tuna Tour I was actually completely safe. While I was in the middle of the ocean, I was swimming in a massive net that houses the tuna and protects them, and any two-legged companions, from sharks. I was also under the watchful eye of Matt Waller, proprietor of this unique tourist attraction that’s located in Port Lincoln, the regional centre of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.
For those averse to swimming with swarming fish, Matt’s tuna tour affords onlookers alternative opportunities such as feeding the tuna from the safety of a platform or heading down to an underwater glass viewing area. He also offers sea lion tours where you can get up close with the ‘puppy dogs of the sea’.
Matt Waller is a fourth generation fisherman, part of the long fishing history of Port Lincoln and the Eyre Peninsula, or as it’s promoted to the world, ‘Australia’s seafood frontier’. Fishing, particularly tuna fishing, is big business in Port Lincoln and it’s home to not only the largest commercial fishing fleet in the southern hemisphere, but also more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in Australia.
Matt’s tuna pen is one of many scattered throughout this area of ocean and while his is purely for tourism, the others are the key to how the tuna industry has taken off in this region.
Port Lincoln’s tuna fishing industry started to gain momentum in the late 50s–early 60s and by the late 1980s, stocks of Southern Bluefin Tuna were severely depleted. As a result, voluntary quotas were introduced followed by compulsory quotas in 1994. Although these quotas protected the tuna from extinction, they seriously threatened the livelihood of the fishermen.
Therefore they had to develop a sustainable way to maximise their income and it was fisherman Dinko Lukin, father of champion weightlifter Dean, who is credited with the winning solution. The quotas are based on the weight of the wild caught fish, therefore any subsequent weight gained in captivity is a boon. By catching his quota of tuna in large nets, Dinko discovered he could tow the haul to tuna farms off Port Lincoln where it spends several months fattening up before being exported directly to the Japanese.
This method has been taken on with gusto and tuna fishermen have massively improved their quota. This means that quotas are now worth hundreds of millions of dollars and have spawned some incredibly rich individuals.
One local company, however, is taking the farming of tuna even further. Cleanseas is pioneering the propagation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. According to the company, “when successful, this could double the Southern Bluefin Tuna catch in a decade without impacting on wild tuna stocks.”
Tuna farming has certainly put Port Lincoln and the Eyre Peninsula on the map and the money made has funded a lot of development in the town. One such attraction at which I spent a very enjoyable couple of nights is the Port Lincoln Hotel, financed by tuna baron Sam Sarin along with ex-Adelaide Crow Mark Ricciuto and Simon Goodwin.
This hotel has 111 rooms with many offering sweeping views of Boston Bay, a body of water three-and-a-half times larger than Sydney Harbour. The hotel also features Sarin’s Restaurant and Bar where Chef David Pedron fills his exquisite fine dining menu with local seafood including tuna, kingfish, mussels, prawns and oysters.
Oysters are another of the region’s more visible industries with oyster farms spread throughout the bays of the Eyre Peninsula including Coffin, Smoky, Streaky and Ceduna bays, as well as in Franklin Harbour.
AQA Oysters is one of the Eyre’s newer producers, but after just a few years in business their oysters are in demand locally as well as in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. The AQA promise is “the taste of the sea in every oyster” and having sampled plenty on a tour of their Coffin Bay farms with manager Rob Swincer, I can attest to the truth of their word. They also offer public tours that reveal the secrets of farming these delicate creatures and, of course, plenty of opportunities to taste them fresh from Franklin Harbour.
When you’re visiting such a beautifully pristine environment it’s nice to get away from it all into the seclusion of nature. Just 25 minutes drive from Port Lincoln, the Tanonga Eco Lodges in Charlton Gully provide the perfect opportunity for this. Set on a 200-hectare property, these architecturally designed, eco-friendly lodges are owned and operated by Michael and Jill Coates.
Drawing on their love of nature, the Coates have carefully planted over 25,000 native trees, shrubs and understorey grasses and sedges. These plantings attract an abundance of bird life and if you’re lucky you’ll see the rare Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo. And if you’re even more lucky, you’ll get to meet the Coates’ very welcoming labrador!
The lodges are beautifully appointed and make the most of the stunning surroundings while having minimal impact on the natural environment. From the Ridge Lodge you’re spoilt by 360º panoramic views to Boston Bay or you can tuck yourself into the seclusion of nature in the Valley Lodge.
You can bring your own food to the lodges or Michael and Jill can arrange catering packages with local produce the star. Of course, what’s a feast of local delicacies without something to wash it down with? Thankfully, some of the region’s fishermen have branched out into wine production.
Among them is Boston Bay Wines owned by the abalone fishing Ford family who planted a vineyard on the shores of Boston Bay in the early 1980s. Their choice of site was due, in part, to the observations of early French explorers. Nicholas Baudin and Citizen Freycinet foresaw the grape-growing potential of Boston Bay, naming it ‘Port du Champagny’. The family now produces fresh, clean expressions of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz.
The cellar door is well worth a visit, not only for the wines, but for the expansive views of Boston Bay.
Another local producer worth seeking out is Lincoln Estate whose wines are 100 per cent estate grown by the Turvey family. The Turveys, with their background in commercial fishing, have aptly taken inspiration for their wine names from the marine dwellers who funded their production. Their collection includes Bluefin Merlot, Blacklip Shiraz, Greenlip Cabernet Sauvignon and an interesting blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay called Sashimi.
While my time on the Eyre Peninsula was just a whirlwind couple of days, this spectacular region is worthy of visiting for a week at least. It’s just a 45-minute flight from Adelaide, so it’s a cinch to get to and the spoils on arrival are unbeatable. I’ve covered just a handful of attractions and gourmet offerings here, so if you find yourself in this tip of the country take your time to really experience its many delights.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Wine Selectors.