The history of Fantasea Cruising

Fantasea Cruising - Then and Now
Fantasea Cruising - Then and Now

Discover the rich history of our group businesses that makes NRMA who we are today. 

Representing three generations of family who built Sydney’s Palm Beach on both land and water, what Peter Verrills started as a small ferry charter service is today Fantasea Cruising – one of Australia’s leading marine transport and tourism operators

The beginning

A builder by trade, Peter moved into the management of ferries in 1976, after being gifted his first boat by his mother’s family and founders of the Stockton Ferries in Newcastle. The vessel, originally named Arthur G Walter, was bought down to Palm Beach, rebuilt and renamed the Ellen Anne, after his mother.

During this time, Peter took over the Palm Beach Ferry Service from Don MacKay, making his first run in the Ellen Anne's to Bobbin Head. Soon after, he bought a second vessel, the Merinda, from the Basin-Mackerel Beach Ferry Service, and subsequently ran two boats on two runs every day. The third boat he bought in 1981 was renamed Melissa after his daughter. By 1983, Peter decided to build a ferry to his own specifications, which became the Merinda II for the Bobbin Head run. In 1985, the Myra was built, named after his mother-in-law. In total, he was to acquire 19 ferries.

Connecting Sydney to the Central Coast

Over the years that Peter expanded operations, he had a long held dream to introduce the Central Coast run which existed in various forms in the late 1900s, but hadn’t been offered as a full service route for a very long time.

Why? Well, the road from Sydney to the Central Coast historically was dangerous and virtually non-existent until the 1950s. It had always been easier and safer to catch a boat than to drive. Peter launched the Palm Beach to Wagstaffe to Ettalong service in October 1999, in spite of the naysayers who said it couldn’t be done.

The ferry route quickly grew in popularity due to its 20-25 minute run, as opposed to over an hour journey via road. The establishment of this ferry route also meant many Central Coast residents were able to commute to jobs in Sydney within a reasonable time, while remaining to live on the coast.

The birth of Fantasea Cruising

In 2004, Riverside Marine (a Queensland-based marine company) bought the Palm Beach Ferry Service from Peter. Shortly after, Peter would retire, though the Palm Beach Ferry Service continued to operate as it previously had until 2006, when Riverside Marine acquired Fantasea Cruising and established operations in the Whitsundays.

Having also obtained rights to the Fantasea Cruising name, the transport operator made the decision to develop and sell their tourism products, including the Palm Beach Ferry Service, under the same brand name. Following this, Riverside added four more vessels to its fleet, expanding down the East Coast of Australia to include tourism operations on Sydney Harbour, as well as purchasing Sydney Harbour's Yellow Water Taxis.

Boosting the potential of Sydney's waterways

In October 2018, 12 months after the acquisition of Manly Fast Ferry, NRMA welcomed Fantasea Cruising to its fold of group businesses. The addition of Fantasea’s fleet of vessels grows NRMA’s to 31, in turn, bolstering the capacity to unlock the potential of Sydney’s waterways by offering fantastic experiences to people wanting to enjoy Sydney city, and connecting the Central Coast with Palm Beach.

Today, Fantasea operates 10 ferries and 10 Water Taxis out of two locations – Sydney Harbour and Pittwater. Offering personal cruise experiences, Yellow Water Taxis, the Palm Beach Ferry Service as well as charters, special events, and whale watching experiences from Palm Beach during Whale Watching season. The Palm Beach to Ettalong service continues to be popular as ever, with locals and tourists alike.

Did you know?
  • Fantasea was formerly known as the Palm Beach Ferry Service
  • Fantasea operates out of Sydney Harbour and Pittwater
  • Fantasea operate 10 ferries in the fleet
  • Fantasea operate 10 Yellow Water Taxis in Sydney Harbour

Hero image credit: 
Pittwater Online News. Photo of the original Palm Beach Wharf that is south of the current Palm Beach Wharf. Today, this area has been built up with houses. The photo was provided by Peter Verrills to Pittwwater Online News and is circa 1945/1946.