In the beautiful, calm estuary of Brisbane Water an hour north of Sydney is the state’s only pearl farm – one of the best producers of Akoya cultured pearls in the world.

The little-known company Broken Bay Pearls uses pioneering farming techniques – it doesn’t use chemicals to treat and bleach the pearls, a common practice overseas – and is now inviting visitors aboard its 10-metre catamaran to explore its 150-year-old oyster cages, in a unique “shellar door” experience.

The recently launched farm tour includes a one-hour voyage across the bay where you can learn more about Akoya pearls, which are native to the east coast of Australia and its subtropical waters. They’re also farmed in Japan, China and a couple other areas in Asia, but in Australia are cultivated only on NSW’s central coast. (There are other non-Akoya pearl farms in the Kimberley, WA, Queensland and the NT.)

On board, an experienced skipper will share the farm’s story and the history of the pearling industry, and explain how the pearls are collected.

“We harvest the pearls live on the boat, so we have no idea what we’re going to find inside. It’s always quite exciting,” says third-generation pearl farmer and Broken Bay Pearls’ managing director, James Brown.

As you sail through the quiet waters you’ll see a variety of sea life, from pelicans to turtles to stingray and lots of fish. “It’s this pristine marine environment and its rich biodiversity that allows us to produce some of the best Akoya pearls in the world,” Brown says.

Back on land, the tour continues with a hands-on sorting session, where you’ll learn about how the pearls are graded and processed.

Those who wish to skip the boat can also sign up for an appreciation class on the seven virtues of the pearl, which include provenance, purity, size, shape, colour, lustre and surface.

Brown says it’s not something you can do in many places: “You can find display farms for tourists, but there are not many places in the world where you can go behind-the-scenes at a fully operational pearl farm.”

By opening the doors to Broken Bay Pearls, Brown hopes to educate people on the pearl trade, much like cellar doors have done for the wine industry. “People don’t seem to know that the vast majority of pearls are chemically treated to improve the way they look,” he says. “This involves bleaching, dying and a whole range of treatments to create a perfectly round, smooth, white pearl.”

Broken Bay Pearls come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, from classic cream to gold, blue, pink and iridescent silver. “The variations do create some challenges for us; for instance, creating a string of identical pearls can be time-consuming, however we think their natural beauty is worth the extra effort.”

Broken Bay Pearls run farm tours and pearl appreciation classes every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the year.

After visiting Broken Bay Pearls, there are more things to do in nearby Woy Woy. Check out our guide.