My husband, badly jet-lagged, searches his hand luggage for a small knife, or screwdriver, or some kind of tool, but there’s nothing even remotely suitable for the task of levering rock oysters from their beds in a bag of stuff brought from Shanghai. Frantic at the site of hundreds of oyster-covered rocks before him he opts for the only tool available – the edge of a flat rock picked from the shore.
The oyster cleaves messily from the rock, fractured bits of shell flying everywhere. He cracks it open with more care, revealing a plump creamy oyster inside, and rinses it gently in the cold, clear indigo water before handing it to me to eat. Unbelievably delicious. There are hundreds more on every rock around us as we wait for the ferry to Bruny Island, off the coast of Tasmania.
Bruny sits off Tasmania’s south-east coast (Tasmania being that very large and beautiful isand off Australia’s southern tip), and from China it’s an almost twenty-four hour trip – two flights, a longish drive, a ferry ride, and yet another drive – to get to the house we’ve rented for Christmas. It’s a pretty traditional Australian way to spend Christmas – pack the entire extended family, in-laws included, off to a waterside destination for Christmas complete with decorations, ham, and plenty of beer in the back of the car.
It’s a little out of the way unless you already live in Tasmania, but that is exactly the point – it has few people but is literally heaving with animal life, in the water, in the air, and on the land. Mother Nature’s abundance is never more obvious than here. Within the first twenty four hours of arriving, I’ve caught eight wrasse (threw seven back – no-one can eat that many!) and a flathead from the seat of a kayak by literally tossing a line over the side, and watched my talented brother-in-law snorkel for fresh abalone which he removes from the rocks with a dessert spoon. Shanghai couldn’t be further away. Different season, different hemisphere, different eco-system.
Our first afternoon is spent at Adventure Bay climbing amongst the rockpools. There are enormous swathes of kelp and tendrils of seaweed fringing the pools, and as I look down I shout to everyone to ‘look!’ at the orange starfish I see. A starfish! We sit and stare for a moment in rapt wonder before one of the children yells ‘Here’s another one! and another!’
There are around thirty fat, healthy starfish n every single rockpool. Even here in Australia, a place kind of overflowing with wildlife, I’ve never seen anything like it. Bloody marvellous!
As for the abalone, Tasmania is one of the places where they grow wild. As long as you’re happy to brave the cold waters and the sharks, they are just sitting on the rocks ready to be scooped off with a spoon. Or a butter knife.
My marine biologist brother-in-law tells me that they can be too easily damaged with a sharp knife, and the key to collecting them is surprise – the sligtest touch or advance warning of your intentions and their thick muscular foot will clamp down tightly onto the surface of the rock below it, making them completely un-removable. So the best thing is to use something blunt, and slide it quickly under the shell before the abalone knows what’s coming. Oh – and wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the sharp edges of the shell.
I wish all of you near and far a very happy Christmas, and thanks for following my adventures on Life on Nanchang Lu over the last year. It’s been another fantastic year of food and travels, from Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces near Guilin, to ancient Miao village festivals, distant Kashgar and everywhere in between, and along the way I’ve met some of you in person and got to know others online, always a joy and one of the greatest rewards of blogging!
I hope your day is filled with family and friends and of course, good food! What Christmas would be complete without it? As for me, I’m having champagne and abalone. What a combination!
I’ll bring you some more of the beauty of Bruny Island soon.