Torres Strait Islands
The Torres Strait Islands Are a group of islands between the Australian mainland and Papua New Guinea.
There are several regions in the Torres Strait: Top Western islands, Near Western islands, Inner islands, Central islands and Eastern islands.
The Torres Strait Islanders were the first Indigenous Australians to gain legal recognition of their ownership of the land. Traditionally they were fierce headhunters until the arrival of the missionaries (celebrated yearly throughout the Islands on July 1st as "The Coming of the Light".) Due to the missionary influence, Islanders are often very generous and keen to share their culture.
Most residents of the island are still Indigenous Australians (with the ratio of around 6 to 1). Many of the non-indigenous residents are temporary, employed in education and health, policing and military, and overseas workers in hospitality.
Thursday Island is the main administrative centre, with a population of around 4000 people on an island only 3.5 square kilometres. Neighbouring Horn Island has a military base and airport, a population of around 600, but a much larger land mass of 60 square kilometres. Most residents of Horn commute to Thursday for work and education, and there is a regular ferry service between the two.
- Torres Strait Tourism office, 68 Douglas Street, Thursday Island, ☎ , fax: +61 7 4069 1845, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are two main indigenous languages in the islands: Meriam Mer in the Eastern islands, and Kala Lagaw Ya in the rest. Most people also speak Brokan, which is in many respects similar to Tok Pisin spoken in Papua New Guinea. Most people also speak English, although with much slang not found in general Australian English.
Learning a few words of Brokan will make you quite popular with the locals.
- Thank you = Esso
- Food = kaikai
- Goodbye = Yawo
There are daily planes from Cairns to Horn Island. From Horn Island you can get a taxi to the wharf, and from the wharf you can get the ferry over to Thursday Island (commonly known as "T.I.") the ferry cost $10 each way. There are regular boats from Thursday Island to most other populated Islands, but you will need to get permission from the appropriate indigenous land council beforehand.
You can also get in from Papua New Guinea if you have your own boat. If you do so, you will need to check in with the department of immigration once you land.
Peddell's Ferries provides twice daily passenger transport by boat to Thursday Island from Seisia, Cape York. Check their website for up-to-date timetables and fares. Tickets can be booked online.
Those intent on a road trip can get a barge from Seisia on Cape York.
You can get between islands by ferries, barges, private boats, chartered planes of helicopters. Only Horn Island has commercial scheduled air service.
Horn Island and Thursday Island have some transport, taxis and transfers, around the islands. The ferry operators have connecting transfer services to the townships and hotels on Thursday Island and Horn Island.
- Green Hill Fort, Thursday Island/Waibene. On the top of the hill without trees, Greenhill Fort, built in the late 1800s, sits. Great views especially of the sunset. Has a museum attached that covers some history, culture and war involvement of Thursday Island (in the underground bunker) which is open for tour groups, or pre-organised. Entry is $4.
- Horn Island WW2 Tour/Museum, Horn Island/Ngurubai, ☎ . A privately owned museum with war collections, photos and local history including the pearling industry. Also tours of WW2 sites around Horn Island run multiple times a day (takes around 1 1/2 hours), $36, or around $70 including an asian buffet lunch, with entry to the museum included. Book ahead.
- Thursday Island Historic Cemetery, Thursday Island/Waibene. Signposted from Thursday Island main township, you can walk to the cemetery where numerous historic graves can be seen, including those of pearl divers from around the world.
- Goods Island
- Friday Island
The fishing is absolutely amazing in the crystal clear waters of the Torres Strait. Snorkelling on the reefs is pretty good too, but caution is required as some reefs house sharks and crocodiles.
- Peddell's Thursday Island Tours, Thursday Island/Waibene, ☎ . Peddell's Ferries provide package tours of Thursday Island/Horn Island combined with return ferry from Seisia, Cape York. Tours include the Green Hill Fort and Horn Island WW2 Museum
- Walking, Thursday Island/Waibene. There are numerous tracks around Thursday Island that are accessible to the public, and don't take very long. You can walk up to the radio tower/wind turbine for great views of the surrounding islands, and a good sunset. You can walk around the island to Sadies beach, along the road or along an elevated track that starts in the main town. Along this track you can see numerous plants, ant hills, birds, and remains of old war lookouts. Going the other way out of the main township, you can walk to Quarantine Wharf (not well marked on maps so you may have to backtrack once there). There is also a patch of rain forest near Green Hill Fort, both which are nice to walk to.
