Horn (Ngurupai) Island has a rich cultural, mining and military history. It’s located just 17 kilometres off Queensland’s coastline, and its people are descendants of all who came before. A fusion of Melanesian, Torres Strait and Australian Aboriginal cultures. This tropical island hosted a gold rush in the late 1800s, and at one time had 27 mines, including a 30 feet deep, open cut mine.
In the 1940s, this area became an invaluable and strategic Allied Forces stronghold during the war. Most Torres Strait men enlisted to defend their country – in fact, at Horn Island, only 10 able-bodied men remained to protect their community. To this very day, the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, is the only Indigenous battalion in Australia’s military history.
2 Hour Horn Island Tour
The Torres Strait people proudly defended their island home. You’ll walk in their footsteps, during a 2 hour Horn Island tour, visiting gun emplacements, underground rooms and more. We stop at the Torres Strait Heritage Museum on Horn Island, which provides further insights – here you can read diaries and historic newspapers, see maps and learn more about the area’s rich wartime history, local myths and legends and more. All of this is included in your 3 Day Strait Escape adventure.
Horn (Ngurupai) Island is also the point where we fly in and out of the Torres Strait, to and from Cairns. A local water taxi provides the short 10 minute transfer between Horn and Thursday Island, which is where you will be staying.
Thursday (Waiben) Island is the administrative hub for the Torres Strait and your ‘base’ for the 3 Day Strait Escape. You’ll check into your accommodation at the Grand Hotel, which is located on the hillside adjacent to the jetty. The Grand Hotel has panoramic views over the island’s clear blue waters, 31 rooms of accommodation and a café and bistro Malu Paru. All of the rooms have ensuite, tea and coffee making facilities, fans and air conditioning – 2 nights accommodation is included in your package, as well as all of your meals.
2 Hour Thursday Island Tour
On Thursday Island, you’ll traverse more of the cultural tapestry, military history, religious and commercial activity that is island life. An air-conditioned coach takes you around the island on a guided 2 hour tour, visiting key points of interest, which your local guide will illuminate through an interesting and informative commentary. Highlights include Green Hill Fort, which was constructed in the late 1800s to help protect Australia from a possible Russian invasion. Apart from its amazing views, over the surrounding seas and islands, the fortifications are impressive. Its underground rooms have 600mm thick concrete walls. They once housed ammunition and more, but today contain a gallery of military artefacts, spanning the last century.
Travelling around the island in comfort on the coach, you’ll next visit the historic Thursday Island cemetery. Cemeteries reveal a lot about a community. Its history, significant events and ancient and current traditions. Your guide will talk to you about the early and highly dangerous pearling industry (more on this in the Friday Island section), which lead to the development of the Japanese Cemetery. You’ll also learn about the culturally important tombstone unveiling ceremonies, that are today an important part of Ailan Kastom (Island Custom).
Traditional Islander Dance Performance & Feasting-style Lunch
Join your guide for a local feasting-style lunch buffet. As you slip into island time and enjoy the feast before you, a respected Torres Strait Islander dance group will showcase their vibrant culture with a 1-hour performance. The ceremonial dress and adornments are both striking and beautiful, while the power in their precision movements enlivens all you have seen regarding these proud, warrior-like people, on your two island tours.
Gab Titui Cultural Centre and Gallery
The landmark Gab Titui Cultural Centre and Gallery – is a contemporary art gallery and keeping place for cultural artefacts. Here, you’ll expand your growing awareness of the rich tapestry of art, dance, rituals and performance that keeps language and traditional knowledge alive, in the Torres Strait. The incredibly detailed lino prints illustrate various aspects of island life and Ailan Kastom (Island Custom) and there’s the opportunity to meet some celebrated local artists. Artworks are available for sale and apart from supporting the local community and culture, these works make a striking, contemporary addition to any décor, serving as a visual reminder of your time in the Torres Strait.
You might not know the Torres Strait once had a massive pearl industry, which started in the late 1800s. While there were some local divers, the majority of pearl divers in the early days were Japanese. In fact, by the 1920s almost all of the pearl divers working around the Inner Islands were Japanese, and it was no easy task. The heavy helmets were cumbersome and the divers were reliant on those above, to pump the air down to the them. It was dangerous and many lost their lives – so many, that they needed their own section at the Thursday Island cemetery. World War II largely put a halt to the pearl industry, but in the 1970s some cultured pearling operations began.
Kazu Pearl Farm is perhaps the last remaining active pearl farm from that time – and is a bucket list item for visitors to the Torres Strait. Kazu Pearl Farm started in the 1970s and is run today, by the same man who founded it all those years ago, Mr Kazu. As well as providing you with a delicious Japanese- style lunch, showcasing fresh local produce, including sushi, sashimi and tempura, with pickled vegetables, fresh fruit and accompaniments, you also get to see how cultured pearls are ‘grown’. This is explained in a fascinating demonstration covering pearl cultivation, seeding and harvesting. There’s also the opportunity to purchase a pearl, or piece of jewellery, which supports the island and provides you with a treasured reminder of your tropical adventure in the Torres Strait.
THE TORRES STRAIT, A TROPICAL ARCHIPELAGO
The Torres Strait sits above the Australian mainland. A tropical archipelago of 274 islands. Green gems in a vast blue sea – island stepping stones – scattered between Queensland and Papua New Guinea. Home to descendants of ancient seafarers, skilled navigators who keep their culture alive and maintain their ties to land and sea.
Only 17 of the islands are inhabited and on the 1 Strait Day tour, you visit two the most populated ones – Horn and Thursday Island. This provides those travellers short on time, the ability to engage with people and culture, enrich with experiences and leave with memories of vast blue seas, tropical islands, traditional dancing and our fiercely and proudly defended northern frontier.
If scheduled departure dates don’t work for you, or you would prefer to travel privately, please contact us at [email protected].au, about creating the perfect bespoke tailor- made journey for you, or your own small group with family or friends.
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