Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday on Thursday Island


At some point early in my travels, I got the crazy idea of looking into the possibility of setting as a personal goal visiting every island in the world. As it turns out, that was a pretty naïve wish, and I clearly didn't know what I was talking about. When you start to discuss how many islands exist in the world, you first have to define exactly what you mean by "island." There are literally hundreds of thousands of small low lying mounds or sandbars that exist when the tide is low, but that disappear when the tide is high. Are these to be counted as islands? Well let's assume that we take the obvious answer and say "no." That still leaves the question of how you define an island. Is every speck of land in the world's waters to be considered an "island? Perhaps you could just define an island as every land mass that is bigger than a football field. Even using that definition, the number of islands in the world is astronomical. Perhaps then you just narrow your selection down to those islands that are inhabited. It all can get very confusing, very quickly, but no matter how you define an "island" by even the most conservative count; it is easily in the millions. Therefore, when our cruise chose to stop at an island, as many of you know, I really did not get very excited. I have pretty much come to the conclusion that virtually every island looks like every other island so there is not too much to be excited about- with rare exceptions. Sadly, our stop today at Thursday Island, was not one of those exceptions.

Yesterday was Wednesday, but we spent it on Thursday Island. At first I didn't know why we went to Thursday Island, because we could have gone to nearby Wednesday Island since it was Wednesday. On the other hand if we had wanted to hold off a day we could've gone to Friday Island, which was also nearby. On the other hand, if we had held off a day, then we would have been on Friday Island on Thursday. It all became very confusing to most of us: the whole idea of being on Thursday Island on Wednesday, somehow just did not compute, particularly since Wednesday Island was right nearby!

The question of why we went to Thursday Island in the first place is actually quite relevant. Thursday Island and its four large neighboring islands are part of Queensland Australia. Collectively these islands sit in the middle of the Torres Strait and comprise the northernmost territory in Australia.DSCN0388 Indeed from a high Hill, on a clear day, the island of Papua New Guinea is visible to the North. Collectively these islands have been populated for thousands of years by the Melanesian Torres Strait Islanders. Indeed even today the dominant language spoken on Thursday Island is a form of Creole, although English is becoming more widely spoken in recent years. Thursday Island is only 1.4 square miles in size, but it is the Administrative and Commercial Center of the Torres Strait Islands. In 1995, the Queensland Government officially recognized these islands as Torres Shire, and granted them the right to use their own flag locally.

As you can imagine, an island that small, which is home to only 2500 people, certainly did not take long to tour. Indeed our 20 minute ride around the entire island, took less time than the 30 minute tender ride from the ship to shore. As we departed the pier for our first stop, we drove by some absolutely magnificent beaches, but each of them had warning signs against swimming there. Our guide explained that the islands are surrounded by salt water crocodiles. Even so, according to our guide, every year a tourist will disappear when they ignore the signs and attempt to go swimming in water that seems absolutely pristine and calm. The crocodiles strike quickly and without warning, and frequently in pairs. The hapless swimmer is pulled under before any rescue attempt could be successful.

Our first, and only stop on the island, was to visit Green Hill Fort. The Fort is one of the most intact 19th century forts remaining in Australia, and was built atop earlier fortifications that date from 1891. DSCN0424The fort was abandoned shortly after the Second World War, but in 2001 it was restored by the Australian government. Today one can view the underground bunkers, and clearly see the old gun emplacements that were meant to guard the approaches to these islands.

After our 30 minute visit, we then completed our drive around the island in almost no time at all and were back at the pier ready to return to the ship. Since our one and only stop was at the fort, what pictures you do see were made through the glass on a moving bus. DSCN0439They may not be perfect, but they do give you some idea of what we saw.

Today we are cruising southeast along the Australian coast in route to the city of Cairns. I am quite a surprised by our route of travel. Generally I would have expected our ship to go out away from the coast, and to follow a sea route in the Coral Sea well offshore of the mainland. To my surprise, however, the ship is quite literally hugging the Australian coastline, and weaving in and out of extremely picturesque scenery and islands. We appear to have a special pilot on board, who from time to time is providing commentary about exactly what it is we are seeing.

Lisa and I are both doing fine, and I continue to work at freeing up my shoulder. Tomorrow we have a private car for a half day tour, so it should not be too stressful.

I hope everyone is doing well, and stay tuned because there's much more to come.


No comments: