The rarest of gems

There is only one pearl farm in NSW and it is located in the serene beauty and nutrient rich waters of the Hawkesbury River.

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, yet they are simply a solid form of pure carbon, abundant across the universe. Some scientists even claim that it rains diamonds on Neptune and Uranus. Pearls, on the other hand, are made by living creatures and have only ever been found on Earth.

If you want to learn more about this rarest of gems, take the Brooklyn/Mooney Mooney exit off the M1, halfway between Sydney and the Central Coast, and a mere two minutes later, you will find yourself in an entirely different world, at Broken Bay Pearl Farm.

Step inside the rustic river-side Shellar Door and immerse yourself in the fascinating world of pearl farming. But don’t go all bleary-eyed: it takes almost five years, plenty of sweat and elbow grease and a sizeable serving of good luck before farmers can pry shimmering gems from freshly shucked oysters.

Pearl farming truly isn’t for the impatient or the faint-hearted. Rose and Ian Crisp were rock oyster farmers along the east coast of New South Wales when they discovered Akoya oysters among their crop in 1999. This fateful discovery led to the establishment of Broken Bay Pearl Farm in 2003.

In 2017, James Brown from Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm in Broome, Western Australia, bought shares in Broken Bay Pearl Farm from some of Ian and Rose’s original business partners. Yet even within a larger organisation, the challenges continued. Akoya oysters have a century-old legacy in pearl farming and are not affected by the QX virus or POMS disease, which are specific to rock oysters. Still, they require a specific, stable salinity level.

The epic 2021 storm floods unsettled that delicate balance and wiped out 98% of Broken Bay Pearl Farm’s oyster stock. The team had to completely repopulate the farm and find ways to diversify its income streams as a safeguard against future disasters.

Tourism & Sales Manager Kate Trotter explains, “we have thrown open the gates to our Shellar Door for anyone interested in learning more about pearls.

“Our Discovery Tours take our guests on a scenic cruise on the Hawkesbury. They see firsthand how we farm and nurture our oysters. They learn about pearl grading and about the history of pearl farming.”

A shimmering adventure

Offerings also include a Pearlers Private Lunch Cruise with a grazing lunch and oyster tasting, or the Ultimate Experience, where you can take home your very own Akoya pearl.

Read more in our Winter Edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography courtesy of Broken Bay Pearl Farm