AN inventive concept to establish a ‘Cape to Kakadu’ vehicle ferry between Weipa, Gove and Darwin is riding a wave of momentum, gaining support from all corners of Northern Australia.
The idea came to light as an “aspirational” element in the Weipa Town Authority’s recent Community Plan, with Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch a strong backer.
“Visitors heading up the Cape know that once they reach the top they have to turn around and travel the same way back along the unsealed Peninsula Development Road and sometimes this can be a disincentive to them travelling,” Mr Entsch explained.
“In the Northern Territory there are similar issues.
“So, the thought process was then, why not create a unique circuit, incorporating a drive and sail outback experience that could become one of the ‘Great Australian Journeys’?”
The car ferry would take around two days to travel each leg between Weipa, Gove and Darwin, possibly stopping at Groote Eyland, and would feature accommodation and meals on board. In effect, a short cruise holiday during which people – and vehicles – could join and disembark the ferry at each point.
Mr Entsch said the concept was still in the early stages, but initial responses had been extremely positive. And with the natural environment, outdoor activities and indigenous heritage being very strong in both regions, he foresees huge potential for tourism.
“The gulf is a fantastic place to go fishing, there’s scope for adventure tourism, and what a way to showcase the fabulous indigenous history of both areas,” Mr Entsch said. “It’s also significant in that it provides Weipa with an opportunity to diversify its income base and build on its emerging adventure tourism industry.”
Mr Entsch travelled to Darwin last week with Weipa Town Authority Chairman Peter McCulkin to meet NT counterparts David Tollner, the Shadow Minister for Business and Employment for the NT government, Leader of the Opposition Terry Mills and Natasha Griggs, the Federal Liberal MP for Solomon.
Mr McCulkin said he has spoken to mayors and CEOs from neighbouring councils, with the Regional Organisation of Councils of Cape York (ROCCY) unanimously endorsing the project.
Nhulunbuy Labor MP Lynne Walker has also contacted Mr Entsch to offer her backing, as bi-partisan support would be crucial to move the project forward.
“This is a dynamic project with Cape-wide ramifications,” Mr McCulkin said. “It’s not just about funnelling more tourists through Weipa and the region but also about generating business opportunities and economic growth.”
At the meeting, the group committed to establishing a working party (after the NT elections in August) to investigate the project further – including the financial feasibility.
“The key is to have a freight component,” Mr Entsch said. “Freight is what makes the Sea Swift service work from Cairns up to Bamaga and Horn Island – it can’t work with passengers alone so we have to look at opportunities there.
“The concept of car and passenger travel has proven to be incredibly successful with Sea Swift, with bookings needing to be made up to 12 months in advance to secure travel dates.”
“We can also explore the possibility of having a shipping company based on the Western Cape or possibly collaboration with existing operators,” added Mr McCulkin.
“And another major player in the process will potentially be Rio Tinto given that they have business interests in Weipa and Nhulunbuy and are owners of the wharf infrastructure at both ports, and have significant links with Darwin.”
Mr McCulkin said the Cape to Kakadu link was an obvious one for the mining company and he has already raised the idea of applying for support through Rio’s Regional Economic Development strategy, which helps ‘host’ communities achieve long-term growth and diversification.
“The RED strategy is currently rolled out globally but is yet to be trialled at a site in Australia, so with such a strong regional aspect to this project and right across the Top End – why wouldn’t they play a role?” he asked.