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Torres Strait Islands

Photo © cecandlen

Travel Guide Oceania Australia Torres Strait Islands

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Introduction

The Torres Strait Islands are a group of at least 274 small islands which lie in Torres Strait, the waterway separating far northern continental Australia's Cape York Peninsula and the island of New Guinea.

The islands are mostly part of Queensland, a constituent State of the Commonwealth of Australia, with a special status fitting the native (Melanesian) land rights, administered by the Torres Strait Regional Authority. A few islands very close to the coast of mainland New Guinea belong to the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, most importantly Daru Island with the provincial capital, Daru.

Only 14 of the islands are inhabited, with many of the islands threatened by rising sea levels.

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Geography

The islands span an area of some 48,000 km2. The strait from Cape York to New Guinea has a width of approximately 150 kilometres at its narrowest point; the islands lie scattered in between, extending some 200–300 kilometres from furthest east to furthest west. The total land area of the islands comprises 566 km2. 21,784 ha of land are used for agricultural purposes.

The Torres Strait itself was formerly a land bridge which connected the present-day Australian continent with New Guinea (in a single landmass called Sahul, Meganesia, Australia-New Guinea). This land bridge was most recently submerged by rising sea levels at the termination of the last ice-age glaciation (approximately 12,000 years ago), forming the Strait which now connects the Arafura and Coral seas. Many of the western Torres Strait Islands are the remaining peaks of this land bridge which were not completely submerged when the ocean levels rose.

The islands and their surrounding waters and reefs provide a highly diverse set of land and marine ecosystems, with niches for many rare or unique species. Saltwater crocodiles inhabit the islands along with neighboring areas of Queensland and Papua New Guinea. Marine animals of the islands include dugongs (an endangered species of sea mammal widely found throughout the Indian Ocean and tropical Western Pacific, including Papua-New Guinean and Australian waters), as well as green, ridley, hawksbill and flatback sea turtles.

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Sights and Activities

  • You can see WWII history on both Thursday and Horn Islands, with old military installations dating back to the early 20th century. The Green Hill fort on Thursday Island has a museum in the old tunnels. Horn Island has a private museum of documented history and relics maintained by a local enthusiast.
  • You can see a cemetery on Thursday Island, including the graves of the pearlers buried down the bottom of the hill, with the island aristocracy at the top.
  • Friday island has a pearl farm, and has a sushi restaurant and a shop.
  • The fishing is absolutely amazing in the crystal clear waters of the Torres Strait. Although quarantine regulations control what can be taken back to mainland Australia, freshly caught fish in ice boxes are permitted.
  • Snorkelling on the reefs is pretty good too, but caution is required as some reefs house sharks and crocodiles.

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Weather

The islands have a tropical climate with warm humid conditions. The wet season is from October to March.

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Getting There

By Plane

Qantaslink has daily flights from Cairns to Horn Island. The two ferry companies that transfer to TI both meet every Cairns flight arrival, with transfers to the wharf, and connecting services to TI. From TI you can arrange a boat to some other islands. For some you'll need to get permission from the land council before you travel. The ferry costs $9 for the McDonalds ferry $10 for the Rebel ferry. The bus transfer to the airport costs more than the ferry, around $12-$13 each way.

By Boat

Peddell's Ferries provides twice daily passenger transport by boat to Thursday Island from Seisia, on the mainland at Cape York. The services operate 3 days a week during the wet, and six days a week in the dry season. Check their website for up-to-date timetables and fares. Tickets can be booked online. Seisia is itself is usually complete isolated by road during the wet season.

Sea Swift operate two freighters to many of the Torres Strait islands from Cairns and down the Cape as far as Weipa. The freighters carry up to eight passengers.

Those intent on a road trip can get a barge from Seisia on Cape York.

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.

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Getting Around

By Plane

West Wing has scheduled flights to Murray Island, Darnley Island, Yorke Island, Boigu Island, Saibai Island, Badu Island, Kubin Village, Warraber Island, Coconut Island, Yam Island, and Mabuiag Island. These flights work around the Qantaslink flights out to Cairns.

If you have 4 or more people travelling, compare the price of a charter before booking the scheduled service.

The islands without airstrips usually still have helicopter landing pads. GBR helicopters operate charters from Horn Island, and between islands.

By Boat

Scheduled ferries only between Horn and Thursday Island. These ferries also have bus connections to all points on both islands.

Water taxis are the easiest way to travel from Thursday Island to the neighbouring Inner Islands. Hammond, Prince of Wales, and Friday Island. You can also visit the unpopulated Possession Island and Wednesday Island.

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Eat

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".

Most of the food available to other Torres Strait islanders is seafood. 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. Although it is considered quite rude to refuse an invitation in Torres Strait Culture, be aware that dugongs are an endangered species. It is illegal to hunt these animals if you are not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Turtles are also protected and may not be hunted.

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Sleep

Developed accommodation is available on Thursday Island and Horn Island, and at Seisia on the mainland.

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Torres Strait Islands Travel Helpers

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This is version 2. Last edited at 13:02 on Jul 19, 17 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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