The complete oyster experience takes patrons from the factory floor to the finest of coastal dining.

Story and photos Mandy McKeesick

It seems like a strange place to begin a fine dining experience: in a darkened shed with computerised machines rattling away and the aroma of seaweed and saltwater. But lunch at Wheelers Seafood Restaurant at Pambula, on the far South Coast of New South Wales, offers patrons a unique insight into the world of oyster farming before they partake of some of the best food this area has to offer.

With a heritage of growing Sydney rock oysters in Merimbula Lake stretching back to the early 1900s, Wheelers has become a local icon, and even today remains a family enterprise with Hugh and Debbie Wheeler at the helm of the oyster production and son James and daughter Lauren involved. 

Prior to lunch, diners gather at the cafe entrance to watch a short video showing the oyster farms on the lake and then Hugh walks them across to the factory for a behind-the-scenes tour. “Catching oysters is a fairly simple process,” he says of the beginning of the oyster life cycle. “All we’ve got to do is build a habitat and put it in the estuary at the right place at the right time.” He shows them slats, which catch the oyster spawn, and the baskets in which the young oysters live until they are ready for the plate in approximately three years’ time. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #125

Outback Magazine: June/July 2019