A local’s guide to the central islands of the Torres Strait
If you venture beyond the tip of Cape York, you’ll stumble upon a cluster of tropical islands where the lifestyle is laid back, the beaches are unspoiled and the fishing is second to none.
These tiny specks that sit between Papua New Guinea and mainland Australia are the islands of the Torres Strait and one of them is my home.
Let me show you around the central islands of the Torres Strait, a place so untouched, you’ll know why David Attenborough was so enamoured with the place.
(In fact, there’s a spider found only on Horn Island in the Torres Strait named after the legend himself! Prethopalpus attenboroughi – or Attenborough’s goblin spider – is named in recognition of Sir David’s significant contribution to natural history and promotion of the world’s biodiversity.)
Thursday Island is the main island where most of the commerce happens. Called Waibene or T.I. by the locals, the main strip (Douglas Street) includes shops, boutique clothing stores and cafes like Uncle Frankies Café.
Perfect for a coffee on the go or a sit-down brekkie, this spot brings a little taste of the city to the islands and is perfect for lazy mornings.
If you’re looking for something a little exotic, try fresh seafood and Japanese cuisine at Kazu Pearl on Friday Island. It’s a short 15-minute boat ride from T.I. and you can charter a private return trip with Wis Wei Charters.
The fish is caught fresh off the wharf and served to you in traditional Japanese fashion. You’ll even be able to taste pearl shell meat and, if you book in advance, owner Kazuyoshi Takami will also host a private tour around the working pearl farm.
While you’re on Friday Island, laze around on the beach, take a dip in the crystal-clear water or try your luck at fishing.
A visit to the Torres Strait wouldn’t be complete without enjoying a beer in Australia’s northern-most pub; The Torres Hotel. With an active nightlife and regular community events, this little pub is a favourite watering hole amongst locals.
This is the best spot to have a yarn (chat) with its friendly patrons to hear stories about the Torres Strait and its rich history.
Overlooking the waterfront and hugging the esplanade is the popular Federal Hotel (known to the locals as Fedz). While it looks like a regular ol’ pub from the outside, the large tinted windows offer spectacular views of the harbour.
Inside you’ll find the famous Joe’s Bar mural which has been maintained since the pub first opened. PS. It’s also the only pub in town with air-conditioning so you’ll definitely end up here on hot days.
Boasting outdoor pool dining and an intimate indoor restaurant, the Jardine Motel on T.I. is a popular place to spend a romantic night or two.
If you’re looking for something a little more lively, head to the Grand Hotel. Located on a hillside, some rooms enjoy 180-degree ocean views. This family-run hotel includes a restaurant, conference room, public bar and gaming room. Guests are also treated to complimentary buffet breakfast.
The Torres Strait’s extraordinary culture is expressed through art and if you visit the Gab Titui Cultural Centre on T.I., you’ll be amazed at the variety of artwork on display. From intricate modern lino art to historic artefacts, masks and headdresses, the gallery is a safe keeping place for these cultural assets.
And, when you get peckish, the Ilan Café serves light meals on the deck overlooking the harbour.
Love exploring? Charter a water taxi and visit the largest island in the Torres Strait – Prince of Wales. In its past life, the island was used as a cattle station and years later it now has a surviving population of wild cattle, goat and rusa deer. Most locals love to escape to Prince of Wales to cool off at one of its many waterfalls.
The Torres Strait is scattered with pristine beaches and every island offers a different adventure. If you’re up for a hike, charter a course to Goods Island and trek up the hillside to the see the forts used during WWII, or take a leisurely stroll to the historic St Joseph’s Catholic Church on Hammond Island.
If you’re an avid angler, you’ll be spoilt with fishing spots. Try casting behind the rip tides of Bluefish Point on Prince of Wales Island, or troll the reef’s edge of the neighbouring islands. And while you troll along, you’ll see the Torres Strait’s active marine life, from turtles to jumping rays and even dolphins.
There’s no better place to pick up a souvenir to commemorate your time in the Torres Strait than the iconic Monas Bazaar. You could spend hours browsing the racks of colourful floral dresses, traditional artefacts and modern clothing options. Indigenous artwork, music and jewellery are also available.
Wander down Douglas Street and you’ll find other little shops and takeaway outlets.
If you’re a budding photographer, you’ll love the Torres Strait, especially Green Hill on Thursday Island.
Pack a picnic basket and your camera and head up to the Green Hill Fort. You’ll be rewarded with stunning 360-degree ocean views and it’s the perfect place to watch the sun set over Prince of Wales, Friday Island and Goods Island.
When to visit
The Torres Strait has two seasons: wet and dry. To avoid stingers and the rain, it’s always best to visit during the dry season, from May to September.
Speak like the locals
Torres Strait Islanders are multilingual and the common language is Creole (broken English). Here are some easy Creole words you can use next time you visit:
- Eso = Thank you. Pronounced “Ess-Or”
- Wa = Yes. Pronounced “Wah”
- Nor = No. Pronounced “Nor”
- Yawo = Goodbye. Pronounced “Ya-wor”
You can visit the Torres Strait Islands by plane, car or cruise.
Arriving by cruise? Your ship will anchor in the harbour, and you’ll be taken to Thursday Island by tender.