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MV Spirit of Tasmania II and III

Since 1969, Australians have been able to travel from the mainland to the island state of Tasmania by car. That wasn't made possible by building a road bridge or a tunnel, but by the introduction of an efficient ferry service where travellers can simply drive on at one end, enjoy a pleasant relaxing half day journey across Bass Strait, then drive off at the other end. In recent years with the advent of cut-price airfares, the trans-Bass Strait ferry service has been up against some very stiff competition, but has been able to not only survive against that competition but thrive, by using two very comfortable, modern ships, by maintaining daily journeys in both directions throughout most of the year, and by making driving on and driving off again easy and totally hassle free for the motorist.

Servicing the route today are two modern drive-on/drive-off vessels - Spirit of Tasmania I and II. These vessels maintain the proud tradition of one of Australia's most successful and profitable transport services. Introduced into service in September 2002, they ply the waters of Bass Strait between Melbourne, Victoria, and Devonport, Tasmamnia, on a daily basis, sailing from both locations most nights of the year, with the addition of daytime crossings during peak periods. Each vessel is capable of an 11 hour crossing of Bass Strait, enabling two return services within 24 hours, using both vessels during peak times. The largest car ferries ever to operate in Australian waters, Spirit of Tasmania I and II offer a variety of accommodation for the 11 hour journey between Melbourne and Devonport from fully equipped cabins to budget sleeper seats. Food (dinner and breakfast) is available from a self-serve eatery or an a-la-carte restaurant, drinks and light snacks are available from four bars. The vessels also have a gaming room, a children's playroom, television screens, a cinema screening complimentary movies, plus a souvenir shop and tourism facility. They each have a carrying capacity of 1,400 passengers, 650 cars and 40 semi-trailers.

Spirit of Tasmania I and II Leaving Devonport Passenger lounge

If you plan to travel between mid December and the end of April, you have the choice of a daylight or an overnight crossing on some days (see sailing schedules on website for details). The main advantage of the night crossing (7.30pm to 6.30am) is that the ship is your accommodation for the night. You check onboard in Melbourne or Devonport late in the afternoon and wake up the next morning at your destination. For me, the early morning drive up the north-west coast after making the overnight trip is a magical way to start a Tassie holiday.

With the daytime crossing (9am to 6pm), there is accommodation to pay for at both ends of the journey. What happens in between, however, is what make the daytime crossing so pleasurable. Spirit of Tasmania I and II are not your normal sized ferries - they are the size of small ocean liners, so the crossing is like spending a day on a cruise ship. You get about seven hours of open sea cruising and around three hours sailing Port Phillip Bay, with views to the bayside suburbs of Melbourne, and then the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas as you approach and pass through Port Phillip Heads. You don't need to pay for a cabin if you don't want to, which can offset the cost of a night's accommodation in Melbourne or Devonport before or after the voyage. The day crossing is a great way to unwind and get in the mood for a relaxed vacation in Tasmania (or on the mainland if you are a Taswegian heading the other way).

Website and Online Booking Service

Early Tasmanian Ferries: began in 1959 when Australian National Line commissioned the Newcastle-built Princess of Tasmania, then the largest roll-on/roll-off ship in the world, to pioneer what became Australia's premier car and passenger ferry service, operating between Tasmania and the mainland. Empress of Australia carried 334 passengers, 178 in cabins and 156 in lounge chair type accomodation, and had room for 100 cars. At 4,619 tonnes, she was small in comparison with today's vessels which have gross tonnage of 29,338 tonnes. Bass Trader, a slightly smaller vessel that only carried heavy vehicles and no passengers, soon followed her. The Princess, as she was affectionately known, was very much the pioneer of roll-on/roll-off ferry services in Australia, and played a major role in making Tasmania an attractive, affordable holiday destination for mainlanders. The ship crossed Bass Strait between Melbourne and Devonport three times a week each year between 1959 and 1972, except during August and September, when she was laid up for service and maintenance. Nearly thirty years later Tasmania's pioneer RO/RO ferry is still in service in the Middle East. The Trader was later sold to the Royal Australian Navy for conversion into the training ship Jervis Bay, leaving just the Empress on the Melbourne-Devonport run.
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