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Hidden wonders down under: Torres Strait Islands

Thursday, August 7, 2008

At least 274 palm-fringed small islands make up the Torres Strait Islands in Torres Strait, the waterway separating far northern Australia's Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea. While they have been part of Queensland since 1872, they have a special status fitting native Melanesian land rights, administered by the Torres Strait Regional Authority.

The Strait's population is around 25,000, living on 20 of the islands. They are engaged mostly in fishing, prawning and a declining pearling industry.

Hilly Thursday Island is the administrative centre. It is the most popular of the islands and has the most northerly town in Australia. Known as TI, it's nearly five square kilometres and only 39km from the top of Cape York. It has a multicultural population of around 4000.

Peddell's Thursday Island tours take the 45-minute crossing from Cape York's Seisia Harbour twice every day, except on Sundays. There's time to enjoy the magnificent scenery and do some bird spotting — Torres Strait pigeons, lesser frigates and booby birds looking for breakfast. You pass close to a number of islands with sheltered bays and golden beaches covered in turtle tracks.

Wide smiles are guaranteed to greet you on Thursday Island. You will smile too when you sample painted crayfish at a local restaurant!

In 1880 Green Hill Fort was built in response to a Russian war scare and its underground tunnels and rooms house the Torres Strait Museum, which also has pearling, shipping and military themes.

The cemetery tells the story of hard and dangerous times endured by pearl divers. The cemetery is also evidence of the historical diversity of the islands. Buddhists, Shintoists, Hindus and Muslims share their last resting place with Islanders and Europeans.

For a bit of fun you can rent a moke from the local hardware store.

Gab Titui Cultural Centre has beautiful work by local artists — bronzes and linocuts feature prominently. The two-storey modern building is adorned with three feature sails and resembles the old pearl luggers. The centre is an important element of the regional framework linking parts of local culture.

The Ephrain Bani Gallery displays artefacts from some of Australia's best Torres Strait collections. There are interpretive displays, workshop and temporary exhibitions, as well as a cafe and gift shop.

Poruma Islanders are Melanesians, ethnically close to the people of Papua New Guinea. Their language, kalaw lagaw ya, has many words and phrases from the pidgin that is the universal language of PNG. Ancestors of Poruma Island built houses from grass, coconut leaves and trees which floated down the Fly River jungles of Papua New Guinea.

Award-winning Poruma Island Resort's thatched guest suites combine the original island style with modern comforts. Each open-plan beach suite has a master bedroom leading, via a plunge pool and bath garden, to a living area on the edge of the beach. Sunset views are spectacular.

Local fishing is a once-in-a-lifetime experience — crystal channels, sand flats, reefs and bomboras are home to Spanish mackerel, sailfish, marlin, trevally, coral trout, rays, sharks, dugongs, jewfish and more.

Nearby islands have their own features — a sea turtle hatchery, giant sea clams, WWII relics, massive sand flats and loads of birdlife. Each has something different to offer.


Off Cape York, the northern tip of Australia.


Peddell's Thursday Island ferry transfers are $96 return for adults and $48 for children.

Poruma Island Resort suites are $650 a night and all meals are included.

Prices correct at August 7, 2008.

For more information

Peddell's Tours
Engineers Wharf
Thursday Island 4875
Ph: (07) 4069 1551
Fax: (07) 4069 1365

T.I. Hardware
Douglas & Blackall Streets
Thursday Island 4875
Ph: (07) 4069 1548
Fax: (07) 4069 1858

Gab Titui Cultural Centre
Blackall Street & Victoria Parade
Thursday Island 4875
Ph: (07) 4090 2130
Fax: (07) 4090 2145

Poruma Island Resort
Poruma 4875
Ph: (07) 4090 0170
Fax: (07) 4090 0190

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