The remote islands of Torres Strait are home to a unique indigenous culture and a virtually untouched natural environment.
By Lucy Jones
The Torres Strait Islands are a world unto themselves. Almost 300 islands are like stepping stones from the northern tip of Cape York to Papua New Guinea. Very few are inhabited – and only a handful permit visitors – but intrepid travellers who venture to Australia’s northernmost outpost will be rewarded with a glimpse into a fascinating culture, stunning landscapes and a slice of history.
This is a cultural crossroads
Two of the oldest cultures on Earth meet in the Torres Strait Islands. Indigenous Torres Strait Islanders are of Melanesian descent, but have interacted with Australian Aborigines from Tropical North Queensland for tens of thousands of years. The result is a rich and vibrant culture with strong traditions of dance, colourful headdresses, masks, carving and printmaking. Each of the islands’ small communities has its own distinct practices, so you’ll discover something new every day.
The fishing is out of this world
Whether you throw a line in from the wharf on Horn Island, fish with your feet in the waves on Friday Island or head out into the crystal-clear waters of the Arafura Sea, there’s a fishing adventure for you in the Torres Strait Islands. With minimal commercial fishing in the region, you’ll find fish like coral trout, sail fish, mackerel, golden snapper and red emperor in huge numbers.
The military history is fascinating
The Torres Strait Islands sit between Australia and the rest of the world so have long played a role in Australia’s defence. Green Hill Fort on Thursday Island is one of the oldest military fortifications in the country, built between 1891 and 1893 to defend the colony against a potential Russian invasion. More than 5000 Australian and American personnel were stationed on Horn Island during World War II and the Japanese regularly bombed the island. Almost 900 Torres Strait Islanders volunteered for service here and Horn Island was the only place in Australia where Indigenous and non-Indigenous soldiers served side by side. Gun emplacements, slit trenches, an RAAF airstrip and even a wrecked aircraft remain on the island, a sobering reminder of how close the war came to mainland Australia.
It’s Australia’s original pearling region
Commercial pearling in the Torres Strait dates back to the 1870s, predating the industry in Broome by about a decade. Pearling in the region had its ups and downs, but was revived in the 1960s and you can now visit two working pearl farms on the islands. Roko Pearls, on private Roko Island, and Kazu Pearls, on remote Friday Island grow cultured pearls in the warm tropical waters. You can walk over the beds on a floating jetty, see how pearls are harvested and even take home a one-of-a-kind piece of jewellery.
The islands are virtually undiscovered
Forget crowds – in the Torres Strait Islands there’s a good chance you won’t ever see another tourist. Some of that is down to logistics. Only a few of the islands permit visitors, you may need to arrange permits and transport options are limited. But once you arrive, that will all be forgotten. Tiny villages lined with shady stands of bougainvillea, blissful beaches and laid-back locals are waiting to welcome you to this little slice of paradise.
Soak up more tropical island bliss in The Whitsundays.
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