I never thought I’d one day dance for my lunch on a pristine blue beach in Fleurieu Peninsula, Australia. We were on a tour of the region in Ben Neville’s 4WD in late spring, all excited to ‘swim with the tuna’ at Victor Harbour.
However, gusty winds and currents played spoilsport and Ben decided that we’d go kayaking in the Coorong instead. Such a tragedy, right? Another brilliant guide, Brenton of ‘Canoe the Coorong’, gave us a quick lesson in rowing the narrow and long canoes.
We coursed through the serene water until Murray Mouth, where we saw huge sea lions basking in the mid-morning sun and little flocks of ducks swimming rhythmically in another corner. We rowed back to the shore from there and realised our tummies were growling.
Brenton hopped into our 4WD and directed Ben to drive us to a secret stretch of Goolwa Beach surrounded by a sandy cliff perfect for a quick lunch in the outdoors. This is the quintessential Fleurieu experience and there are countless places along the coast where you can stop for a slice of paradise.
We walked across a curving path hewn roughly onto the hillside to get to the shore. On either side, reeds and thorny bushes waved in the cool breeze. The beach was a deep blue in colour, with cheery waves running up to the shore in a fountain of sudsy droplets. And did I mention that there wasn’t a single soul there apart from us?
Before we realised what was happening, Ben and Brenton were dancing on the beach. They twisted their hips on either side rhythmically, then stopped, shuffled their feet in the sand, dug their hands in and came up with a bunch of cockles! The process was then duly repeated. That was when it struck me that we’d be dancing for our lunch that day.
I tried swivelling in a similar manner and then shuffling my feet but when I bent down, there weren’t more than a handful of cockles on the sand. And most of them were too small to be eaten! This was tougher than it looked. Luckily for us, Ben and Brenton were rather efficient and after a few minutes, they had a bucketful of cockles ready to be cooked.
Cockles are small and edible, marine bivalve molluscs usually found in sandy, protected beaches. They are also ridiculously easy to cook, as we’d soon find out. Ben and Brenton hopped ahead of us to set up the picnic lunch in a sheltered spot on the cliff. When we got there, the cockles were cooking in a large vat of hot water infused with lemon juice and butter.
Brenton (left) and Ben setting up our picnic lunch
On the carpet, Ben had laid out roundels of Brie, homemade cookies by Brenton’s granny, a jar of nuts and dried fruits and large wedges of crusty bread. When we sat down, he poured each of us a glass of McLaren Vale white wine called “The Hermit Crab”. We sipped on the fruity, floral wine and nibbled on bread topped with Brie as the breeze brought us the scent of the shore where we’d foraged for lunch.
Brenton laid out the cockles on a plate and dished out some of the heavenly lemon juice butter concoction in another bowl. I pried open one shell and slipped the cockle into my mouth along with a swig of the lemon butter juice. The naturally salty cockle flesh was soft but chewy and the juice added a delicious flavour to it all. This was such a lovely way to eat in the outdoors!
There were more than enough cockles to feed us all and we ate until we could eat no more. But the crumbly oat and chocolate chip cookies were truly the icing on the cake. I envied Brenton, who spent all his days guiding his guests through such adventures. But I’m happy to have been a part of one of those sunshine days.
Find your own cockles: Adelaide is the closest airport to Fleurieu Peninsula. Call Ben of Off Piste 4WD Tours to drive you and your pack to Fleurieu Peninsula in under an hour. The Coorong is located near Goolwa and excursions can be enjoyed by all, whether young or old.
P.S.: Cockles are also found, sold and devoured in Ireland, Norway and Senegal.