Australia's 10 best ferry rides

Why splash out a fortune for a cruise when a humble ferry ride can do much the same job for a smidgeon of the price? OK, so you might not get the buffets and cabaret shows on board one of Australia's ferries – but pick the right route, and you can cram in some tremendous scenery. These ten Aussie ferry rides offer considerably more than transport from A to B…

The Manly Ferry

Where? Sydney, New South Wales

The Manly ferry service arriving at Manly Wharf. Ten best ferry rides Australia - by David Whitley
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Photo: Tom Park

OK, so it's the ferry journey that the whole world knows about. But overexposure doesn't make the Manly ferry from Circular Quay any less fabulous. The half hour ferry ride weaves through the white-sailed yachts of Sydney Harbour, past the national park headlands and outrageously expensive clifftop mansions. What's not to like? See transportnsw.info

The Parramatta Ferry

Where? Sydney, New South Wales

R0H6T8 Calm waters fo Parramatta river flowing between Inner West suburbs of Sydney connected by Gladesville bridge in view of distant city CBD skyline. Ten best ferry rides Australia - by David Whitley
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Photo: Taras Vyshnya / Alamy Stock Photo

The Manly Ferry hogs the spotlight, but if you're wanting to get your money's worth on a Sydney ferry, head in the opposite direction. The Rivercats take their sweet time heading down the Parramatta River – the journey from Circular Quay to Parramatta Wharf takes nearly an hour-and-a-half. But they cross under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and stop in at Cockatoo Island and Sydney Olympic Park on the way. See transportnsw.info

The Peninsula Searoad Ferry

Where? Queenscliff, Victoria

The Peninsula Searoad Ferry passes Sorrento etc

Photo: Supplied

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Flitting across the mouth of Port Phillip Bay between Queenscliff and Sorrento, the Peninsula Searoad Ferry's primary job is to save a long drive between the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas. But it doesn't half have some spectacular views of peninsula beaches on the way. The dolphins of Port Phillip Bay often come along for the ride, too, playing in the ferry's wake. See searoad.com.au

The ferry to Northshore

Where? Brisbane, Queensland

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ten best ferry rides Australia - by David Whitley
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Brisbane's ferries bounce around between the banks of the Brisbane River. Most work their way in a near loop around the bulging peninsula of the CBD, and act as cheapskate river cruise. To properly get you money's worth, however, take the City Cat ferry from the city to the Hamilton Northshore terminal nearer the mouth of the river. It takes around 45 minutes, but leaves you next to Eat Street Northshore – the giant shipping container complex full of food stalls. See translink.com.au

The slower Rottnest Express

Where? Perth, Western Australia

Ten best ferry rides Australia - by David Whitley
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Most ferries to Rottnest Island leave from Fremantle. But once a day, the Rottnest Express offers an option from the Barrack Street Jetty in Perth. The Perth departure takes longer – it's two hours one way, and goes via Fremantle anyway. It also costs more. But it does act as a Swan River cruise. You can admire the city as you trundle towards the Indian Ocean, hopefully spotting dolphins and black swans on the way. See rottnestexpress.com.au

The Daintree River ferry

Where? Far north Queensland, near Port Douglas

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Photo: Alamy

The cable-operated Daintree River ferry is astonishingly unglamorous. It's effectively a metal raft that holds cars. But it feels like crossing a boundary from relative civilisation to epic, adventurous rainforest wilderness. It also doubles as a croc-spotting cruise – the Daintree River is notoriously one of the best spots in Australia for seeing big salties. See douglas.qld.gov.au/daintree-ferry

The Hamilton Island transfer

Where? Whitsundays, Queensland

Cruise Whitsundays boat travelling to the Reefworld pontoon Ten best ferry rides Australia - by David Whitley
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Hamilton Island has an airport, which understandably means that most visitors choose to fly in. But should you prefer to go the long way, the ferry transfers from Shute Harbour near Airlie Beach become a mini Whitsundays cruise. Straight out of the harbour, the route passes Repair Island, Tancred Island and Shute Island, before skirting the edge of the some of the bigger boys in the Whitsunday archipelago on the way to Hamilton. See cruisewhitsundays.com

The Magnetic Island ferry

Where? Townsville, Queensland

Panorama Aerial view of Florence Bay,Magnetic Island,Queensland,Australia Ten best ferry rides Australia - by David Whitley
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Photo: Peter Unger

The joy of the Magnetic Island ferry is partly in the anticipation – you're indulging in a 20 minute flit to one of Australia's most enjoyable holiday islands and it sure looks pretty on the horizon. But the full experience comes when you spot dolphins or breaching whales through the window. This doesn't happen every trip, alas – you have to get lucky. See sealinkqld.com.au

The Spirit of Tasmania

Where? Melbourne to Devonport, Tasmania

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Meet the crew - Spirit of Tasmania

Australia's classic big ferry journey connects Tasmania to the mainland, sailing into Port Melbourne on a daily basis. The occasionally bumpy trip across the Bass Strait takes nine to eleven hours, but there are two cinema screens and a children's play area to help pass the time. Otherwise, just hit the bar and restaurant until you reach Tassie. See spiritoftasmania.com.au

The Maria Island ferry

Where? Triabunna, Tasmania

Maria Island Ferry.

Maria Island Ferry.

The joy of getting to Maria Island is ostensibly about the rugged Tasmania coastline and colourful cliffs on the way. But keep your eyes open, and there's a good chance of spotting some of the wildlife that makes Maria Island so appealing. Seals, whales, dolphins, eagles and Cape Barren geese all hang out there, and there's a strong chance of being greeted by a wombat at the other end. See encountermaria.com.au

Disclosure: David Whitley has been a guest of Tourism Australia and the state tourism authorities.

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