Word Of Mouth: Holberts Oyster Farm

I don't even remember if it was an accident when I first discovered Holberts oyster shop several years ago.

It's certainly off the beaten track, basically on a dead-end road in an industrial estate.

Somebody told somebody else who told another person who told me about this place to get fresh oysters.

We were in Port Stephens for a long weekend. I got lost twice following vague directions and my instincts - which is easy to do at Port Stephens, when you're in holiday mode, just driving around.

Driving down Diemars Road in Salamander Bay, you pass a relatively new subdivision, go up a rise and see a quarry to the left. On the other side, it feels like an industrial estate, but turn right and you'll notice the flat, green lawn on the left, the water side, almost immediately.

And here we are: A small, brick building with a beautiful lawn and picnic tables with a view of Cromarty Bay, across to Muddy Point to the west, and further to Lemon Tree Passage.

But it's worth it, as many people have discovered in the past 20 years. We are talking fresh, world-class Sydney rock oysters for about $16 a dozen. Fat. Juicy. Shucked.

Bring your own bottle of wine - for mine, a Krinklewood semillon or something special from Andrew Thomas, or a verdelho.

Quite frankly, it doesn't get much better.

They sell prawns, too.

You can have a virtual feast - you would be jealous if somebody described this experience as part of their holiday.

Off the beaten track. Known to locals. A pilgrimage. A trek.

The Holberts (directed by Bobbie, Trevor and brothers Guy and Clark) have been oyster farmers for five generations. They've got locations all over Port Stephens and pretty much farm seven days a week year-round.

Guy Holbert probably eats two or three dozen oysters a day. It's part of job.

"It's amazing how many you try," he says.

"The hotter the weather is, the better they are. For rock oysters, the warmer the water, the fatter they get," he says.

Rock oysters are only grown in NSW. Holberts supply local retailers from Port Stephens, to Newcastle and Sydney, and further afield - Cairns, Townsville, Melbourne, Perth.

"If we can get it on a plane overnight, we can deliver."

The retail shop at their wholesale business was almost a bigger operation.

"It's our little shop. We don't advertise, don't push. The people who know we are here come all the time. It's growing all the time. I don't know why we don't push it. We had great plans but wound up in wholesale.

"We even have a liquor licence, but don't use it. People are happy and keep coming back."

For morning tea, the staff often enjoy oyster sandwiches.

"It's a family tradition," Guy says. "Fresh bread and butter with oysters, a bit of vinegar."

The oysters served over the counter come straight from the "farm".

"You can't get it any quicker," Guy notes.

Ninety per cent of customers prefer them shucked (processing manager Geoff Sharpe is a national champion in that line of work).

Some of the very best oysters come from Cromarty Bay. The best growing location varies with the weather and thus, the Holberts have leases far and wide in Port Stephens.

"We've got some 20 kilometres up little rivers you wouldn't even know are there. We have different locations for growing, fattening, spawning. We are constantly moving them around," Guy says.

From December through to Easter, the Holberts are extremely busy. Guy probably puts in 60 hours across seven days.

"There's not too many days off around here if your name is Holbert," he says.

But there's always time for an oyster.

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