Thursday Island is the administrative and main population centre of the Torres Strait Islands. It has developed visitor facilities, with supermarkets, a few accommodation options, a restaurant or two, souvenirs, and decent espresso. The locals are friendly towards visitors, but you won't find city style service or resorts. TI offers a cold beer on the pub deck overlooking aquamarine waters and islands, and an opportunity for genuine interaction with Torres Strait Island peoples - as well as those other Australians and passers through now well adapted to the remote existence it offers. Throw in a bit of history (the island was evacuated to be a military base during World War II, and was a pearling centre before that) and unrivaled fishing, and you have TI in a nutshell.
The origin of the name 'Thursday Island' is uncertain. It is known that William Bligh (of the mutiny fame) named neighbouring Wednesday island. He may have named Thursday also, or that may have been added at the liberty of later surveyors. In any event, in the late 19th century the Thursday and Friday Island names were swapped in order for the islands to be in weekday order. Wednesday and Tuesday islands remain uninhabited. Friday Island makes a nice day trip to sample local sushi and pearl tour and shop. The whereabouts of Saturday, Sunday and Monday remain unknown.
- QantasLink. A subsidiary of national airline Qantas. From $168 (one way)/$336 (return).
- Skytrans. A regional carrier serving Far North Queensland. From $330 (one way)/$658 (return).
While Qantas is usually cheaper if you book several weeks in advance, Skytrans tends to have the better deals for travel on short notice.
Once arrived on Horn Island, one has the choice between two ferry companies, who both operate buses from the airport to the wharf.
- McDonald Charters. $12 (ferry)/$27 (incl. airport transfer).
- Rebel Tours. $10 (ferry)/$25 (incl. airport transfer).
Both leave from the same wharf on Horn Island, but Rebel lands at Navy Wharf near the military base on TI, whereas McDonald lands on the main port (Engineers) wharf. Both offer free connections to anywhere on TI, however Rebel charges an additional $4 for drop-off (when coming from Horn Island) within the Tamwoy, Rosehill and Waiben suburbs.
As a visitor, you have a choice, Rebel take 5 minutes to cross, have a far more modern boat and are cheaper. McDonald's are slightly more expensive and take around 20 minutes to cross. Both have buses outside the airport that will take to you down to their ferries after your flight lands.
Many people who travel up the Peninsula Developmental Road to Cape York decide to visit TI on a day trip. There is only single boat operator serving TI from Seisia, a small settlement on the coast 10 minutes away from Bamaga:
- Peddells Ferry. Twice a day three times a week in the wet, and six days a week in the dry season. $60 (one way)/$120 (return).
Tickets can be purchased online, from certain retail locations in the Northern Peninsula Area, and on the ferry on the day of departure (subject to availability). It's recommended to book the tickets in advance, as especially during dry season, seats may sell out quickly.
By cargo ship
For those who would like to try out a rather unusual way of travelling, SeaSwift, a shipping business with its headquarters in Cairns, offers a "cargo ship cruise" on the MV Trinity Bay to TI:
- Trinity Bay Cruise, 41 - 45 Tingira St, Portsmith, Queensland, ☏ , toll-free: 1800 424 422, ✉ email@example.com. Departs Cairns on Tuesdays, arrives at TI on Thursdays. Roundtrip from $840 (November to April)/$1200 (May to October); one way from $488 (November to April)/$670 (May to October).
A round trip takes 6 days/5 nights, with the ship calling back at Cairns on Sundays. Aside from TI, Horn Island (on Thursdays) and Seisia (on Fridays) are other stops on this journey.
Cabins are either on a share basis, or you can book a private one - both ensuite and common bathrooms are available. All food is provided, and apart from soaking in the views of the Great Barrier Reef as well as the coastline and islands of/near the Cape York Peninsula, there's a movie collection, board games and books. On Wednesdays, the skipper and crew may offer a bridge tour depending on conditions - this is a working cargo vessel after all.
During dry season (May to October), cruises should be booked well in advance. A medical form must be filled out as part of the booking process, as the nature of a cargo ship is different to an actual cruise liner and there are constraints for people with mobility and/or general health issues.
There is no public transport on TI, which is fully understandable considering the size of the island.
It is possible to walk to any place on the island in well under an hour. However, the heat and humidity can be oppressive if you aren't used to it. The island has its share of hills.
If you don't feel like walking, there are a surprising number of taxis on Thursday Island. Call for service. They will offer tours around the island, but expect to pay up to $100 for such a tour.
- Silver Leaf Taxis, ☏ .
- B & S Pearson's Taxis, ☏ .
By rental car
Due to steep rates and the fact that there's hardly any roads to drive on, most visitors will likely forego hiring a car on TI.
- AJ's Car Rentals, 30B Douglas St, ☏ . From $120/day.
With steep hills, narrow ferry gangways, lack of footpaths, and many steps, Thursday Island may have challenges for wheelchair users and others with mobility concerns. There is a a flat, concrete path along the water from the port, which is about 200 m long.
