Revisiting Connections: a Return to the Family’s Saltwater Roots

Local Saltwater man Simon Thornalley has combined his passion for the ocean, indigenous culture and extensive maritime experience into a unique eco-tourism venture: Saltwater Eco Tours

The business was officially launched in early 2020, but has recently found the perfect place to moor at The Wharf Mooloolaba. 

It was Simon’s love of the ocean and a desire to return to the family’s saltwater roots that inspired his vision to establish his own eco-tourism business. 

It is clear that for the team at Saltwater Eco Tour, Indigenous culture is central to business. Simon grew up on Kabi Kabi country, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and descends from the Kaureng people of Horn Island (Ngurupai) in the Torres Strait; “I’ve definitely come from saltwater, it runs in my blood with my family heritage from the Torres Strait, and I feel a strong sense of nostalgia when I’m at the wheel. I definitely feel that connection with my culture and with my family”.

Whilst his own wealth of knowledge around the ocean and local maritime history initially inspired this business venture –  Simon knew that an authentic experience could only be curated via deep and on-going consultation with the local Kabi Kabi peoples, sharing their culture and wisdom of the Sunshine Coast’s ecological diversity.

On-board, guests are accompanied by a number of local indigenous storytellers, who share the stories, traditions and deep dive into the culture of the Kabi Kabi people. For Indigenous peoples, storytelling holds deep connections to their country and a way of reclaiming identity. Through storytelling, it invites speaker and listener to connect to the surrounding ecologies of land, language and community. It is a part of healing and a means for renewed engagement with one’s own roots. 

Saltwater continues to collaborate with local Traditional business owners, such as Aunty Dale Chapman from My Dilly Bag. Collaborations such as these provide a platform to support Aboriginal products and initiatives – and offer guests a uniquely immersive and authentic experience. 

Beyond their function as a business, the key offerings of Saltwater Eco Tours remain in their wish  to narrate and illuminate the unique stories that are carved within every place within the Mooloolaba waters. Broadly, by reinforcing identities and enhancing a cross-cultural understanding between guests and locals alike, experiences such as this work to ensure that native heritage and Indigenous culture can be preserved within these spaces.

Across their extensive list of tours and packages, it is clear that each has been designed to  highlight  the diversity of treasures mapped along the Mooloolaba river and coast. 

Their flagship tour ‘The Saltwater Cultural Tour’ invites guests to immerse themselves in all things storytelling, music and entertainment – whilst basking in the best of local produce the area has to offer; freshly shucked oysters and Mooloolaba prawns. 

If you are more of a ‘foodie’ – their Native Bushfood and Seafood Cruise will have you indulging in authentic bush tucker nibbles as you soak in the natural beauty that surrounds. 

They also offer tours for education groups – where teachers can experience professional training and cultural development on-board through interactive Q&A’s hosted by local elders and leaders of the community.

Saltwater Eco Tours proves to embrace the best that Mooloolaba hospitality and tourism has on offer. Its approach to service is unique and dynamic by nature, but it is the team’s desire to return to their roots and their celebration of Indigenous culture that commands this experience as truly ‘one of a kind’. 

We invite you to come down to The Wharf Mooloolaba and experience one of Saltwater Eco Tours expeditions  for yourself. Book via their website here.


The Saltwater Eco Team and The Wharf Mooloolaba acknowledges the Kabi Kabi and the Jinibara people, the Traditional Custodians of the land in which we live, work and learn. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.