To get your vehicle to the northern most point of Australian mainland, there’s a big river that you need to get across, called the Jardine.
Almost everyone who is heading to Cape York makes use of this privately run Jardine River Ferry, and when you look at the alternatives, it becomes pretty clear why.
Where is the Jardine River?
The Jardine River is located way up the top of Far North Queensland, and flows out near Mutee Head to the ocean.
It flows right past near the end of the Old Telegraph Track, and is home to a significant number of salt water, or estuarine crocodiles.
What does it cost?
If you use the ferry, you have to pay the crossing fee. For us, with a 4WD and camper trailer we paid $192.50 return.
It’s certainly not cheap, especially when there are main road ones running in the southern part of the country for no fee at all.
That said, the ticket includes permits for camping in council run camping areas.
Single vehicles are $121 return, motorbikes are $55 and vehicles over 10 tonnes are $308 return.
If you have different vehicles, your charge will alter, and it changes from year to year.
What is it like crossing?
I didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived at the Jardine River Ferry. You pull up near the Jardine River Roadhouse, and if its busy there will be a bit of a queue. There’s a sign that says pay inside, and another sign on the door that says EFTPOS only (credit cards are fine too).
You can buy a few different nick nacks in the roadhouse, and you pay for your ferry fees here. There’s a laminated bit of paper on the desk that tells you the costs, and you just explain what you are in, and then tap your card to pay.
From here, you join the queue, or wait at the top of the ramp down until the ferry operator calls you down. It’s all rather informal, and the number of vehicles and trailers on the ferry varies depending on where it is, and how busy they are.
When its time to drive on, take it slowly, and if you are towing something with limited clearance try and drive on with a bit of a diagonal, or you’ll scrape.
The operator will often get others to come on behind you, but follow their directions, and a few seconds later they’ll have shut the boom gates and started moving.
Less than a minute later and you’ll be on the other side, where you drive off slowly and carefully, and head on your way.
The barge seems like its done a ridiculous amount of work, and I hear it breaks down occasionally, so be prepared.
Do you need to book?
You can book the ferry, but its completely unnecessary. Just arrive when you want, pay and get on. I don’t know how booking could help you in any way, except for potentially rushing to get to the ferry on time, which we saw.
How many vehicles does it fit?
The barge is clearly suitable for some longer, and heavier rigs, and they regularly fit two 4WD’s and a caravan on each run, or we even saw three vehicles on one occasion.
You’ll be asked to squeeze on if its busy, but its all fairly straight forward. I’m told this will take up to a 42 tonne truck, which is pretty impressive.
Watch the ramp angle if you have low clearance
If you have a setup with limited clearance, you should consider chatting to the operator before you drive on.
My folks have a Kokoda Digger 18’6 off road caravan which has a fair amount of clearance, and it still managed to scrape on all 4 occasions (on and off both times) on the two spare tyres, mounted on the rear of the van.
You can drive slightly diagonally which helps, but there’s limited room, and I have no doubt judging from the marks on the concrete that this is a common occurrence!
I was told that the tides play a role, but apparently the angle can be adjusted by the barge operator, and yet it doesn’t always happen.
What are the roads like?
On the southern side of the Jardine River Ferry, the road was pretty average for about 5km, with bigger corrugations, holes and little whoops to avoid. The northern section was a little rough to start with, but then it gets good.
Can you get across the Jardine River without the ferry?
Well, technically, yes. There is an old crossing which you can drive across with a 4WD, if you are game, or silly. I’ve seen people do this, and it is very wide, with a heap of rocks in the middle, and if you do get stuck there are guaranteed to be crocodiles not too far away, waiting to have a feed.
I wouldn’t ever recommend you drive across, but it has been done, and no doubt will continue to be done in the future!
Camping near the Jardine River Ferry
You can camp on the southern side of the Jardine River at the roadhouse, or you can continue further north to a couple of other camp sites. If the ferry is broken, camping is pretty much on the road.
It’s an experience
We’ve been on a couple of ferry’s now, including the Daintree Ferry, and the Jardine River one was a bit of an experience.
The staff running it were good, and whilst its had a long, hard life it’s a good (and your only safe way) to get from one side to the other.
If you’re heading to Cape York, enjoy your short journey on the Jardine Ferry!