Sunshine Coast celebrates the launch of first Indigenous eco cruise

In the Year of Indigenous Tourism, Saturday, July 4th, 2020, will be cause for great celebration as a new, highly anticipated, Indigenous visitor experience, Saltwater Eco Tours, opens to the public for the very first time. 

Operating from Penny Lane Jetty in the tourist hub of Mooloolaba, Saltwater Eco Tours offers unique cultural tours escorted by Indigenous Storyteller Guides. The experience will share the stories, traditions and culture of the Sunshine Coast regions first eco custodians, the Kabi Kabi People, during an unforgettable cruising experience along the Mooloolah River, on board the historical 100 year old timber sailing vessel “Spray of the Coral Coast”. 

After almost 18 months of preparation and delay due to COVID-19, the launch finally brings to life the vision of Simon Thornalley, a young Indigenous man of Torres Strait Island descent. Simon spent his life sailing through the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Straits as a child on his mission boat family home, before gaining his Commercial Master Class 5 licence, crossing the Southern Ocean to Antarctica six times as First Officer on a charter vessel, working as a commercial offshore diver and a Dive Medic Technician. 

These life shaping experiences nurtured Simons respect for the marine environment, his cultural heritage and tradition, at the same time endowing him with sailing skills, knowledge, and experience that he felt compelled to share. 

Upon his recent appointment as a Young Indigenous Tourism Leader, Simon said “I am honoured and proud to launch a business that encompasses my passion for culture, as well as maritime history and sailing. Sustainable tourism plays a crucial role in today’s society and in the year of Indigenous tourism I am excited to launch Saltwater Eco Tours on the Sunshine Coast.” 

The future success of the business is underpinned by the increased demand for authentic cultural experiences. Visitors are increasingly looking for local experiences that reflect their values and have a sense of purpose. 

Tourism Minister Kate Jones welcomed the launch of the Sunshine Coast’s newest tourism experience. “There’s more demand than ever before for ecotourism and Indigenous cultural experiences in Queensland,” Ms Jones said. “This industry has huge potential to pump millions of dollars into our economy and create jobs for locals. 

“COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our tourism industry. We need new experiences like Saltwater Eco Tours to entice visitors back to the Sunny Coast and share the message that we’re Good To Go in Queensland. 

“Because Queenslanders have done such a great job fighting COVID-19, we can now focus on our economic recovery. Tourism is vital to rebuilding our economy. 

“It’s great to see Saltwater Eco Tours getting behind Queensland’s Year of Indigenous Tourism with this new experience.” 

The launch of Saltwater Eco Tours coincides perfectly with the beginning of the Queensland school holidays, providing families from across the state with the first opportunity to enjoy this immersive new tourism experience. 

This will be the first significant water based ecotourism product launch that the Sunshine Coast has seen for some time and it is welcomed by all levels of the industry including the Sunshine Coast Council which has a significant investment in Indigenous Tourism Development. Sunshine Coast Council Mayor Mark Jamieson said the opportunity to experience aspects of the history, culture and stories of our First Nations peoples would provide an important drawcard for visitors to the Sunshine Coast. 

“Expanding our tourism offer and in particular, sharing the culture and history of our Kabi Kabi First Nation peoples, is particularly important at this time as our region seeks to lure more domestic visitors to our Sunshine Coast as the region recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayor Jamieson said. 

“Through our Sunshine Coast Reconciliation Action Plan 2017-2019, Council has been a strong advocate for, and supporter of, developing cultural tourism opportunities – and what better time to launch a new venture such as Saltwater Eco Tours during the Year of Indigenous Tourism. 

“Now is a perfect time for our residents and our visitors to get out on the water and experience new local offerings”. 

Mayor Jamieson said Mr Thornalley had worked closely with Sunshine Coast Council over the past two years to ensure the business responded to a growing demand for immersive cultural experiences, while at the same time providing employment opportunities for local First Nation peoples. 

ABOUT THE TOURS Initially operating on weekends, three tours will be available at launch: the flagship Cultural Tour, a Sunset Acoustic Tour and Private Charters. Bookings are open now via the company website

ABOUT THE SPRAY OF THE CORAL COAST The “Spray of the Coral Coast”, a 100 year old, classic 58ft gaff-rigged Huon-pine ketch has a fascinating history of its own. 

This beautifully restored traditional sailing vessel was launched in 1925 after being built to the same plan as the “Spray”, the boat used by Joshua Slocum to become the first person to circumnavigate , covering more than 46,000 miles between April, 1895, and June, 1898. She is now thought to be the oldest Spray sailing in Australia and possibly the world. 

Above deck, there is plenty of space for up to 35 guests, (this will be limited to 20 passengers while required to adhere to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines) and the addition of a roller furling headsail makes getting underway an easier task than it was in Slocum’s day. Below deck there is no sign of hardship or age. She has berths for seven, a full head, a stainless-steel galley, and a large and comfortable saloon. The partially enclosed cockpit has comfortable seating for up to ten guests.