Most of the food available in the Torres Strait is seafood, but on Prince of Wales island feral deer can be hunted. If you have made friends with the islanders, you may be invited to join in feasts which include traditional foods such as turtle and dugong. It is considered quite rude to refuse an invitation in Torres Strait Culture. Be aware that dugongs are an endangered species and it is illegal to hunt these animals yourself if you are not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Turtles are also protected and may not be hunted.
General stores are found on all the inhabited Islands, and there are also several restaurants on Thursday island, mainly along Douglas Street. Try "Island Rooster" for nice roast chicken. Behind one of the pubs you can purchase superb "kilogram burgers".
- Ilan Cafe, Gab Titui Cultural Centre, Gab Titui Cultural Centre, Thursday Island/Waibene. Until 3 pm, Open for Dinner Fri/Sat night.. It has a range of hot food such as burgers, kebabs and pastas, including vegetarian options. It also makes a variety of delicious drinks.
- The Grand Hotel, Thursday Island/Waibene. serves a wide choice of decent pizza, and also sells take away asian food.
- Jardine Motel, Thursday Island/Waibene. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dinner menu changes daily and they are happy to modify dishes to suit dietary needs. Many locals come here on Saturday night for dinner.
- Federal Hotel, Thursday Island/Waibene. Offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- ibis cafe, Thursday Island/Waibene. The cafe attached to the Ibis Supermarket on Douglas Street, Thursday Island has a good selection of wraps, salads, sandwiches, burgers and fresh drinks.
- Jardine Motel, Thursday Island/Waibene. Has an extensive cocktail list as well as a good variety of beer, wine and spirits. Indoor air conditioned area and outdoor area with couches by a pool.
- Torres Hotel, Thursday Island/Waibene. The Top Pub. Popular with locals, open later than other drinking establishments, often has karaoke on the weekends.
- The Grand Hotel, Thursday Island/Waibene. Rebuilt on the site of a former hotel of the same name, overlooking Engineers Wharf. Has outdoor area and indoor area with a pool table. Also serves decent pizza, and takeaway asian meals.
- The Federal Hotel, Thursday Island/Waibene. Just around the corner from the Jardine and Torres Hotels, this is a little quieter than the Torres Hotel.
- The Royal Hotel, Thursday Island/Waibene. On Douglas Street amongst the shops, this is open on weekends and has a variety of entertainment/machines.
Amazing linocut artworks. Although based on traditional carving methods, this style of art is actually a relatively recent invention. Can be purchased from the Gab Titui culture centre. Cheap pearls. Pearls are farmed on Friday Island, so be sure to take advantage of the low cost, high quality pearls. In Saranealis House (its the big pink building on Douglas street, Thursday Island). They cost about a third of what you would find in Cairns and around a quarter of what you would expect in other major Australian cities.
- The Jardine Motel & Lodge
- The Grand Hotel/Motel
- The Federal Hotel
- Rainbow Motel
- Jumula Dubbins Hostel
- Island Villas
Dengue fever occasionally occurs, but shouldn't be much of a problem (there has only been one death in Australia due to dengue in the last 50 years). Just make sure you use insect repellent. Malaria rarely occurs on the islands closest to PNG. Be aware of the tropical climate. It can get very hot and muggy so wear loose clothing and drink lots of water.
Make sure you are very respectful of Islander culture by not going to ceremonies without invitation.
Do not go out alone on Friday night as many people will be drunk and dangerous.
If you wish to go swimming make sure you go with locals who know where they're going. While snorkelling on the reefs is beautiful, some have resident sharks and or crocodiles. The locals know which ones to avoid. Also be aware of strong tides and currents.
The easiest way to leave is by plane from Horn Island to Cairns domestic airport. There are are some restrictions on what items you can take due to Australia's Quarantine laws.
Peddell's Ferries provides twice daily passenger transport by boat from Thursday Island to Seisia, Cape York. Check their website for up-to-date timetables and fares. Tickets can be booked online. Again, Australian Quarantine laws apply.