As I stepped off the ferry at Thursday Island’s main wharf, a gust of wind nearly lifted my sunglasses into the deceptively idyllic Torres Strait – its notoriously shallow waters and razor-sharp reefs claimed the lives of many ships since the Spaniard Luís Vaz de Torres became the first European to navigate this remote passage at the northern tip of Australia in 1606.
“The southeast trade winds can reach up to 40 km/h in the winter, then we have the wild northwest winds in the summer that bring storms,” local guide Sue Johns said, as fellow passengers from the ferry were rushing on his waiting round. bus. “It’s 12 months of bad hair days,” she joked as we strolled around the small, hilly island.
The administrative capital of the Torres Strait Islands, Thursday Island (locally known as “TI”) is one of more than 200 islands that once formed part of a land bridge between the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland and present-day Papua New Guinea. That changed around 8,000 years ago, when rising sea levels flooded the landscape at the end of the last ice age.
Home to about half of the roughly 6,000 Torres Strait residents, about 80 percent of whom identify as Indigenous, TI isn’t your typical tropical island vacation destination. There are no backpacker hostels or family resorts. With saltwater crocodiles patrolling TI’s beaches, swimming is too risky. And then there is the relentless wind. But there’s still a good reason to visit this remote corner of Australia, some 2,700 km north of Brisbane. And I’m not talking about the opportunity to have a pint in Australia’s most northerly pub, the Torres Hotel, alongside FIFO (fly in, fly out) workers, most of whom come to work in government jobs ranging from healthcare to defense.