We rarely find a port we don't like, but some are such pleasant surprises, we're amazed we hadn't heard more about them before we visited. What's our criteria for “unexpectedly cool”? Well, it's usually a small port that's welcoming and cruiser-friendly and offers some interesting things to see and do that we were just not anticipating.
Mosselbaai (Mossel Bay), South Africa
We anchored just off the friendly Mossel Bay Yacht and Boat Club, located on South Africa's south coast. Everything is close and within walking distance. There are pleasant walks to the point and great views from the Cape St. Blaize Lighthouse. The best part of Mosselbaai, however, is the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex, just a stone's throw from the anchorage. This maritime museum is excellent and thoroughly enjoyable.
The small Caribbean port of Deshaies (Day-hay), Guadeloupe is wonderfully French. The aromas of coffee, freshly baked croissants and baguettes waft into the anchorage each morning and beg the crew to come ashore. The surprise was the pleasant, 15-acre Jardin Botanique (Botanical Garden) within walking distance from the dinghy dock.
Streaky Bay, South Australia
Streaky Bay is a little coastal town on the western side of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. The anchorage is idyllic, well protected from the winds and weather of the Great Australian Bight. Again, there are all the basic cruiser amenities, but beyond checking out the great white shark replica at the Streaky Bay Roadhouse, we enjoyed one of the finest dinners we've ever had at Mocean (pronounced Motion … like ocean with an M).
If you've ever imagined a tiny South Pacific port where old-time trading ships pulled up to the docks and offloaded their cargoes, this is the place. The myriad of islands and islets to visit within this protected area seem limitless. The culture, the high quality Tongan carvings at colorful markets, the warmth and generosity of the Tongan people made this South Pacific nirvana.
Eden, New South Wales, Australia
A small, protected coastal port along the southeast Australian coast, Eden is a lovely place to catch your breath. The Killer Whale Museum is a highlight, but the town is so pleasant, friendly, and walkable, we could have stayed for months.
After bashing down the wild west coast of Tasmania and entering through Hell's Gate into Macquarie Harbour, we weren't prepared for the beauty and calm of Strahan. The town is picturesque and lively and the anchorage is calm … a lovely surprise for weary sailors.
Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand
Dunedin is a gem of a city on New Zealand's south island. It's definitely not small, but it was a surprise nonetheless. A university town, it's vibrant and culturally engaging with museums and parks and everything's within walking distance. It's a great base for exploring the Otago peninsula or heading inland on the Taieri Gorge Railway.
Port Louis, Mauritius
In the middle of the Indian Ocean, we just didn't expect St. Louis, Mauritius to be as cosmopolitan and welcoming as it was. From the colorful, historic foreshore to the traditional Saturday afternoon horse races to the inland tea and sugar cane plantation tours, we were kept busy and entertained throughout our stay.
We chose to stop in Lüderitz, Namibia because it was a convenient stop between Cape Town, South Africa and St. Helena Island. We didn't anticipate enjoying our stay as much as we did. A neat and tidy German colonial town, the town is isolated from the rest of the country by the diamond fields that surround it. The diamond-mining ghost town of Kolmanskop is highly recommended as a tourist stop, but walks around town, out to Shark Island and along the rugged coast are outstanding.
It's been a long time since we visited the little seacoast town of Searsport, Maine, but the hospitality of the town is indelibly imprinted in our memories. The town is dubbed "the home of the famous sea captains" and the "Antique Capital of Maine" and we enjoyed the nautical spirit of the place and the people. Wayne Hamilton, owner of Hamilton Marine, a stellar chandlery, greeted us himself and showed us to a free visitor's mooring, then offered a ride to the chandlery and the classy Penobscot Marine Museum.