If your idea of a perfect escape is island isolation, then you need to head to Thursday Island.
There are at least a hundred islands in the Torres Strait tiny atolls, sandy and coral cays and exposed sandbanks like stepping stones from the tip of Cape York to the southern coast of Papua New Guinea, about 150 kilometres north of the Australian mainland. Even though some are just a few kilometres from PNG, they are connected politically to Australia.
Thursday Island is the capital of the group and this isolated outpost is the major hub of the region. You can fly to neighbouring Horn Island, but most people go there by ferry from Cape York. Sailing to the island is quite memorable the timber spires of the 19th-century Sacred Heart mission church, corrugated roof of the old Federal Hotel and two enormous wind turbines which make good use of the trade winds, form the skyline and, like all the islands, Thursday is surrounded by magnificent turquoise water.
Tourism is increasing as people are learning that Thursday Island is one of the last untouched and non-commercialised places left in Australia.
Islanders are proud of their culture and all generations strive to retain it. Known as Ailan Kastom, this culture is a source of unity and strength, bonding the people throughout the region as well as with those on the mainland.
Where possible, Torres Strait Islanders maintain a traditional way of life. They hunt and fish and live on a diet of dugong, turtles and fish, wild pigs and home-grown fruit and vegetables. They love to congregate for all sorts of celebrations which involve large feasts, singing and dancing.
One very good way to get an idea of just how beautiful the Strait is is to take a flight with Cape York Helicopters. The company specialises in heli-fishing, hunting and safari flights. Its fleet of Robinson R44 four-place machines have three passenger seats, a cruise speed of 120 knots, GPS, satellite phone and excellent visibility for passengers.
The 20-minute flight takes in a labyrinth of reef and sand bars, Friday Island pearl culture farm, Horn Island's war wrecks, the Prince of Wales shipping lane and Prince of Wales Island. Pilot and passengers wear headsets and can talk to each other and hear the commentary about what you fly over.
The Federal Hotel was built in 1901 and is Thursday Island's only original building. Its colonial façade is a landmark on the waterfront, from where it enjoys marvellous views to Horn and Prince of Wales islands.
The hotel has two types of accommodation. There are eight rooms in the original building and 15 newer motel units with ensuites and air-conditioning.
The public bar has all the character of bygone times, with diving relics and pictures of the pearling industry.
The Pearl Lugger restaurant has an excellent menu, with an emphasis on fresh, local seafood their speciality is chilli mud crab and a good selection of Australian wines.