A voyage rich in maritime history and natural beauty

History of Port Stephens & The Original Tea Gardens Ferry

In 1904 the first passenger ferry between Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens was started by the Boyce and Thurlo families. It proved such a success that the runs were expanded to Salt Ash and Soldiers Point. They operated three launches; “Reliance”, “Kingfisher” and “Replica”. These petrol driven vessels carried supplies and passengers on a daily basis. In 1927 the business was taken over by the Engal family, who installed the first diesel engines to operate on Port Stephens. With the outbreak of World War II the vessels were commandeered and the Engal family was forced to close. In 1987 the ferry service was re-established with an aluminium vessel named “Waterbus” operating four days a week between Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens. In the early 1990’s Harry Littler and family purchased Bluebird and Melissa, now gracing our waterways as MV Jesse and MV Tea Gardens.

Today, the ferry service operates two historic timber ferries on a daily basis, carrying thousands of passengers each year between Nelson Bay to Tea Gardens. It’s a ferry ride that both visitors and locals can enjoy, taking in the beautiful vista of the bay up to Tea Gardens on the Myall River, and all the surrounding bird and marine life that the area has to offer.

Vessel History

MV Tea Gardens

Built in 1944 during WWII for the RAAF Marines division, MV Tea Gardens has a long and colourful history. Her original commission was for the transport of munitions to Catalina flying boats. She was built at the Slazenger shipyard in Putney on the Parramatta River, overseen by legendary shipwright Bill Fisher. When the war ended in 1945, she was converted into a ferry by Atlas Engineering. In 1948 she was sold to the Hawkesbury River Tourist Service, where she ran for many years. The Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company then purchased her for use on their Pittwater service. In 1970 she was sold to Palm Beach and Bobbin Head Ferries, before returning to the Manly Steamship Company in mid-1974. In 1980 she was again sold and renamed “Melissa”, running the Palm Beach Ferry Service between the Basin, Currawong and Great Mackeral Beach area. She was then re-homed in Port Stephens in the late 1990’s, and continues to run between Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens

MV Jesse

Launched in 1955, MV Jesse started out life on Lakes Entrance in Victoria. She was designed and built for the Peel Family by David Carstairs in Orme Street. Back then she was known as “Bluebird”, and along with her sister vessels “Bellbird” and “Blackbird”, did river cruises and a milk and postal run to North Arm Cove. The waterways of Lakes Entrance are very similar to Port Stephens, and likewise has always been a population destination for tourists. It was not unusual to see “Bluebird” cruising the waters with people enjoying a picnic on board. Week days the bench seats would be lined with produce and gallons of milk, delivering supplies and postage parcels to townships along the shore. MV Jesse is constructed of Tasmanian Huon Pine and is one of only two well deckers still operating in a traditional ferry role in New South Wales.

MV Wallamba

The MV Wallamba was launched in September 1986 and initially operated a tourist service out of Forster in conjunction with the catamaran Amaroo II. She was built for river or lake navigation and was licensed to carry 49 passengers and 2 crew.

She was relocated to Nelson Bay in1989 and cruised the Myall Lakes area. Before heading to Tuggerah. 1994 saw MV Wallamba on the move again this time to Mannum South Australia operating as a day cruise on The Murray River

Finally back in Port Stephens in 1998 where she has remained cruising The Myall Lakes and now operated by The Original Tea Gardens Ferry. “Wally” operates in conjunction with MV Tea Gardens and MV Jesse, servicing the local community and the area visitors as part of the historic fleet of timber ferries