During our visit to Cape York we really wanted to get over and visit the Torres Strait Islands. You don’t often hear very much about the Torres Strait Islands as a destination to visit, but wow were we blown away by how beautiful this little island paradise is.
Thursday Island is described by locals as the heart of the Torres Strait Islands. In fact, it is considered the big city to anyone living on the neighbouring islands. You can catch a ferry across to Thursday Island from Seisia, which takes just over an hour, and before you know it you’re reaching some of the most beautifully blue water you have ever seen.
About the Torres Strait Islands
A collection of around 275 islands sitting in some of the most beautiful water in the world, the Torres Strait Islands sit between the tip of Queensland and Papua New Guinea. Only about 14 of these islands are inhabited today. There are about 4,500 people living across all 14 islands, with 3,000 of these living on Thursday Island.
Torres Strait Islanders are the Indigenous people of the Torres Strait Islands, as well as being Indigenous Australians, however they are quite different from the mainland Aboriginal Australians. They are an ethnically Melanesian people, meaning they are ethnically and linguistically quite different from the Aboriginal people of Australia. There are however two Torres Strait Islander communities on the mainland of Cape York at Bamaga and Seisia.
The main language spoken here is the Torres Strait Creole (also known as Brokan and Yumplatok), which is used across all the islands, as well as in the West Papuan border area, Cape York and many island communities around mainland Australia. There are also two other languages spoken on the islands – Western-Central Torres Strait Language and Eastern Torres Language.
About the Peddells Ferry & Bus tour
The tour starts as soon as you get off the ferry at Thursday Island. You will find the big Peddells bus waiting at the end of the road, where we were introduced to Sue, who would be our tour guide for the next hour and a half.
Due to Covid-19 of course a few of the museums and visitors centres were still closed, but we were still able to get around to most of the highlights and major attractions on Thursday Island.
Green Fort Lookout
The first stop of the day was the Green Fort Lookout, which offered some of the best views of the surrounding islands of the Torres Strait. From the lookout point you can see all the way out to Horn Island, Prince of Wales Island, Hammond Island and Friday Island, and even out to the mainland of Australia on a clear day.
Green Fort was built as a response to a Russian war scare, and is one of the most well-preserved nineteenth century forts still standing in Australia. It was manned during both WWI and WWII. The underground tunnels of the Green Fort Lookout are also home to the Torres Strait Historical Museum (which was unfortunately still closed during our visit). The museum gives you an insight into some of the main industries on Thursday Island, pearling, shipping and mining.
We got quite a bit of time to explore Green Fort, and then we jumped back onto the bus for a tour of the rest of the island. Around Thursday Island you can also find all kinds of accommodation, including hotels, motels and self-contained holiday houses, an art gallery, cultural centre, newsagency, bakeries, pharmacy, supermarket, restaurants and cafes, souvenir stores, swimming pool, and hospital. We also learned about the religious history of the islands, and the impacts of the explorers who arrived on the islands.
Thursday Island Cemetery
We also stopped to check out the Thursday Island Cemetery on the northern side of the island. The interesting part about this cemetery is the very big Japanese Pearl Divers Memorial that is located here. With hundreds of white pickets standing in the memorial, all with Japanese characters representing different divers, it’s a very clear indication of just how dangerous the pearling industry could be in the Torres Strait.
Normally you would also get the chance to stop at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre, although it was still closed because of covid during our visit. At the cultural centre you can find lots of historical artefacts from around the Torres Strait Islands, as well as check out their art gallery and learn more about the artistic culture of the Torres Strait Islander people.
The Top Pub in Australia
Thursday Island is also home to the Torres Hotel, which is actually the Top Pub in Australia. It is technically the most northern pub in all of Australia, sitting one street further back from the rest of the pubs on the island. It’s a great spot on the island to visit for a drink or a pub meal (be prepared for a huge meal here), so try and visit around lunch time if you can. Get there early though, tables can fill up very quickly.
Thursday Island Beaches
The water surrounding Thursday Island was some of the bluest we have seen around all of Australia. I was so annoyed with myself that I didn’t think to wear my bathers on the trip. I kind of thought that since we were so far north and having come straight from Darwin, there would be crocodiles all over the place. But the locals jumped straight in so it looked like they were safe!
There are a few different beaches around Thursday Island, but some of the main ones are located just alongside the jetty, with bright blue water, and the perfect water temperature, just begging you to come for a swim.
Other islands you can visit in the Torres Strait
During your visit to the Torres Strait Islands you can also add on side trips to a couple of the other islands. Horn Island and Friday Island are the most popular, known for their WWII history and pearl farm respectively.
Horn Island: Just across the harbour from Thursday Island, Horn Island is another busy island in the Torres Strait. It is actually where the airport is located, with Qantas operating regular flights between Horn Island and Cairns. Horn Island has a population of about 700 people, and was an important airbase during World War II. The added tour of Horn Island will take you to a private museum and an a guided bus tour of significant WWII sites around the island. It’s important to note that if you add Horn Island to your visit you won’t have any free time to explore the island yourself on a day tour.
Friday Island: Friday Island is actually home to a working pearl farm, called Kazu Pearls. It is owned by a Japanese man named Kazuyoshi Takami, who gives you a presentation about pearl farming, how they extract the pearls and shows you exactly where all the magic happens. You can buy pearls harvested straight from the farm in their little gift shop as well. We didn’t get over to Friday Island on this visit, but we did hear from many of the locals that the lunch served at Kazu Pearls is absolutely delicious, with lots of different Japanese dishes and cuisines.
The Friday Island pearl farm tour goes for about three hours, normally either at 11:30am or 2:30pm and costs $120 per adult. You will need to book at least one day in advance (minimum 6 people required for the tour to go ahead), by calling Kazuyoshi on (07) 4069 1268.
Best time to visit Thursday Island
During the winter months, from June to September is the best time to visit Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands. Being in such a tropical location, the summer months are part of the wet season which can be particularly brutal up here.
Depending on the rainfall, many of the roads and water crossings on the way up to Cape York can be closed, which means you can often find that you can’t even get up to Seisia or the Tip if it has been raining. Roads can close for days (or even sometimes weeks at a time, only reopening when it is safe to do so).
The Peddells Island ferry leaves from the Seisia Jetty in Cape York, and takes just over an hour to reach Thursday Island. During the peak season (from June to September) it operates from Monday to Saturday, departing from Seisia on the mainland at 8am and 4pm each day, returning from Thursday Island at 6:30am and 2:30pm each day. Throughout the rest of the year (from October to May) the ferry operates three days a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. However, the schedule can change throughout the year, so always check the timetable for when you will be travelling.
Tickets: Ferry tickets cost $60 one way or $120 for a return trip. You can do a return trip either on the same day, or on different days if you would like to stay for a while. There are also discounts for concessions and children. The Thursday Island bus tour with local guides costs only $20 per adult if you purchase it in a bundle with your return ferry tickets.
It’s a good idea to book your tickets in advance, as they can often completely sell out, especially during the school holidays or peak times throughout the year.
We had such a great time visiting Thursday Island with Peddells. Jumping on the bus tour definitely gives you such a great insight into the local life on Thursday Island and a little bit of information about the history and culture of the Torres Strait Islanders. If you’re making your way all the way to the tip of Cape York don’t miss out on exploring this very unique part of Australia.
For more information and to book your visit to Thursday Island head to peddellsferry.com.au or you can give them a call on (07) 4069 1551.
We visited Thursday Island as guests of Peddells Ferrys. All opinions are, as always, our own.