A day of indulgence, perhaps over-indulgence, in Tasmania's marine bounty, deserves a wish-list place, writes Stephanie Holmes
How many oysters do you think you could eat in one sitting? Half a dozen? A full dozen? More? On a Seafood Seduction cruise with Hobart's Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, you'll have to go a long way to beat the current record. Local legend has it that one woman once ate 124 of the slippery suckers in one six-hour journey.
Over the top? Perhaps. But you certainly won't be judged by owner Rob Pennicott, or any of his amiable crew – these cruises are all about indulgence and enjoying the freshest local seafood you're ever likely to eat, without jumping in the water to catch it yourself.
We join skippers Hugh and Sam for our Seafood Seduction day out on a changeable Saturday in late April, the first international guests the company has had since the transtasman bubble saw borders open between Australia and New Zealand.
Thanks to Air New Zealand's new direct route from Auckland to Hobart, spending a day out on the water across the Ditch is super easy. Hop on a flight on a Thursday morning, return on a Sunday afternoon and you've got a full long weekend to pack with exciting activities.
If seafood's not for you, that's okay – Pennicotts has a number of other itineraries, including visits to Port Arthur, Wineglass Bay, and Bruny Island.
But for seafood lovers, this is an absolute must-do. We board at Constitution Deck, in the centre of Hobart's historic waterfront, and we've barely been on board five minutes before Sam is offering glasses of Jansz, an award-winning Tasmanian sparkling wine. Hugh promises that on this cruise we won't go thirsty or hungry, but none of us quite know what we're in for . . . we will haul ourselves off the boat six hours later with puku full to bursting with oysters, lobster, sea urchin roe, abalone, salmon, cheese, fresh-baked bread, salads, chocolates and more – some of it gathered fresh from the ocean and prepared in front of our eyes.
We drop anchor in a sheltered bay in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and Hugh tells us "This is our first stop in our mobile restaurant". Sam pulls out yet more bottles of Jansz while Hugh opens a storage cupboard on the aft deck, which is full to bursting with a huge bag of live, unshucked oysters. They were bought earlier in the morning from Get Shucked, a local oyster farm, and are probably the freshest, most delicious I've ever tasted.
He fills a sink and gets shucking, and we greedily slurp them down raw with squeezes of fresh lemon juice and drops of tabasco. To change things up, Hugh pours in a drizzle of sparkling wine for an extra-indulgent treat, and Sam gets a pot bubbling with oysters poached in chardonnay from local winery Frogmore Creek.
Hugh shucks them as fast as we can eat them, and it's not long before we're all having to reluctantly beg for a break.
While we're digesting, Hugh says we'll do a bit of a "show and tell" and pulls out two giant crayfish, still alive, to show us what we'll be tucking into later on. For now, they go back in the tub and we cruise further along the coast, over to Huon Island where we drop anchor once more.
It's here Hugh really gets to show off his hunter-gatherer skills. Wriggling into a 5mm steamer and 5mm camouflage wet suit, he jumps into the 15C water with a knife and catch-bag to harvest sea urchins (kina) and abalone (pāua). The cold doesn't seem to bother him – even though he's originally a Queenslander used to much warmer waters – and soon he's back on board with his catch: five kina and three huge pāua. It will be just enough to feed our group of eight - Hugh will get only as much as we need; no more, no less. Sustainability is a key focus of the cruise, and the seafood is carefully measured, weighed and recorded to ensure the catch is in line with regulations.
The rest of the afternoon passes by in a blur of imbibing and injesting – more sparkling wine, salmon sashimi, crayfish prepared three ways, tenderised paua cooked delicately in butter and garlic, local cheeses – and by the time we haul anchor, I'm feeling so full it's a struggle to keep my eyes open as we cruise back to the city.
We arrive back at the dock in the late afternoon and re-engerise with a gentle walk around historic Battery Point. The constitutional is much needed: we've got an evening reservation for dinner at harbourside restaurant The Glass House. Seafood is on the menu. When it's this fresh, there's always room for more.
A day trip with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys is only scratching the surface of available activities in Tasmania. It's a food, wine, wildlife, nature and scenery hot spot that feels similar enough to New Zealand to ease you gently into your first post-pandemic international trip.
Multi-day walks, mountain biking and kayaking will please active travellers, while road-trip fans will be itching to hit the highways to explore the diverse landscapes around the island's interior and perimeter.
Like New Zealand, the state has taken strict measures to combat the spread of Covid – you'll need to complete both Australia and Tasmania travel declarations before departure from New Zealand, masks are mandatory within Hobart's airport terminals, and QR code scanning is strongly encouraged to enable contact tracing.
Yet Tasmanians are hugely excited about the return of Kiwi travellers to help revitalise their own embattled tourism industry. This new route is a game-changer for us and it's well worth considering a trip to Tassie for your first international holiday now borders are open again.
Air New Zealand flies twice-weekly return service on Thursdays and Sundays between Auckland and Hobart. airnz.co.nz