Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula stretches northward like a long arm, with the Great Barrier Reef running parallel to the east. At the tip of the peninsula, the Torres Strait Islands continue onward toward Papua New Guinea, creating a maze of tropical islands and reefs that divide the Coral Sea from the Arafura Sea.
Passing through the Torres Strait offers opportunities to see the northern reaches of Australia. Cape York, at the end of the peninsula, is the northernmost point of the Australian mainland. The legendary explorer Captain Cook rounded this cape in the Endeavour on his first voyage of discovery, stopping at Possession Island to stake Britain's claim to eastern Australia.
Of the 274 islands in the strait, only 14 are inhabited. And though these remote outposts are part of Australia, they’ve largely maintained their indigenous cultures, a mix of Australian Aboriginal, Melanesian and others from Papua New Guinea. The languages and customs vary from island to island. Today, nearly 40 percent of the archipelago's residents live on Thursday Island, where a deepwater port makes it a regular stop for ships passing through the area and a hub for pearl harvesting since the late 19th century.