A little over 30 minutes south of Port Macquarie, on NSW’s mid-north coast sits the pristine waterway, estuary and river system of Camden Haven and Dunbogan. These twin tiny hamlets feature a mixture of residential plus holiday and retirement homes, most fronting the water with views also to Dooragan National Park’s North Brother Mountain just beyond Camden Haven Inlet. This nearby peak dominates the scenery with its impressive rainforest canopy to form the perfect backdrop to the foreground, where at Dunbogan a small Boat Shed café leads to a picturesque little jetty with a collection of recreational fishing boats moored close by. In this special part of Australia the warm slightly humid climate is moderated by coastal sea breezes. The sun sparkles reflections on the water as it softly shifts to the tide; we simply adore this place.
Dunbogan is also home to Rockin’ Oysters, a micro business that manages a collection of oyster growing leases: three along the adjacent Camden Haven River and Stingray Creek and two within Dunbogan’s Gogleys Lagoon. The location and water quality here is ideal as the National Park acts as a natural buffer zone from any possible pollutants or development – it can never be built out. Operating since 2010, Rockin’ Oysters grows premium oysters for local restaurants and also for the Sydney market during the summer holiday season.
The oysters are ‘direct harvest’, meaning they can be eaten straight from the water, retaining the natural brine flavour of the waterway. Owner James A. Wood explains that as oysters feed on nutrients which can differ depending on location, the oyster flavours can also vary. ‘There’s a site on the river upstream where there are sea grasses; these often add an iodine element to the taste; others with a mud base can develop brackish flavours, while another lease at the head of the river, where there’s a sandy bottom and the water is flushed daily with fresh sea water, allows the oysters to produce a fresher, more salty taste,’ says James.
James’ Sydney Rock Oysters also change flavours with the season, but are mostly characterised as having a salty ‘zing’ start, a rich creamy middle and a long lasting umami flavour on the back palate. This day we visit James at his tiny oyster shed that overhangs the lagoon’s edge. While staff sort and grade the morning’s harvest, James presents a plate of freshly shucked ‘bistro’ medium-sized oysters that are around three-and-a-half to four years old. We try them served three ways: natural (with a lemon wedge), another with a ginger chilli and ginger beer granita, and a third paired with a delicate mignonette dressing. The taste and textures are superb and the accompanying dressings taste as though they belong in a Capital City restaurant; but no, we’re eating from a rustic steel and timber table, waterside and without a care in the world.
Rockin’ Oysters offers guests pre-booked tours and luxury waterside seafood BBQs including: fresh crayfish, sustainably caught fish and oysters, freshly shucked direct from the water; served natural, or with a range of toppings. An optional scenic boat tour leaves from the Dunbogan Boatshed and can accommodate groups of 2 to 8 people. You’ll visit the oyster farm leases, stop off at the shed for sampling the oysters and indulging in the seafood lunch; all whilst taking in the picturesque setting of Gogleys Lagoon. .
Having spent a few hours basking in the sun and learning to grade, shuck and suck back more than a few dozen of what we think are Australia’s best oysters, it’s clear what our preferred retirement plans will be… Oh to be an oyster farmer – the slower paced work in the sun, within one of the world’s most beautiful environments. With good music, great companionship and near-impossibly fresh oyster lunches daily. What could be better?
For oyster farm tour bookings visit the website
Shed 2, Pilot Beach Rd, Dunbogan NSW
Tel 0411 553 119