Our ten-day pioneering Extreme Dreams expedition to the untamed sea-country of the Torres Strait Islands was seriously the bad-ass adventure we had hoped it to be after 12 months of planning.
Our crew of Venturers (all first-time paddlers) became the first 6-man outrigger teams to circumnavigate Muralug Island. They powered their way through raging currents, battled hectic headwinds, and perfected the ancient art of paddling to travel over 80km around the tropical islands nestled between the Coral and Arafura Seas. “Hut….Ho!”
We paddled past basking saltwater crocodiles, caught huge bull sharks, dined on fresh crayfish, refuelled on coconuts, and explored the sacred lands of the First Nations people who are lucky enough to call this part of the world home.
Mother Nature provided the most magnificent backdrop with pastel sunsets and cavorting dolphins, hot days, warm nights and fire-side feeds where friendships formed. It was a unique glimpse into a life that’s only 60km from the sea border with Papua New Guinea.
We’ve been pining for international travel for the last two years, and we finally found it here right in our own Queensland backyard. This is the real Australia.
Here are just some of the photos and memories from this epic journey as told by one of our most loyal Venturers, Cathy U’Ren.
A bit of casual Thursday Island sightseeing today before we head off into the unknown tomorrow for some paddling, croc dodging, shark spotting, shoulder burning, blistering heat enduring FUN.
DAY 2 – Thursday Island to Zuna Island. 16.9km paddling.
The adventure begins. After learning everything we needed to know about Outrigger safety in approximately 10 minutes, we headed off straight across our first major channel. “HUT-HO!”
After a few hours and a sketchy channel crossing that event the local paddlers wouldn’t want to try, we beached on a tiny island for a rest. Safe to say the zinc stick was the most popular item on the trip. A last big push across a channel, giant turtles, and a bit of wave surfing on the way in and we found paradise – Zuna Island. We were totally spoiled with a camp oven feast, a few cold beverages, and some world-class stargazing.
We took our bruised butts and tired shoulders off to bed in a much higher standard of tent accommodation than we were expecting and fell off to sleep to the sound of the wind in the coconut trees. Bliss.
DAY 3 – Zuna Lodge to The Tip to Roko Island – no paddling.
Not feeling all that Extreme today as, after waking up on beautiful Zuna Island we took advantage of a boat with big engines to the Tip of the Australian Mainland. On the way, we stopped on a tiny paradise island (Meddler Island) for a quick snorkel. Following the obligatory Tip photos and a quick check of the beer stocks at Punsand Bay (pleased to see Burleigh Brewing Co. on offer), we headed to our next island paradise at Roko Island, a former Pearl Farm and now a gorgeous little glamping destination. Complete with a resident crocodile.
Slept in a stunning tent on Roko Island with a few strategically placed stairs between us and the water.
DAY 4 – Roko to Zuna to Irrki – 25km paddle
It was back in the boats and into Kaurareg Country today. We kicked off with a rather tame paddle until the wind changed direction and we found ourselves battling some pretty epic ama-side swell and surfing some solid waves. It was awesome. Although our steerers Rees and Denne looked pretty relieved when we pulled into an impossibly picturesque bay for lunch.
It was a hot day. Like. Very. Hot.
Paddling into Irrki was surreal. How could it be so beautiful? After 25kms of hard paddling we had a little snorkel, harvested some coconuts for magically refreshing water (that also goes quite well with spiced rum, or so we hear), and sat around (but far back from) the fire to hear stories of the country from our Traditional Owner guides, Ranger Enid and Barbara.
Slept in a tent under the casuarinas in paradise.
DAY 5 – Irrki Camp to Dugong Story pools – 18km hike
Today we tested out a different muscle group as we swapped the paddles for hiking shoes (well actually, nobody had hiking shoes, so we walked in boat sandals … which was … problematic for some. Hello blisters.)
Enid implored the ancestors to bring our destination closer and keep us safe as we headed into the heart of Murulag Island for the sacred pools of Dugong Story (Rabau Nguki). (Spoiler alert – there are no dugongs in the Dugong Story)
By this day my delightful little sun/heat allergy had really started to protest my choice of destination for a long outdoor adventure and my legs were absolutely on fire with a tremendous rash. So the beautiful cool water of the pools was sheer heaven after a 3-hour hike through the scorching bush to get there.
I pretty much refused to get out of the water.
Alas, the return hike was unavoidable and after lazing around for lunch in the water and having our faces painted with ochre, we tackled the challenge.
It was HOT. Like … OMG, HOT.
Let’s just say there wasn’t a lot of chat in the last hour or so.
When we got to a long exposed beach toward the end of the walk with no shade in sight the only thing I could do was sprint it! I had to get to the shade on the other side as quickly as possible! Back at camp, the hose was my best friend as we lazed around waiting for our legendary steerers Rees and Denne to prepare the bounty they had procured from the sea while we were hiking.
