Thursday Island is the administrative and commercial capital of the Torres Strait Islands, which total 23 islands. The Thursday Island township is Australia’s most northern town.
Measuring just 3.5 square kilometers, the archipelago’s most developed island, endearingly called “TI”, is home to approximately 3,500 residents. Thursday Island’s residents are very diverse, including Malays, Chinese, Polynesian, and Japanese – who together outnumber European settlers.
Thursday Island has been inhabited for thousands of years by the Melanesian Torres Straight Islanders. Their name for the island was Waiben, which is thought to translate to “place of no water,” due to the island’s lack of supply of fresh water.
In the late nineteenth century the island started to be used for commercial purposes, as a pearling industry grew. The lucrative industry attracted people from various countries in the region. For example, there is a Japanese cemetery on the island commemorating Japanese pear diver who died from decompression sickness.
The island was used during World War II for defense purposes, during which time both Australian and American forces were based there. In 1942, the Japanese bombed Thursday Island, however the island was mostly spared (when compared to heavily bombed neighbor, Horn Island), possibly because of the large number of Japanese buried on the island.
The island’s average elevation is just eight meters above sea level, however the highest point on the island is 104 meters above sea level – Milman Hill.
Activities (Nature and Wildlife Interest)
Thursday Island has a diversity of activities not present on many tropical islands in Australia. Visitors can enjoy the usual pastimes, such as snorkeling, fishing, and boating, but can also explore the island’s rich heritage through cultural and educational tours.
Activities on the island include:
- Water activities: boating, fishing, canoeing. The island’s amazing fishing has been drawing international acclaim recently, despite the lack of developed fishing facilities for tourists.
- Land activities: tennis, basketball, shooting, football, aerobics, and biking.
- Artistic expression: The Jardine Hotel oversees the Torrest Strait Art Gallery, which features both historical and contemporary art.
- Educational tours: Historical tours are popular on the island, offering visitors a glimpse into the island’s history. Topics include the Melanesian culture and history, and the history of the pearl industry, agricultural development, and the Second World War on the island, and include visits to the WWII Greenhill Fort, the Torres Strait Historical Museum, the historical cemetery, and the marine museum.
- Cultural exposure: Recently opened on Thursday Island is the Gab Titui Cultural Centre, which showcases the Torres Strait Islanders’ culture and heritage. The centre includes exhibition and artwork space, as well as a workshop area.
- Island hopping: many visitors to Thursday Island combine it with a visit – often a guided tour – to neighbouring Horn Island. This predominantly historical tour outlines Horn Island’s role in the Second World War, stops at the Heritage Museum, and ensures visitors have a chance to see an underground command post, warplane relics, an old gold mine, and many beautiful lookout spots on the island.
The island has five hotels: Jardine Motel, Royal Hotel, Federal Hotel, Torres Strait Hotel, and Grand Hotel.
Grand Hotel (also known endearingly as “TI) is the most historical. Though the original Grand Hotel was destroyed in a 1993 fire, the New Grand Hotel has been constructed in its place, with improved facilities and amenities. All hotel rooms are air-conditioned and ensuite, with views of either the ocean or the island’s hills.
Thursday Island is located in the Torres Straight, 39 kilometers north of Cape York Peninsula. The island is 2,182 kilometers from Brisbane, 802 kilometers for Cairns, and 540 kilometers from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Daily flights operate between Cairns and Bamaga (on the mainland, at the northern tip of Cape York), and weekly flights between Cairns and Weipa. Flights operate to nearby Horn Island. Private plane and helicopter charters can be arranged to the island.
There is a local ferry to the island, which runs from Seisia Jetty on Cape York. Transfers will connect passengers from Horn Island to Thursday Island.