Between Cape York and Papua New Guinea, there’s a fascinating world of unforgettable adventures to be had. Journey to this culturally unique part of Australia and you’ll find vibrant Indigenous communities celebrating their strong connection to land and sea.
Five clusters of emerald isles crown Australia’s most northerly point. The Torres Strait archipelago’s islands are scattered across the 150km stretch of ocean separating Cape York Peninsula from Papua New Guinea. Although the Torres Strait is neighbour to the far reaches of the world-famous Great Barrier Reef, its islands remain off the beaten track, adding to their immense charm. Here are six ways to delve into island life.
Take a barge adventure
Wondering how to reach the Torres Strait if you’re not on an epic road trip to Cape York? Sydneysiders can fly to Horn Island via Cairns in less than six hours and take a ferry to Thursday Island – or TI, as the locals call it. Luxury cruise vessels are increasingly calling at TI (mooring offshore, with passengers taking a tender to the island). If adventure is your middle name, take the cargo ship MV Trinity Bay directly to Horn or Thursday Island to the mainland port of Seisa – home to what the locals reckon is the country’s best fishing jetty. Here you can also hear the squawks and “drumming” of the region’s iconic palm cockatoo.
The art of life
Thursday Island’s architecturally striking Gab Titui Cultural Centre makes a great starting point for understanding the archipelago’s culture. The main gallery displays exhibitions that might feature ceremonial feathered headdresses (the dhari features on the Torres Strait flag), sculptures, paintings, distinctive lino-cut prints (usually black ink on white paper), carvings and jewellery. Many works illustrate local myths and legends, and if you visit during an exhibition opening, you might see and hear traditional dancing, music and songs. Another gallery space accommodates artefacts and cultural heritage material – annual themed exhibitions have covered subjects such as the region’s pearling history and traditional dance.
If you’re not heading to the tip of Australia and you’re a little short on time, head out to this stunning archipelago on day tour A Strait Day, which departs from Cairns on the first Saturday of each month (April to September). Travel along the east coast of the Cape York Peninsula on a scenic flight and explore Thursday (Waiben) and Horn (Ngarupai) islands. Enjoy a smorgasbord of cultural activities, including traditional song and dance performances and a traditional island-style feast and learn about the history of the Torres Strait with visits to the Heritage Museum and key WWII sites.
A distant fort
Thursday Island’s Green Hill might be more of a hillock, clocking in at only 58m tall, but it was high enough to warrant the building of a fort in the late 19th century as part of Australia’s defence against possible invasion. Poke around the restored gun emplacements and see if you can spy Friday Island in the distance.
Remember the war
If you’re interested in military history, you can visit various WW2 sites, including an underground command post, slit trench system and many more, as part of Horn Island’s In Their Steps tour, which includes entry to the island’s Torres Strait Heritage Museum – home to more than 400 exhibits.
It’s only a short boat ride from Punsand Bay or Seisia to Roko Island, Australia’s northernmost pearl farm and a window into the early European influence on the Torres Strait Islands. Arriving on the island’s floating jetty, the farm’s pearl technician shows you the art of making pearls before taking you on a tour of the island where you’ll not only learn about the local history but also be asked to keep a lookout for the island’s resident crocodile.