In an age where our socials are spammed by all manner of aspirational influencer excess, it can sometimes feel like there isn't much wonder left in the world. But trust us, this out-of-the-ordinary culinary experience is a truly magical moment.
New Zealand wine producers Cloudy Bay and east coast oyster co-op, East 33 have come together to create a series of luxurious, curated experiences, inspired by their shared commitment to provenance and craftsmanship, aptly named the Natural Wonders series. The most lavish and extraordinary of these is hands down the flight by seaplane to the estuaries of Forster on the NSW north coast. The all-inclusive pack includes an educational tour by boat, a shucking lesson, three-course lunch at the Thirty Three Degrees waterfront restaurant and matching wines throughout. This is an unforgettable, immersive sensory extravaganza and our advice to you is to be mindful, truly present and inhale every moment.
So, put your phone away. It won’t capture the giddy butterflies in your stomach as the tiny seaplane takes off from the waters of Rose Bay, nor will it the ache of your cheeks from smiling. It won’t do justice to the surreal Dali-esque scene of tables draped with white cloths on a sandbank at low tide, adorned with oysters for the shucking and ice-cold bottles of Cloudy Bay bubbles. And it’s not going to replicate the feeling of cool sand between your toes or the smell of the ocean as it seasons your immeasurably fresh oyster, a squeeze of lemon optional but far from necessary.
Absorb the satisfaction of your first oyster popping open and releasing under the watchful eye of Brad or Steve Verdich, third and fourth generation oyster farmers respectively. These men lack pretence and exude calm and quiet charisma, effortlessly yarning through the lifecycle of the humble bivalve as you float on a punt boat, from the hatchery to rotation up and down the estuary and finally, harvest. This modesty is reflected perfectly by hand-sewn akubras, patched to give them another ten years in the sun and salt and sweat, and the whittled eucalypt branches that guide and anchor the diesel vessel.
This experience is all about the age-old ritual of working for your feast, making it all the more rewarding when you deftly flip your oyster for presentation (and if there’s shell, that’s fine, just wash it in the waters of Wallis Lake as it laps at your ankles). The Sydney Rock oysters grown in this brackish water make up 20 per cent of the world's entire production of the species, a market dominated by the larger, fast-growing Pacific oyster, which makes up a whopping 95 per cent of the oysters consumed worldwide. What takes a Pacific oyster 18 months to accomplish, a Sydney Rock needs three years – its slow growth resulting in a richer flavour, and an adductor muscle so strong it can live happily out of water for 14 days.
After you glut yourself on oysters at the sandbar, it’s time for lunch, a celebration of local seafood starting with tuna carpaccio, lightly pickled radishes, aioli and caviar, with a Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc to wash it down. Next up is a warmly spiced local barramundi fillet, heady with anise and cinnamon, on a bed of butter sauce and french style peas - an unusual oaked sauvignon blanc To Koko alongside, illustrating the versatility of this oft typecast grape.
Truly push yourself over the edge with a dessert of Death By Chocolate, that leaves little to the imagination. An orb of 70 percent dark chocolate hides layers of raspberry, candied ginger, chocolate crumb and house-churned chocolate sorbet. A Cloudy Bay pinot noir should do it.
Frankly, there’s not a lot more that this day needs but there’s no harm in a pod of resident bottlenosed dolphins joining you for dessert. If you want to get on board, head to the East 33 website here to book your spot. And remember, put your phone away.