Torres Strait Islands
Earth : Oceania : Australia : Queensland : Far North Queensland : Torres Strait Islands
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.
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.
There are daily planes from Cairns to Horn Island. From Horn Island Airport, you can catch the Rebel bus to the wharf, and from the wharf you can get the ferry over to Thursday Island (commonly known as "T.I.") the ferry and airport bus cost $20 combined and includes a free bus drop off on Thursday Island. 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 on-line.
Those intent on a road trip can get a barge from Seisia on Cape York.
The easiest way to get around is either by boat or by chartered plane or helicopter. A minibus runs from Horn Island airport to the wharf. On Thursday Island you can get "buses" (actually minibus/taxis) from the main township to anywhere on the island. Often the locals expect the drivers to know where they live.
Turquoise waters, traditional dances, tropical paradise.
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.
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. Relish this opportunity. It is considered quite rude to refuse an invitation in Torres Strait Culture. But also be aware that turtles and dugongs are threatened species (not endangered yet, just threatened) and it is illegal to hunt these animals yourself if you are not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. 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".
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.
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 on-line. Again, Australian quarantine laws apply.