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Saltwater Eco Tours

Saltwater Eco Tours combines owner Simon Thornalley’s passion for the ocean with his Indigenous heritage and showcases the Indigenous culture of the local Kabi Kabi people and the beauty of the Sunshine Coast. However, this tour wasn’t what our family expected. We might have been connecting with the oldest living culture in the world but our three hour trip along the Mooloolah River was light-hearted and fun in addition to providing a deeper understanding of local indigenous culture. Saltwater Cultural Tours kept our teen off his phone and enthralled for the entire three hour trip which shows just how good this tour is.

We arrived at Penny Lane Jetty near Mooloolaba Wharf and immediately spotted the 100 year old gaff rigged ketch, Spray of the Coral Coast, sailing towards us. Thornalley had seen the historic ketch around Mooloolaba and thought it was a beautiful vessel. However, it had been left to deteriorate and wasn’t getting the care it deserved. He originally looked at boats all over the country for Saltwater Eco Tours and was planning to buy an old one and do it up. However, it didn’t take him long to realise that the local ketch which had caught his eye had everything he was after and more and he purchased it from the owners.

Predeparture briefing Saltwater Eco Tours
Kerry Neill gives a predeparture briefing

The historic boat adds an extra touch of magic to this entertaining tour as do the lively tales from guide Kerry Neill. This tour combines dreamtime legends, ancient traditions, beliefs, stories and the lifestyle of the Sunshine Coasts first eco-custodians, the Saltwater People, with an engaging dash of larrikin humour from guide Kerry Neill. One of the things that our family of two adults and a teen enjoyed the most about the Cultural Tour was that it was informal but also very informative. There was no well-rehearsed commentary or tourist spiel. Information was delivered with heartfelt passion and knockabout charm. Neill’s enthusiasm for sharing his culture and the stories of the Kabi Kabi people was contagious.

Cultural experiences abound
Our teen really enjoyed this interactive tour
Saltwater Eco Tours
Saltwater Eco Tours sunset photo

Neill pointed out a sea eagle nest and explained the bird is the totem animal of his people. He loves watching them flying when he is out fishing as they remind him of the people who came before him. “Where the eagles go hunting for fish is where I go fishing. I also go hunting at Woolworths,” he joked. “I catch a lot of fish there too.”

After some delicious cheese platters were passed around it was time for the boomerang throwing section of the tour. Neill held up a large 200 year old burragun (boomerang) and explained it was left handed and the matching right handed boomerang was still with the original family. As the only teen on the tour, our son got called up to stand at the front of the boat and be ‘the kangaroo’. Neill explained that Kabi Kabi hunters wanted the kangaroo as close as possible to increase their chance of success and held up a small boomerang. “If a kangaroo smells a human, it is going to hop in the other opposite direction. We use this small boomerang to trick it into getting close.”

Boomerang hunting
How to hunt using two boomerangs
Kangaroo actor
Saltwater Eco Tours ‘stand in’ human kangaroo

He went on to explain how the small boomerang is rubbed under the hunter’s arm “to get that nice Rexona smell” and then thrown to confuse the ‘roo. When the kangaroo smells the humans as the boomerang zooms past he ‘runs away’ but due to the skillful throw, the kangaroo is actually hopping towards the hunter. When the kangaroo gets very close, the hunter throws the large boomerang to kill the kangaroo instantly with one knock. Hunting is never something that is done for sport. “If a hunter feels sad when he kills the kangaroo then he’s a true hunter. We only take what we need,” Neill explained.

Sunset with Saltwater Eco Tours
Sunset with Saltwater Eco Tours
Oysters with finger lime
Oysters with finger lime

After the teenage ‘kangaroo’ makes its way back to its parents and everyone eats the oysters served with finger lime and fresh Mooloolaba prawns that Neill passes around, it’s time to sail back along the waterway with the sounds of a didgeridoo swelling around us. As the sun sinks slowly towards the horizon, it’s easy to understand the deep spiritual connection Thornalley and Neill and his people have with the land. And that it’s something we all share, even though we may not be indigenous Australians. Kerry Neill’s final words are particularly poignant and provide the perfect ending to what has been a superb tour.

Saltwater Eco Tours
Thornalley and Neill enjoying the didgeridoo

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Sunset
The sun had almost set as we approached the wharf

“We all have a connection to country. It’s like when you’re having a bad day at work or nothing is going right, as soon as you walk outside and see that grass and feel the wind, you feel better. You’re all connected to country and you’re all welcome here.”

Disclosure: The writer travelled with assistance from Tourism & Events Queensland.

Heading to the Sunshine Coast? We’ve got lots of helpful information to help make this your best trip yet including accommodation reviews for Eumarella Shores Noosa Lake Retreat Review, Oceans Mooloolaba, Rumba Beach Resort, Seahaven Noosa, King Parrot Retreat, On the Beach Noosa, Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort and Peppers Resort & Villas Review. We’ve also reviewed Australia Zoo Review, Kanu Kapers Everglades Tours, SEA LIFE Mooloolaba, Sails Restaurant Noosa, Noosa helicopter tours, Noosa Oceanrider, Noosa Dreamboats, and Betty’s Burgers Noosa. Don’t miss our tips for Things to do on the Sunshine Coast, Noosa Things to Do for Active Travellers, The Best Restaurants at Mooloolaba, The Ultimate Guide to Noosa, Things to do at Mooloolaba, Healthy Noosa Holidays, Where to Find the Best Views on Hastings Street, and How to Plan Your Noosa Honeymoon.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.