- 1 Green Hill Fort. 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 to the bunker is $4. Visiting the fort ruins above ground is free.
- 2 Thursday Island Historic Cemetery. 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.
The most frustrating part of any stay in TI, is the inability to swim in the ocean. The weather is hot, and the ocean looks clear, blue and appealing. However, crocodiles, sharks (Bronze Whaler and Tiger Sharks), and marine stingers all inhabit the ocean. These risks seem to have combined to make swimming not a part of the local culture - and it is rare to see the locals in the water even on the hottest of holidays. You may be told that particular places are safer from crocodiles, being away from the mangroves, but it still isn't advisable to swim far out into the ocean. Jardine Motel has a small pool, and there is another public one in the sports centre, but they aren't conducive to a poolside resort holiday.
- Fish. By far the most popular pastime for locals and visitors alike. Spanish Mackerel, Coral Trout are plentiful in the waters surrounding the island.
- Friday Island Excursion (Kazu Pearl)
All supplies are available on the island, with a couple of supermarkets selling a full range of goods. Expect nothing to be open in this regard on Sundays, public holidays and in the evenings.
Groceries are among the most expensive in the whole of Australia here, so travellers on a budget may want to consider bringing their own food.
There is a 1 NAB branch on the island, being the only bank available. There is an ATM there, as well as others in the hotels and supermarkets. The bank is only open weekdays. The post office is an agent for many other banks. It is only open Monday to Thursday. The post office can do currency exchange when it is open.
You can buy local crafts, pearls and jewellery, as well as a normal range of T-shirts, spoons, etc. If you are going to Friday Island, then the pearls are usually a little cheaper there than in the shops on TI.
- Tribal Boutique, 60 - 62 Douglas Street, ☏ . 8:30AM - 5:30PM. Sells pearls and crafts.
- Ilan Cafe, Gab Titui Cultural Centre, Gab Titui Cultural Centre, Thursday Island/Waibene. Open for lunch, depending on demand, and for dinner Friday/Saturday nights. 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 the pub staples, and a wide choice of decent pizza, and a few asian dishes, and local seafood. $15-25 ($3 surcharge for take-away).
- 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. Most expensive option on the island.
- 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.
- Uncle Frankies Cafe. Quality espresso, burgers, wraps and salad. Served in laid-back TI style.
There is a bit of a drinking culture on TI, and you'll have no problem getting a beer or a wine from lunchtime until midnight. Friday night is party night on the island, when you'll see many of the locals at one of the pubs as well as some people in from the other islands.
There is not much beer on tap (draught), but you'll be sure to find a stubby in the fridge with your favourite drop. Just grab a stubby holder from behind the bar.
The Grand Hotel is probably the nicest place for a visitor, with the large deck overlooking the port and the water. The Torres Hotel probably the busiest with the locals.
The bowling club is actually primarily concerned with bowling, but will serve you a drink if you head over that way.
- 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.
Accommodation, much like everything else on TI, is expensive. Expect to pay over $200 per night for a hotel room that you would expect to pay $100 for in a country town of a similar size. Local monopolies (Jardine Motel, Federal Hotel and Thursday Island Motel all belong to the same owner/business), competition closing shop (the Rainbow Motel doesn't exist anymore) and a comparatively high amount of visiting government officials, as well as students and business travellers, are the reason for this; people with limited funds will find the absence of budget accommodation limiting their stay to a few days at the most.
Don't get fooled when searching for hostels on TI on the net: the government-run Jumula Dubbins Hostel only accepts Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, while the Canon Bogo Hostel provides accommodation for students attending secondary school on the island exclusively.
The pubs will be noisy on Friday nights until midnight. It's difficult to get away from that fact, and you may just need to be prepared to go with the flow. Among them are the Royal Hotel and the Torres Hotel which, despite their names, do not offer any accommodation.
There are reports on the net of people wild camping in the forest near the fort — this is illegal.
The following is true as of August 2018: There is one basic room on AirBnB for $80/night, which is often booked for weeks. If you're desperate, Couchsurfing can be an option, but with only one active host, don't count on it.
- 1 Grand Hotel, 6 Victoria Parade (Up the hill opposite the main wharf), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Least expensive formal option on TI. All rooms are equipped with A/C; breakfast buffet included in all rates. From $150/night.
- 2 Jardine Motel, Cnr Douglas & Normanby Street, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. From $160/night.
- Federal Hotel, 54 Victoria Parade, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Shares the reception with Jardine Motel.
- Island Villas, Reception at 10 Pearl Street, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Runs four properties on TI: Island Villa, #3 Island Apartments, Island Townhouse & Bayo Beach House. From $330/night (Bayo Beach House).
There is excellent mobile data service across the entire island, due to the masts on the two hills, and the small size and geography of the island. The coverage stretches a fair way out on the water as well. Free Wi-Fi in the Grand Hotel for patrons.