A river cruise is all well and good, but when you leave with an awareness of the culture and history that surrounds a place, it makes your trip significant. That’s what Saltwater Eco Tours in Mooloolaba is all about.
The waterways of Mooloolaba in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast have special meaning for the Kabi Kabi, the traditional custodians of the region.
From the elegant decks of a 115-year-old sailing boat, skipper Simon Thornalley and Kabi Kabi woman ‘Aunty’ Bridgette Chilli paint a picture of what this area represents to a culture that’s tens of thousands of years old.
Check out our video from our time aboard the good ship Spray of The Coral Coast here.
Saltwater Eco Tours—the Cultural Tour on the Mooloolah River
Sailing the Mooloolah River, just beyond the reach of multimillion-dollar waterfront mansions and luxury superyachts, is the Spray of The Coral Coast, a tidy century-old timber boat, its masts reaching for the sky.
Captained by owner Simon Thornalley, who is himself of Indigenous Australian and Torres Strait Islander heritage, the Spray of The Coral Coast is a classic 58ft gaff-rigged Huon-pine ketch.
Built in 1925 to the plans of the original Spray that Joshua Slocum sailed single-handedly around the world between 1895 and 1898, the Spray of The Coral Coast is one of a kind.
And just as Slocum was the first person to circumnavigate the globe on his own, so Simon has created something truly unique; the first of its like.
What to expect on Saltwater Eco Tours’ Cultural Tour
At the Penny Lane Jetty, Bridgette performs a smoke ceremony, welcoming us to her homeland and cleansing us so that we can all “walk on Country with the same footprint.” Her song lets the ancestors, the Old Ones, know we’re here and asks for safe passage up and down the river.
Before we get underway, Simon also plays his didgeridoo for us. Its deep resonating music rings in our ears as the crew cast off and we strike a course along the Mooloolah River.
As we go, Aunty Bridgette tells us the stories she learnt from her grandmother, who raised her the traditional Kabi Kabi ways, passing stories and knowledge down to her the way her grandmother had, so had always been down the millennia.
Her explanations of what the land here means, how it translates and speaks of its own and the Kabi Kabi’s history, is as important as it is fascinating.
Lunch is literally a moveable feast—a never-ending procession of delicious bush-tucker and platters as we sail the river, listening to Aunty Bridgette tell her history.
Deliciously prepared snacks of kangaroo, crocodile, grilled prawns, bunya nut, even a cocktail using Australian botanicals too, come from the galley, as well as a cheese and charcuterie plate.
There’s even a bar set up where you can order more cocktails or beers while you travel.
You’re welcome to go below deck too. Simon is very proud of the renovation—there are some photos of the work that needed to be done and of the Spray of The Coral Coast through its 115-year service.
Before we leave, Aunty Bridgette also performs an ochre ceremony on all of us, protecting us from the world and blessing us.
It’s a remarkable experience from beginning to end.
You can’t help but wonder why there aren’t more experiences like this that teach about the incredible history that run through this land like the rivers themselves.
Perhaps you find some of the answer from how hard it was for Simon to even get approval to start the business and renovate this boat, which is in itself a touchstone of history.
Again and again, Simon had to deal with financiers and councils telling him to just use a regular boat or that his wasn’t a viable business idea. To see Saltwater Eco Tours survive the hardest couple of years for tourism thanks to Covid is sign enough that they were all wrong.
But having sailed with Simon, we can say with authority they were truly blind to the opportunity and ignorant to the significance of this adventure.