The Torres Strait Islands: Australia’s Best-Kept Secret

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As Australia reopens to international travel after the long pandemic, now may be the perfect time to discover one of its most unique regions. The Torres Strait Islands are an ideal getaway for Antiguans and Barbudans planning their holidays for summer 2022.

 

As always, travellers should make sure they have a valid passport and Australian visa. Authorising trips Down Under is usually simple enough — it may even be possible to get an Australia visa with a criminal conviction. Citizens of certain countries can even get their visa or ETA online. As part of Australia, all foreign nationals will need a visa to visit these beautiful islands.

 

Located off the northern tip of Queensland, between mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait Islands are home to a distinct aboriginal culture. The shallow turquoise waters and idyllic beaches make these islands familiar yet different from the Caribbean.

 

The Torres Strait is something of an undiscovered gem. Most visitors to Australia flock to Sydney or Melbourne. Many people prefer to see natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef or Ayers Rock (Uluru). In all of these places, visitors have to compete with the tourist crowds — something you will not have to worry about on the Torres Strait Islands.

 

The archipelago is still largely unspoiled and this is something that the islanders are keen to preserve. At the same time, there is a push to open up the islands a little more to tourism. Local companies such as Straits Experiences offer trips that include sightseeing, history, indigenous music, local food, and more, all in one package.

 

The poorer rural communities on the islands benefit enormously from the jobs created by tourism. At the same time, the islanders recognise that there is the need to balance tourism with sustainability to preserve the culture and natural beauty of their home.

 

The Torres Islands are trying to learn from the mistakes of areas like Cairns, which have suffered from overcrowding and erosion. Visitors are more than welcome, in manageable numbers.

 

Tour companies are investing in the people of the Torres Straits, creating opportunities for young people and working with the communities and elders to create authentic cultural experiences without damaging the fabric of the indigenous society.

 

According to Nai, co-founder of Straits Experiences:

 

“We’re not in the tourism business, we are in the people business. We just happen to serve tourism experiences.”

 

Visitors who take a day trip to the Torres Strait with his company can expect a fascinating and exciting experience with a full itinerary.

 

Flying out from Cairns in the early morning, guests first arrive on Waiben, also called Thursday Island. During the flight, a guide gives a talk on the islands, the landscape, the people, and their history.

 

The day includes a tour around picturesque Ngurapai/Horn Island, visits to military sites from the Second World War, and a trip to the Green Hill Fort, built in the 1800s. The party of visitors are also treated to an island-style buffet and a local group deliver traditional music and dance performances.

 

This complete experience has been described as “an injection of local culture and history”.

 

Like many aboriginal communities, the history of the Torres Strait Islands is marred by the shadow of colonialism.

 

When European settlers arrived in Australia, they soon caused friction with the indigenous population. A series of bloody conflicts known as the “Frontier Wars” were fought as the British colonists consolidated their control over the continent.

 

Over the decades, native Australians, including the Torres Strait Islanders suffered oppression. At times, they were banned from speaking their native languages, moved onto reservations, and even had their children taken away to live with European families, leading to generational trauma for these communities.

 

In modern times, there is a greater effort to protect indigenous communities and preserve their traditional cultures. Australia observes “National Sorry Day”, also known as the National Day of Healing every year, acknowledging the atrocities of the past and seeking to make amends.

 

Indigenous Australian communities are now an important part of the country and the people of the Torres Strait Islands are no exception.

 

These fascinating islands and their culture make for a truly unique holiday experience.

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