The introduction of a vehicular and passenger ferry service across Port Phillip Heads in September, 1987 was the culmination of 30 years of dreaming, planning and lobbying by many people and organisations in both communities of southern Port Phillip Bay.
Long before the formation of the operating company, Peninsula Searoad Transport Ltd (PST), in June 1983, local councils, business people, tourism groups, some Government Departments and individuals on both sides of the Bay advocated a modern, reliable vehicular ferry service to link the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas, both economically and socially.
After extensive research and feasibility studies, the company devoted a further two years of work to obtain the 17 permits required for Government and Semi-Government bodies, before outlaying $2 million to construct a purpose built 35 vehicle vessel at Carrington slips in Newcastle. A belief in the need for the service and confidence in its viability was further demonstrated at State Government level when the then Victorian Tourism Commission lent its support to the establishment of the service.
A permit to operate was issued by the Minister for Planning and Environment on December 4, 1985.
Despite skepticism in some quarters about the viability of the service, especially during winter months, from September 1987 the “M.V. Peninsula Princess” rarely missed a scheduled crossing until she was replaced in December 1993. The company established a ticket office and transit lounge at the eastern end of Queenscliff’s Larkin Parade during January 1990 and at the end of the Sorrento Pier in April 1992.
The encouraging growth of the business during its first five years prompted the company during 1992-1993 to carefully examine its needs for the next 20 years in order to meet the expanding patronage in a systematic and thoroughly professional manner. During 1993 a replacement ferry especially designed with these needs in mind was built by Port Lincoln Ship Construction Pty Ltd at Port Lincoln, South Australia. The M.V “Queenscliff” was designed in Tasmania by Seward Maritime. It commenced service on Port Phillip Bay on the 28th December, 1993 and gradually took over from the “Peninsula Princess”. The “Queenscliff” not only more than doubled the vehicle capacity of the “Peninsula Princess” but introduced a new level of comfort and enjoyment for the 700 passengers it is capable of transporting each crossing.
At the same time, an upgrade of berthing and passenger facilities at Queenscliff was undertaken incorporating better traffic management and full computerization of the ticketing system.
Additional queuing lanes and a new ticketing office at Sorrento were completed for the 1995/96 holiday season.
Growing patronage, and the company’s desire to better serve the business community on both sides of the Bay, prompted it to commence construction of an additional 80 car vessel in April 2000.
The M.V. “Sorrento” took shape over 11 months at Southern Marine Shiplift in Launceston, Tasmania. (S.M.S. is a shipyard company jointly owned and operated by PST and Cummins Engine Co.). The new vessel began operation during late March 2001 and was officially launched by the Deputy Premier, the Hon. John Thwaites, MP, on April 22nd, 2001.
The two vessels work in tandem, criss-crossing southern Port Phillip 24 times a day. The “Sorrento” adds a new level of service and comfort to bay travel. Enhanced lounge areas, upgraded refreshment services and a function lounge are much appreciated features. A full internal lift, capable of accommodating a wheelchair or large pram, operates from the vehicle deck to the passenger lounge. A light-filled conservatory and a delightful bronze sculpture of a mother and baby dolphin further add to the appeal of the “Sorrento”.
On both vessels, wide panoramic windows and numerous external observation decks highlight the natural beauty and man-made features of Southern Port Phillip. During the crossing passengers enjoy views of lighthouses, historic fortifications, cliff top mansions, beacons and marine life such as dolphins, seabirds and occasionally whales. The service has become not only one of Victoria’s major tourism experiences, but it is also a key section of Victoria’s road network, provided by PST at no cost to the taxpayer.
The 5.6 nautical mile crossing takes approximately 40 minutes, saving time and kilometres. The road distance from Sorrento to Queenscliff, via Melbourne, is approximately 220 kilometres and can take up to 3 hours.
Use of the service as a coastal transportation link for residential, commercial and tourism traffic is well established. It has effectively linked the Great Ocean Road, the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas, Phillip Island and Wilsons Promontory in a four hour journey that has become one of Victoria’s most popular touring routes.
PST is the proud recipient of many major awards including 2002 Victoria Tourism Award for Major Transport and Tour Operator as well as a past Australian Tourism Award and a Geelong Business Excellence Award. It is continually striving to upgrade its service for its residential, commercial and tourism patrons. During the short to medium term, the company hopes to upgrade its Queenscliff passenger terminal building to improve pedestrian safety and comfort during loading.