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What to do from our B&B? Adventure & Great Fun

Mahurangi Oysters – just yum!

Oyster fans be warned: going for a jaunt on the Shuckle Ferry will raise your shellfish expectations forever. Never again will you settle for anything but the freshest, juiciest bivalves.

Andrew and Lisa Hay from Mahurangi Oysters have been farming the delicacy for more than 22 years so they’ve perfected the art of making molluscs. As well as supplying restaurants, the couple also sell their plump produce by mail order and appear at food festivals (at one festival, visitors scoffed over 900 dozen oysters in just four days).

The key to their success is freshness, because they sell only oysters live in the shell with the oysters picked at 9am and delivered to restaurants by 2pm the same day. Which probably is why Al Brown, among others, is such a big fan. The oysters are the key to the award-winning Genevieve’s Oyster Mousse, and Lisa has plans to sell a soup.

good foodWhen the couple saw a rundown old vessel for sale, a light bulb turned on in Lisa’s head — “We should take people on oyster farm tours” — and there’s been no looking back.

Originally named the Huckleferry, the barge was built for a musician who wanted to take his mates out on trips to play music, then used for dinner cruises in the Bay of Islands before being put out to pasture. When Andrew and Lisa had the boat hauled to their garden, she was in pretty poor nick, but they fixed her up good as new and she was launched last autumn from her new home at Scott’s Landing.

The Hays radiate joie de vivre as they welcome our group on board the broad-bottomed barge. They tell us they have good reason: they live in paradise, love what they do and have endless access to the world’s freshest, plumpest oysters.

Motoring sedately across glassy Mahurangi River, we set a course for the farm, getting a fascinating oyster tutorial on the way.

In broadcast spawning, up to four million eggs can be ejected into the water and the spats can change gender if need be. Once at the farm — row upon row of what looked like semi-submerged railway sleepers — Andrew drew on an impressive rubber trouser suit, with built-in boots and plopped neatly into the thigh-high water. He fossicked about, then returned with a huge pile of prehistoric-looking parcels.

We each stood at a table, a wooden board, tea towel and a sturdy shucking knife at the ready. The instructions were simple, shucking oysters is more about technique than muscle. When you feel that oyster release, when you know you’re in, it’s like cracking a safe, such a feeling of accomplishment.

The pleasure of working for our oysters was a delight, helped not a little by the range of perfectly matched local wine and beer, plus juice and water, to cleanse the palate between morsels.

Down the hatch they went, drizzled with Lisa’s delicious red wine vinegar and shallot concoction, lemon juice or just plain au naturel.

Some of mine were butchered, one or two were works of art, but apparently practice makes perfect so I’d be happy to get plenty more of that.

A culinary, educational and entertaining odyssey — for one perfect afternoon the world was our oyster and oysters were our world.

Elisabeth Easther РNZ Herald