I can’t claim to be much of an expert on the Torres Strait, having only visited a couple of times. But, I have been to a couple of the islands: Thursday Island (the ‘main’ island – also just called TI), Badu Island in the western group of Islands, Hammond Island and Horn Island (where I just waited around at the airport to fly back to Cairns).
I spent a couple of nights on Thursday Island, as a part of a work trip where I visited a community on nearby Hammond Island. I spent every night on TI fishing on the shipping wharf which is closed during the day as it’s busy with deliveries to the island.
While there’s a few people with rods and reels there you see local kids with spears walking around looking for a fish – they’re out till the late hours as it’s still so warm – and everyone else just with handlines. I was up there in March (on TI and Hammond), and another time December where I visited Badu Island. Seems like most of the islands outside of Horn and TI you need permission from the local owners to visit and I don’t believe there’s much in the way of accomodation for anyone else but the islanders.
I spent a lot of time keeping my eye out for crocodiles. I’d only ever seen a wild croc in Mexico and, I regret to say, I am still yet to see a wild one in Australia – but I’ve included all my pics of croc signs just so I think I got reasonably close to ones I might not have seen. As the signs suggest, they are certainly about.
The folk up there tell me if you are on TI you’re more likely to see crocs on the ‘other’ side of the island where they slaughter the dugongs. Dugongs are manatees and they are a traditional food up there along with turtles, crayfish and, of course, fish. If you sit on the wharf at night you can see the locals out in their tinnies with their lights hunting turtles. Apparently they have a lot of magnesium in them so they also refer to them as the aspirin of the sea, or something like that.
The croc sign above is not in the Torres Strait by the way (though you could argue part of the straits starts around there), it’s in Seisia on top of Cape York Peninsula, where you get the ferry out to TI.
The Torres Strait is not the easiest place to get to, it ain’t like Cancun in Mexico, where I saw my old wild croc to date in the lagoon, where you can just fly in on one of the 24 million flights a day and head to a big flashy hotel. If you want to fly to the Torres Strait from Australia (though the islands are part of Australia) it’ll usually cost you about as much as going to Bangkok, Thailand, and you’ll find far fewer Thai restaurants there – there is one or two on TI though. I reckon the best way to arrive to TI is via the Seisia ferry, but you usually have to book otherwise you’ll be spending a few days in Cape York waiting to get a spot. The ferries also don’t run on weekends I think.
Another way to arrive in the Torres Strait is by charter plane, I flew this little one, which I think might be a Piper Cherokee, out to Badu Island from Bamaga airport to visit some building works on the island. You would have probably guessed by the fact I couldn’t name the plane that I wasn’t the actual pilot, but I got to sit right next to him. It’s bloody hot in those little planes, you have to wait until the propellers start to get any airflow in the cabin.
It was the funnest trip I’ve ever taken on a plane, smooth as a baby’s butt, and it wasn’t even disconcerting that the pilot had his iphone on his lap to navigate to the island. He’d look down to his lap then look up and I could see the thought processes, ‘yeah, it looks about where it should be…’
Here’s a picture of a little island I flew over. Yes, I did take it because it reminded me of a penis, but also maybe a turtle. Below that is a picture of a termite mound on Badu Island. The termites had eaten the building we were replacing.
There’s not a hell of a lot to see in Bamaga, the pie shop is nice (which is lucky because it’s the only pie shop in Bamaga), they serve crayfish pie, but every time I went to get one they’d run out. It’s called Bernie’s Kai Kai Bar. I bought a Torres Strait stubbie holder there to remind me of my trip.
This is the view from the pie shop, the arrow’s pointing the wrong way I think, but hey, the letter would be upside down if you had it pointing the right way.
On another occasion I took a water taxi out to Hammond Island, which you can only go to by permit – unless you’re a local, but then if you’re a local you already probably know that. Remember Torres Strait was home to the famous Australian Eddie Mabo – who lived on Mer Island in the eastern part of the Torres Strait, and who helped win some rights for Indigenous people of Australia to get some of their land back after a few centuries of white people saying it was all theirs – so you want to respect their rules for their land, if you’re privileged enough to visit.
I saw these ants on Hammond Island, and took a few more of the pics below. The ants attacked me, but they don’t sting, they just swarm over your socks and have you screaming like a little girl as you try to get them off.
Well, that’s about it for my page on the Torres Strait and Cape York Peninsula, despite staying out till 11 pm every night on the wharf at TI I didn’t catch a single fish apart from some bait fish – though they tell me you usually can get a nice coral trout there. I did however get to yarn with many locals while fishing, some white folk and some local Torres Strait islanders. They were all very warm and friendly. For that reason I reckon you should make an effort to get up there, while you’re there you kind of feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere, but home at the same time.
Rather than the busy highways you’ll get to know the locals use the water as their roads, and the sea is just a natural part of their backyard, though despite Mabo they still have to fight to get their traditional rights to use the sea back. If there’s any justice in the world they’ll succeed.
I’d like to thank all the Torres Strait Islander people I met up there, and nice white folk as well. It’s such nice a region to visit not only because of the warm air and ocean surrounds, and promise of coral trout, but mainly because of you guys.
I’m going to get me one of those coral trout next time I’m up there I swear…