Torres Straits Tourist Information

Population figures* for the Torres Strait Islands are:

Inner Islands
Waiben (Thursday Island) 2300
Ngurapai (Horn Island) 600
Kerini (Hammond Island) 225

Outer Islands
Moa 560
Badu 825
Mabuiag 210
Boigu 340
Dauan 164
Saibai 379
Warraber (Sue Island) 237
Iama (Yam Island) 400
Poruma (Coconut Island) 188
Masig (Yorke Island) 288
Mer (Murray Island) 450
Erub (Darnley Island) 375
Ugar (Stephen Island) 50
* Torres Strait Regional Authority

The Torres Strait Islanders are renowned for their vibrant and unique costumes, especially the spectacular dan (traditional feathered headdress). The dan is prominently featured on the Torres Strait Islands flag. Consisting of a row of white feathers attached to an arched cane border, the dan sits on the forehead, tied around the head with plaited coconut-leaf twine or thin rope. The white feathers are clipped to represent fishtails. On top of the dan is a single black feather usually taken from a frigate bird. The vertical cane lines running across the centre of the dan symbolise the forehead crease lines — the lines of wisdom. Although the dan is believed to have its origins on Mer (Murray Island, in the eastern Torres Strait), 19th-century literature suggests it was made in a similar pattern by other clan groups throughout the Torres Strait. It is ironic that the dan is often referred to as the ‘headdress of peace’, as it was tradi­tionally donned by Torres Strait Island warriors during interclan warfare. The Melanesian custom known as ‘payback (revenge killings or attacks against other island clans) was the cause of much interisland warfare prior to the arrival of foreigners. In the late 1800s, with the arrival of mis­sionaries and other foreigners to the Torres Strait, the dan underwent a functional change from warrior attire to dance apparel. Access to new durable materials sparked a wave of creativity that saw the traditional cane frames replaced with ply­wood, tin plates, vinyl sheeting and even cardboard. Beads and other synthetic sub­stances are also used as decorations. Although the purpose and design of the dan has changed considerably over the years, the ‘headdress of peace remains the most powerful and sacred cultural symbol of the Torres Strait Islands. You can still see the traditional dan and its modern varia­tions during certain celebrations such as the annual Coming of the Light festival in July.

Outer Islands
The inhabited outer islands are not too difficult to visit, but you must plan well in advance. These tropical islands, some of them sitting on their own coral reefs, have virtually no tourist infrastructure and very few people make the effort to see this gor­geous part of the world. But the chance to catch a glimpse of life in an isolated island community is exactly what makes the is­lands so appealing. The other main attractions are fishing and the beaches (watch out for sharks!). Islanders are usually incredibly hos­pitable and proud of their culture. You could even find yourself learning how to weave a basket or invited along on a fishing trip. In tome cases the relevant island council can arrange these sorts of activities for you. Many of the councils have plans in place to develop tourism, so the information pro­vided here may change as the outer islands become easier to visit.

You must get permission from the relevant d council to visit any of the outer islands. The councils vary in their approach travellers, eg, you can only make a day trip to certain islands and some councils don’t allow visitors at all. At the time of writing, Poruma, Warraber and Masig were among the most open to visitors. Most islands have guesthouses run by the council with modern kitchen and bathroom utilities, but you must be self-catering. There is an IBIS supermarket on every inhabited island with limited supplies and EFTPOS facilities for purchases. Otherwise, you must bring everything with you, bearing in mind that there’s usually a luggage limit of 16kg on light planes operating in the strait. Respect the privacy of Islanders during your visit. Ask permission before taking photographs and try to stay in public areas (sometimes people don’t have fences around their yards).

Most of the inhabited islands have an airstrip and there are quite a few airlines operating light aircraft in the strait. Many have sched­uled services or you can charter a plane (ex­pensive), or a boat or helicopter (also costly). Most airlines won’t allow you to book a ticket before you have obtained permission from the relevant council to visit the island. For scheduled flights, you can expect to pay around (return flight) $530 for Ngurapai-­Erub, $374 for Ngurapai-Poruma and $462 for Ngurapai-Masig. Sunstate (ph 4069 1264) is linked to Qantas and operates daily flights between Cairns and Ngurapai. Skytrans runs a direct flight between Cairns and Masig. The following airlines operate in the Tones Strait:
Aero-Tropics ph 4035 9138
Cape York Air ph 4069 2973
Northern Air Services ph 4069 2777
Skytrans Airlines ph 4069 2033
Tones Strait Airlines ph 4069 2121
Note that you cannot travel to Papua New Guinea from the northern islands of the Tor­res Strait, you must go back to Cairns and pass through normal quarantine and customs processes.

Moa is one of the largest islands in the Tor­res Strait and has two separate communities - Kubin and St Pauls.
The Kubin Community Council does not currently allow travellers to visit. For infor­mation contact the Kubin Community Council (Ph 4069 4295, fax 4069 4272) via Post Office, Thursday Island.
St Pauls
The community celebrates St Paul’s Day with a church service, feasting and dancing on 25 January, which visitors are welcome to attend. St Paul’s Church was built by local villagers using mangrove wood for the roof trusses and mortar made by burning coral. The airstrip on Moa is near Kubin, a 30-minute drive from St Pauls. Advise the council that you need to be picked up by the bus ($44 one way). The council may also be able to arrange a tour of the island.
Permits & Information
Contact the St Pauls Island Council (Ph 4069 4124, fax 4069 4100) via Post Office, Thursday Island, at least three weeks in advance to request per­mission to visit the community. Web site:

Badu, a large island in the western group of islands, has a motel where you can stay in a room with an attached bathroom and a shared kitchen for $66/88/110 for singles! doubles/family. Japanese B encephalitis has occurred on Badu Island in recent years, so if you plan to travel here contact your doctor for up-to-date information on this infectious disease.
Permits & Information
For permission to visit the island, contact the Badu Island Council (Ph 4069 4214, fax 4069 4121) via Post Office, Thursday Island, four weeks in advance.

