By David Sly
The unique experience of wading into an oyster lease and shucking fresh oysters plucked straight from the sea has proved so popular that Coffin Bay Oyster Farm Tours has built a striking new visitor centre to accommodate surging visitor numbers.
The official opening of Oyster HQ on December 20 – a seafood tasting and tourism centre on the Coffin Bay foreshore that can accommodate up to 85 people – is the culmination of a frantic six months for Coffin Bay Oyster Farm Tours proprietors Ben and Kim Catterall.
Having won approval from the council for the new building, they have been racing to complete the expansive glass-walled tasting room and deck overlooking the bay before summer’s high visitation season – all while their business has boomed, attracting more than double the number of customers from the previous year.
“It’s an idea that has really delighted a lot of people – the experience of tasting famous Coffin Bay oysters direct from the water where they are harvested,” says Kim.
“It has the wow factor that has got a lot of people from around the world wanting to come and do it themselves.”
The unique appeal of their offering is the Salt Water Pavilion, a partly submerged deck with fixed seating and bench tables that allow up to 24 tour participants to sit in industrial-strength rubber waders to learn about oyster production, the knack of how to open them (without jabbing their fingers), and then taste both Pacific and native Angasi oysters in the company of a chilled beverage.
After this, guests can linger a while longer back on dry land, on the deck of Oyster HQ overlooking the oyster lease, with the option to graze on fresh Eyre Peninsula seafood tasting plates that feature more Coffin Bay oysters with a range of dressings, smoked tuna and tuna sashimi, mussels from Boston Bay, Spencer Gulf prawns and local abalone.
The building will also serve as a hire facility for kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, while the Catteralls can provide up to four tours to the Salt Water Pavilion each day.
This looks set to be pushed to the limit over summer, as Kim has been receiving significant early bookings for the first time, from people wanting to ensure places on specific tours.
This enterprise represents the next significant step in Ben’s aim of developing outstanding regional tourism experiences. A builder by trade, he came to Coffin Bay about 15 years ago and built the 1802 Oyster Bar and Bistro, named after the year in which explorer Matthew Flinders charted the area.
Ben later bought the oyster lease out the front of the restaurant, then built the Salt Water Pavilion and developed the aquatic tours to satisfy growing tourist curiosity in tasting local oysters at their source.
Ben and Kim then bought the shorefront Beachcomber Bakery and Café to also serve as an operations hub for tour groups, but demand has called for bigger premises, prompting Ben to build the new Oyster HQ.
It will be open daily from December 22, and serviced by hotel pickup and return transport options from Port Lincoln to Coffin Bay.
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