Adventures in Eating: Foraging in an Australian Mangrove Swamp

Correspondent William Gurstelle traveled to Australia last month. This article looks at a day in Queensland, where Gurstelle took a tour to go on an authentic crab hunt.

The guide’s name was Linc. He and his brother, Brandon, run a guiding outfit, Kuku Yulanji Cultural Habitat, in tropical North Queensland.

From Linc’s base near Port Douglas on Queensland’s Coral Sea, he took me through the mud flats and mangrove swamps he calls home.

Our hike, a half-day journey, began on coastal mud flats not far from the sugar mill town of Mossman. Linc and I waded through clear, shallow waters for several kilometers, holding iron-tipped bamboo spears at the ready. We were looking for crabs.

“Lots of crabs around here,” Linc told me. “Some of them are the size of dinner plates.”


mud flat trek.jpg

Crab in shallow water (top) and hunters on a mud-flat hike

Big they might be, but to me they seemed rather illusive creatures and not all that easy to spot. The key to successful crabbing is to look for a dark shadow moving sideways through the shallow water, Linc said.

Once roused from their hiding spaces, the crabs are all snapping claws and erratic sideways motion.

When a crab’s pincer locks on to something, it holds on like grim death — stepping on one is out of the question. It’s better to use the spear.

With practice, my spear became a natural tool, and with Linc’s guidance I speared several crabs and collected them in a bucket for a meal to come.


Guide Linc Walker grew up in the area hunting crabs

After an hour on the hunt, my group turned inland to leave the sunny mud flat behind. I marched next to Linc into the dark mangrove swamp.

Unlike most plants, mangrove trees thrive in saline mud. They are beautiful to see up close but their exposed root systems are nearly impenetrable. Where there is no mangrove roots to climb over, it’s all soft ooze and feet plunging unseen into the muck.

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