Broome sunset culinary cruise: The giant Aussie oysters where the meat is as important as the pearls

Everyone is waiting expectantly  as Coel Feazey brings his knife to the lip of an oyster the size of a dinner plate. Sensing the anticipation in the air, the skipper theatrically plays up for the spotlight.

"With a bit of luck, we've got a pearl in one of these. We don't always get one," he says.

Coel quickly twists the knife and yanks back the shell, then holds out the oyster to a chorus of hushed gasps. Couched inside is the milky glow of a fresh pearl. Coel is beaming like a proud parent.

It's the moment we'd all been waiting for, and one that had arrived in a blur of bubbles. Instead of departing from Broome's main port, this sunset culinary cruise with Broome Cruises instead kicked off at nearby Gantheaume Beach, where we clambered into a tender before zipping away to meet our 69-foot triple-deck pleasure boat, The Crusader III. Soon the anchor was up, the sparkling was flowing (very) freely, and we're sailing on the Indian Ocean towards Cygnet Bay Pearl Farms, one of the oldest pearl farms in Australia, in search of the precious gemstone.

"When pearlers first started farming pearls they were working up in the rivers and mangroves of the Kimberley, but they realised over time that cleaner water delivers better quality pearls," explains guide Chloe Paskov.

Broome famously made its fortune pearling in the 20th Century, with British captains employing Aboriginal and east Asian divers to do the perilous work of fetching pearls from the deep. At one point Broome supplied 80 per cent of the world's Mother of Pearl, which was used to fashion buttons, handles and cutlery. By the 1950s, Mother of Pearl fell into decline as plastic became more widespread, but Chloe tells me the material is still widely used in a range of everyday products – adding lustre to eye shadows and car paints and creating the iridescent insignias on credit cards.

Compared to the oyster's vibrant shell and pearl, it's meat is a less well-known but highly prized product. Only small quantities of the oyster's adductor muscle, which helps the bivalve to open and close as it filters water, are harvested each year. Australian pearl meat can sell for as high as $200 per kilogram to high-end restaurants scattered across Singapore, Tokyo and Shanghai, where it is served blanched.

But today we're trying it fresh from the shell. Coel slices up the oyster and offers me a squishy morsel. It tastes like the missing link between abalone and scallop, with a delicate if starchy texture.

"It doesn't have a huge amount of flavour, but it takes on flavour very well," says onboard chef Will Peregrine, who uses pearl meat in the cruise's seven-course degustation menu. According to Will, the challenge is to champion the meat without overpowering it, which is why his version floats out of the kitchen on an oyster shell, lightly cured in a zesty ceviche topped with a whack of chilli and fried shallots.


With the pearl farm behind us and the deck cleared to make way for white linen covered dining tables, the cruise back to Broome becomes an open-air restaurant. Plates of seared Abrolhos Island scallops come and go, as does the moreish black truffle butter, and Will is cooking our barramundi on the deck barbecue. A crew member is topping up my glass when a final awed gasp makes me turn in time to catch the sun – now a searing red pearl on the horizon – as it slips into the sea.



Broome Cruises runs its "Sunset, Seafood and Pearling Cruise" from May to September. The $379 all-inclusive package includes coach transfers, a four-hour cruise with pearl harvesting and tasting experience, and a seven-course menu with unlimited premium beverages, including wines from the Margaret River region and local beers from Spinifex and Matsos. There is a complimentary optional tour the next day to see the harvested pearl being graded at Cygnet Bay's showroom in Broome. See


A self-contained villa with private swimming pool at Pearle of Cable Beach makes for a suitably lustrous stay. The Pearle's Breakfast Café offers a breakfast buffet by the resort's communal infinity pool, as well as room-service. From $399 per night, includes continental breakfast. See


Justin Meneguzzi was a guest of Tourism Australia and Western Australia.