The ferry service to Noosa North Shore is set for the greatest transformation in its 60 year history.
Last week Council awarded a contract to Divers Den – part of the New Zealand Entrada Travel Group – to provide new vessels and operate the service for the next 20 years, starting from July 1, 2024.
The successful tenderer is experienced with vehicle ferries, operating several in NZ as well as the Daintree River ferry service for Douglas Council in North Queensland.
No doubt repeat ferry users will be looking for improvements that eliminate the congestion that has sometimes seen people waiting hours to cross the river. Others will wonder what fare payment methods will be accepted, and frequent users will no doubt look for discounted multiple trip passes.
As well as nearly doubling the hourly capacity, the new operator will bring with it a new age of digital, online ticketing.
There’s also discussion of a new lane approaching the ferry dedicated to ‘locals’.
One thing is certain. The new recommended service will be very different
from the initial service in the early 1960s.
The early days of ‘the barge’
The first ‘ferry’ was a rotting timber barge that had been abandoned on a sandbank.
It was refloated by an entrepreneurial Herb Woods with the help of friends, repaired, fitted out, and pressed into service. It was affectionately known by locals as ‘the barge’.
The barge was constrained by a single wire cable across the river, had loose planks instead of access ramps, and was much smaller than the two existing ferries. A return fare was $2 when decimal currency was adopted in 1966.
After 5 years the barge was taking so much water a new ferry was constructed in 1968 on three round pontoons. It was larger, had access ramps and two cables for better stability against wind and tide.
There was just a trickle of users to cater for in the 1960s. Very bad weather eroded the beach for some years and exposed extensive coffee rock that was often impassable south of Teewah. The ferry couldn’t support one wage, and was probably only kept operating every day with the long term assistance of retired farmer Sid Robinson who had a ‘shack’ at Teewah.
The return of better weather and the increasing popularity of 4 wheel drive vehicles changed all that, and by 1986 there were two ferries. Despite the increased capacity, in the busy times the vehicle line up is so long that the wait to cross the river can be hours.
What lies ahead for our river crossing?
So much has changed each generation since the Moorindil Street ferry service started operations. Each major change has increased the maximum hourly capacity.
That requires larger ferries at a significant capital cost, to be recovered over the 20 year life of the contract. But who can predict the vehicle numbers in the future? Who is at risk if there are new regulations to restrict the numbers of vehicles on the beach?
These are just a couple of the serious financial issues that Council staff have had to consider when developing complicated tender documentation. It appears from their report that the chosen contract model will put both Council and the successful tenderer in a good position to manage any changes that might affect ferry operations.
The two new ferries arriving by July 2024 will have different capacities. The smaller one will carry 12 standard vehicles, the other 27 which is the same size as the Daintree ferry.
Will the significantly increased hourly capacity encourage more vehicles to the beach that many local families are already avoiding because of the crowding and the irresponsible behaviour of so many 4WD hoons?
Will the rapidly increasing population of South East Queensland make Noosa North Shore a no-go zone for locals most of the time, much like Hastings Street?
Council hasn’t been able to do anything much about the undesirable effects of population pressure in the urban areas south of the river.
With the ferry decision behind them, maybe it’s time they re-started discussions with Gympie Council and the State Government about the management required to maintain the recreational values of the whole area from Noosa’s North Shore to Rainbow Beach.