The Clyde River is silky smooth under a soft grey sky on a Saturday morning as Ben Ralston pilots his flat bottomed boat towards his family's oyster beds. He steers the boat in between rows of baskets suspended in the water. Ralston has been raising oysters near Batemans Bay in the waters of the Clyde all his life - he's the fifth generation in his family to do so.
A little further up the river, he pulls his boat up to a little pier and welcomes us to the Ralston Bros oyster shed, where a table is heaped high with cobbly stacks of oysters like a seafood treasure trove. Here, among stacks of lumber, repaired nets and piles of oyster baskets, we sip champagne and eat Pacific oysters while Ralston tells us stories about growing up on the river.
It's part of a coastal food and produce weekend on September 25 and 26 designed by the south coast hotel Bannisters, which they've termed the Experience Series. The weekends are designed to show visitors the pristine produce of the south coast, with a focus on paddock to plate. They'll be hosted by the irrepressible Paul West, from River Cottage Australia. Canberra, just two and a half hours drive away, accounts for huge visitor numbers to this part of the world - and as international flights prepare to touch down in the capital, Ben Ralston and other business owners like him are determined to offer tourists a taste of the coast.
Visitors will spend two days the chic new Bannisters Pavilion Hotel which is in the tiny shopping strip of Mollymook. It's just around the corner from the original Bannisters, home to celebrity chef Rick Stein's restaurant. The Pavilion barely a year old, with a sleek, modern seaside vibe and a rooftop pool suspended over the tree lined streets. The Pavilion's suites look out over the canopies of trees, and the vast and breezy penthouse apartment is filled with nautical white-and-navy sofas arranged around an open fireplace.
It's definitely a luxury experience (with a price tag to match) - guests get to choose between Rick Stein's restaurant, dining at the Pavilion's rooftop bar, or beauty treatments at the day spa. In the morning, after breakfast overlooking the pool, they'll head out on the water with Ben Ralston. They'll take a trip out to the oyster leases and learn about how the Ralston family raises oysters from tiny hatchlings to gourmet morsels. Ben will then host an tasting session with matched wines at the waterfront oyster shed.
In the afternoon, horticulturalist and indigenous elder Noel Butler will lead groups on a walk from the "bush to the beach" showing how he gathers native foods and talking about the south coast's bush ingredients.
The food highlight of the weekend comes later that night at a three course dinner with wines at the Pavilion Rooftop Bar and Grill. West will host and Ben Ralston will be there shucking fresh oysters. The menu will include some of the bush ingredients that Noel Butler discusses on his foraging walk. West will chat with guests and Pavilion chef Gareth Sykes, Ralston and Butler about the dishes and the produce that went into them.
The Experience Series with Paul West is on September 25-26 at Bannisters Pavilion Hotel, Mollymook. $1995 per couple. See bannisters.com.au
Natasha Rudra was a guest of Bannisters.