Thursday Island, Torres Strait Islands

Photo: Feral Arts via flickr
Photo: Feral Arts via flickr

It’s hard to find a quiet spot in Australia these days. Tourists have discovered everywhere from Adelaide and Alice Springs to Hobart and Perth. Once the cities have been explored, the under-the-radar spots in the surroundings areas—like the Margaret River Valley and Freycinet National Park—aren’t far behind. Beside the inhospitable Red Center, is there anywhere that hasn’t been overrun yet?

Surprisingly, there is. The Torres Strait Islands may be part of popular Queensland—famous for its Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, and Great Barrier Reef—but few people venture beyond Cape Tribulation on the Cape York Peninsula. North of the peninsula, in the strait that separates Australia from New Guinea, lie nearly 275 tropical islands. Many of them are uninhabited. Most of them are off-limits to visitors. They’re all breathtaking, though.

The Torres Strait Islands, really five island groups clustered close together, are the land of the Torres Strait Islanders, people distinct from Aboriginal Australians. Captain James Cook claimed the islands for the British in 1770. Missionaries arrived on the islands in the 1870s. Then it took more than 200 years for the islands’ indigenous people to restore their claim over their land. After their long-fought battle, they aren’t about to let their islands be overrun anytime soon.

After flying from Cairns to Horn Island, whose small airport was built to aid the Allies during World War II, ride a bus to the wharf and catch a ferry to Thursday Island. The main island, home to less than 3,000 people, is one of the few that allows visitors. It’s been known as a pearl-harvesting facility, a shipping trade stop, and a headquarters for the military over the years. But you’re here for the unbeatable views.

Thursday Island is full of walking tracks, so you spend your time exploring by foot. One track leads up to a radio tower, a wind turbine, and amazing views of the surrounding islands. Others lead to historic sites, including the Thursday Island Cemetery, the Quetta Memorial Church, and the Green Hill Fort and Museum. An elevated path passes the remains of old war lookout points, mangroves, and flying foxes. While hidden ones lead to beaches—Bach, Slaughter, and Sadies—that are almost certainly deserted.

From Lions Lookout, near Sadies Beach, you gaze out at the other islands in the distance. It’d be an ideal spot for a little resort. But then these islands would certainly change—and some places are perfect just the way they are.

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