Stone arrangements were traditionally used to mark clan territory on Mabuiag and a stone crocodile (at the top of the hill beside the airstrip) and stone shark (at Point Naeman) are still maintained. There is limited accom­modation in the guesthouse (call for a price quote). The Rams Skull Press (Ph 4093 7474) has published An Explorer’s Guide to Mabuiag Island in collaboration with Mabuiag State School.
Permits & Information
Write to the Mabuiag Island Council (Ph 4069 4184, fax 4069 4111) via Post Office, Thursday Island, at least four weeks in ad­vance if you want to visit.

Dominated by mangrove wetlands, Boigu is subject to widespread flooding in the Wet season. The island is only a few kilometres from the Papua New Guinea coast and there are strong cultural ties with the commu­nities across the border.
Permits & Information
Contact the Boigu Island Council (Ph 4069 4093, fax 4069 4079) via Post Office, Thursday Island, for permission to make a day trip. Your application should be in writing, at least four weeks in advance.

Dauan is the northernmost tip of Australia’s Great Dividing Range, according to Torres Strait stories, itwas formed from the head of the giant man-eating snake Norinori when he was dropped into the sea by two eagles. There is no airstrip on Dauan and at the time of writing the council was not allowing travellers to visit, but this may change as it plans to develop a resort. For details, contact Dauan Island Council (Ph 4069 4266, fax 40694257) via Post Office, Thursday Island.

Saibai is just 3km from the Papua New Guinea coast. The island regularly hosts markets where Islanders and people from Papua New Guinea sell artwork, drums and mud crabs. Limited accommodation is available in a donga (temporary or portable building; $30) or guesthouse ($40).
Permits & Information
If you want to visit the island you should contact the Saibai Island Council (Ph 4069 4270, fax 4069 3180) via Post Office, Thursday Island, at least two weeks in advance.

Warraber sits in an extensive coral reef in the central islands. Visitors can stay at the guesthouse, which costs $60 per night with all meals included, or $40 without meals. The council may be able to arrange for a tour of the island including a visit to a sacred site and an arts and crafts demonstration. Enquire in advance.
Permits & Information
Call the Warraber Community Council (Ph 4069 4177, fax 4069 4183) via Post Office, Thursday Island, to arrange for per­mission and accommodation. If you have a large group you need to call one week in advance; with a small group you can call one or two days ahead.

Surrounded by its own coral reef, Iama does not currently have facilities for visitors, although the council has plans for a hotel and arts and craft centre. Contact the Yam Island Community Council (Ph 4069 4195, fax 4069 4224) via Post Office, Thursday Island, for more information.

Just 1.4km long and 400m wide, the Poruma Island community has strong links with the Warraber community, who moved from Poruma due to a water shortage in the 1920s. Today an upgraded water supply has solved the problem and the council is actively encouraging visitors. There’s a guesthouse on the island ($44) and at the time of writing the council was developing top-end beachfront accom­modation, due to open in 2001. The cost will be around $600 to $800 per night and there will be a strong focus on Islander culture. Visitors will be invited to learn traditional cooking techniques with members of the local community. There are also plans for a camping ground (check with the council for details).
Permits & Information
Contact the Coconut Island Council (Ph 4069 4277, fax 4069 4280) via Post Office, Thursday Island, two weeks in advance for information and permission to visit.
Organised Tours
OzTours (Ph 1800 079 006 toll free, fax 4055 9918) includes a day trip to Coconut Island as part of its seven- and 12-day fly/drive tours of Cape York. Check its Web site at

In 1936 this coral cay was the venue for an all-island maritime strike, with workers in the fishing, trochus and pealing industries demanding better conditions. It was one of the first moves towards autonomy in the Tor­res Strait and is commemorated every year on 23 August. Today, the island is the base for fish and prawn trawlers. There are two guesthouses, which cost $25 per night, and with prior notice the council can arrange carving and weaving demonstrations. Skytrans (4090 2033) operates direct flights between Cairns and Masig six days a week for $726 return.
Permits & Information
Write to the Yorke Island Community Council (Ph 4069 4128, fax 4069 4135, via Post Office, Thursday Island, four weeks in advance if you want to visit.

The home of Eddie Mabo, this island was the subject of the landmark Mabo decision in 1992. At this stage there are no facilities for tourists on Mer and the council does not allow travellers to visit.

Erub, in the eastern group, is of volcanic origin. It was here that members of the London Missionary Society landed in 1871. Norah’s Ark (Ph 4069 4032) offers twin rooms for $75 per person, including three meals. There is no council accommodation for travellers.
Permits & Information
Contact the Darnley Island Council (Ph 4069 4001, fax 4069 4000) via Post Office, Thursday Island, four weeks in advance for more information and permission to visit. It may be able to arrange a cultural tour of the island for around $50.

This island is volcanic in origin and sur­rounded by a coral reef. Limited beachfront accommodation is available for $25 to $30 and the council may be able to organise a traditional arts and crafts demonstration. There is no airstrip on Ugar, so you must arrange a boat from Masig or Erub. The trip from Masig takes up to an hour, and the Stephen Island Community Council can help you to arrange it (costs are negotiable).
Permits & Information
Call the Stephen Island Community Coun­cil (Ph 4069 4023, fax 4069 4029) via Post Office, Thursday Island, at least two weeks in advance if you’d like to visit Ugar.