Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Sunday (Maroochydore, Australia)

Coongoola Offers a Charming and Calming Tour; aboard a Ketch with a Colourful History Is a Perfect Way to Cruise Vanuatu's Port Vila, as David Ellis Finds

Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Sunday (Maroochydore, Australia)

Coongoola Offers a Charming and Calming Tour; aboard a Ketch with a Colourful History Is a Perfect Way to Cruise Vanuatu's Port Vila, as David Ellis Finds

Article excerpt

GOOD news from Vanuatu is that one of the best full-day adventures out of tropical little Port Vila is once again up and running after the devastation to the tourism industry of Cyclone Pam in March.

We're talking about an outing aboard the historic 23m (75ft) ketch Coongoola for a day's sun, sand, swimming, snorkelling and barbecuing at one of the cutest little havens this island paradise has to offer - and with maybe a local Tusker beer or three tossed in to avert dehydration.

Coongoola was out of action for a month after the stout little vessel sustained minor damage as she hid behind an island in Vila Harbour during the fury of 250kmh winds (one gust 320kmh/198mph,) and while Mother Nature replenished the white sands of the delightfully named Hapi Tok Beach that she visits and which Pam's mountainous seas had partly washed away.

But once again visitors to Port Vila can now revel in this magical day's outing that begins with mini-bus pick-ups from Vila hotels, and a picturesque 40-minute drive out to Coongoola's anchorage in Havannah Harbour, famous for its role in 1942's Battle of the Coral Sea.

Relax aboard with morning tea of French buns and tea or Vanuatu coffee on the way across to tiny Moso Island where Coongoola's owner, Owen Drew, has run a voluntary turtle conservation rookery for the past 11 years, breeding, tagging and releasing into the ocean over 1100 highly endangered Hawksbills in that time.

In return for a donation, passengers can name a turtle - and have their own email address added to its tag so anyone coming across it in the future can let them know where it is wandering.

After the turtles it's onwards again aboard Coongoola, this time to Hapi Tok Beach on Moso's uninhabited rain-shadow side - a haven exclusive to Coongoola's guests for a few hours of swimming the electric-blue waters, snorkelling over rainbow-coloured coral reefs, maybe dozing in sun or shade, and partaking of an expansive barbecue and accompanying table-load of tropical salads, with beer and soft-drinks available via an honesty box.

And as lunch ends thousands of now-tame fish splash, right on cue, into the waters off the beach for guests to wade amongst and finger-feed with the left-overs. …

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