Valerie is a Huon-pine shark trawler built in Mordialloc in 1979. A few years ago, two blokes in their eighties began painstakingly refurbishing the boat by hand in Tasmania. The pair had been enlisted by husband-and-wife team Lizzy Franklin and Lance Wiffen, who had wanted to start a premium mussel tour business for 15 years.

“We’ve taken people out on commercial boats before – TV chefs and things – but we needed something that was going to be really nice for people,” says Franklin.

“Once Lance saw [Valerie in the classifieds]… he could see what it was going to end up looking like. We were lucky to have the amazing craftsmen working on it down in Tassie, slowly but surely. We’re thrilled with how it came up.”

Now, Franklin and Wiffen’s Portarlington Mussel Tours is the latest reason to visit the Bellarine Peninsula, combining delicious dishes with valuable insight into the growing and harvesting one of the more eco-friendly seafoods. The waters here are considered optimal for growing mussels (and oysters too), and you'll find both on menus across Melbourne.

On the tour, you’ll eat shellfish in large quantities, paired with a range of local produce that typifies Portarlington’s rising reputation as a gastro destination.

Nearby producers Bellarine Distillery, 38th Parallel Brewing, Mermerus Vineyard, Curlewis Winery and Terindah Estate feature on the drinks list, while local baked goods, cheeses and dips are in no short supply either.

Valerie now has plush interior furnishings with a luxe rear deck for lounging, eating and sightseeing. On the tour, Wiffen describes the mussel cultivation process, which takes place across 200 kilometres of underwater rope in the bay. The mussels we devoured had been growing for up to two years. He’s a fifth-generation sea farmer with 37 years experience, so he knows his mussels.

There’s something special about eating seafood straight from the water, Franklin’s Kilpatrick-style mussels (cooked on the boat) are a winner among an array of other tasty home recipes.

As well as mussels, there are Angasi oysters to enjoy (this variety is a skinnier, tougher-to-open oyster that takes twice as long to grow as the Pacific oysters found in Tassie and South Australia). Wiffen pries one open with a specially made tool – a lengthy process that precedes shucking. All this labour is rewarded with a rich flavour enhanced by Franklin’s lemon, chilli jam, salt and sparkling wine trimmings.

Regular tours are due to begin in April. It’s the latest in a string of new local attractions that also includes the recently refurbished Portarlington Grand Hotel.

This article was updated on March 14 to correct the spelling of the name of the boat Valerie.