“Fish Five Ways” was and will remain my favourite meal of the entire trip.
We started with Namas prepared by Denne (see the photo below), then Rees cooked up the fish frames over the open fire and we picked at them – served in a palm woven basket. Stop it. YUM.
The next course was lightly grilled fish with a simple flour seasoning, followed by the main course of grilled or crumbed Mackerel that was literally swimming in the ocean only a couple of hours ago. Served in a palm woven basket, on the beach, at sunset, with a glass of wine. It just doesn’t get any better. The dessert was fresh crayfish in butter and garlic.
Slept in a tent under the Casuarinas in paradise with a full belly and satisfied soul.
DAY 6 – Irrki to Dirk’s Place – 19km paddle.
We got a teeny little taste of what might be to come on the final paddling leg this morning with a paddle against the current around the northwestern corner of Murulag island.
After saying our goodbyes to the beautiful Irrki Camp we made for Dirk’s Place in the boats where we *almost* completed our lap of Murulag. But Ben had (of course) added a detour for the next day, you know, just around another island.
Dirk is a bit of a legend and had some cold beers on ice when we arrived.
Slept in a BED under a FAN (cooling my burning legs) in a little shack on the beach on Murulag Island.
DAY 7 – Dirk’s Place (Murulag Island) to Friday Island beach camp via Kazu Pearl Farm.
This morning’s paddle was with the current and wow what a difference that makes. We were FLYING. It felt amazing.
The Kazu Pearl Farm was fascinating. Takami San is one of the last remaining pearl technicians in the Torres Strait and his skill is incredible to watch. Although, because I’m a total pig, the most memorable thing about the Pearl farm visit was the SASHIMI and SAGO! Wow. Yum.
Back in the boats and around Friday Island to our remote beach camp. Tents under the casuarinas once again. We spent the afternoon lazing around after our steerer Denne had arranged for a cold esky of beer to be delivered from the support boat upon our arrival (what a legend).
A pod of dolphins even popped by to put on a show in front of our camp. Flips and everything!
We were treated to one of the best sunsets I have ever seen in my life and stayed laying on the beach to stargaze into the evening. The “real world” is definitely starting to drop away into the background at this point ……
Slept in a tent under the casuarinas with NO WIND WHATSOEVER AND LEGS ON FIRE.
DAY 8 (Part 1) – Friday Island to Thursday Island.
THE. MOST. EPIC. DAY.
So epic that it’s coming in two parts.
First – this feeling right here in the video of us finishing the paddle around Murulag Island. It was the first time a 6-man outrigger canoe had ever circumnavigated Murulag Island (with Friday Island added in for extra fun).
The local boys certainly saved the best for last. Today’s paddle was short and absolutely brutal. We were into the current the whole way. We started out doing well but when we rounded the first headland straight into the rushing channel we got our first taste of what it feels like to paddle your absolute guts out and go nowhere. Like. Not moving.
Rees was giving us the big inspirational talk from the back of the boat – “give me everything you’ve got for twenty minutes”.
So we did. “Another twenty”, and we did.
“Ok well done. Now the hardest paddle of the trip is just coming up …” Say WHAT?!
We rounded the final turn into the strongest current we’d faced and we gave it literally everything to stop from going backwards. Craig shared later his internal mental panic when faced with the fact that we were paddling with absolutely everything we had and not moving – “what the hell do we now?!”
The last twenty minutes was basically just me and Craig screaming “COOOOMMMMMME OOOOOOONNNNNN!!!!!!” trying to get an extra ounce out of ourselves and our team.
Millimetre by millimetre we pulled free of the current and the video is us coming into the club.
Done. Totally spent. Absolutely exhilarated.
It was bloody epic.
DAY 8 (Part 2) – Thursday Island to Badu Island.
Following a celebratory XXXX in the Outrigger Club to mark the end of our epic paddle, we boarded a couple of speed boats for the 50km trip north to Badu – home of the warriors. You can’t go to Badu without an invitation and we were very fortunate to gain permission to stay on the island.
The boat ride was an adventure in itself. We finally pulled up on a beach (oh, you know, just the most beautiful beach on earth) and jumped out of the boats into the water and onto the truly magical island of Badu.
We were greeted by Laurie Nona, an exceptionally talented artist and tireless advocate for his people. And Warrior. I mean the man’s biceps were bigger than my legs. And cookapparently…Laurie welcomed us to his beach camp and whipped us up some incredible fish curry for dinner.
That night he told us stories around the fire and so began my incredible infatuation with this place.
Today was epic in so many ways. The toughest paddle of the trip, the most epic boat ride, an afternoon/evening where we felt completely transported to another world, and the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life.
Slept in a tent under the coconut trees (after wishing them good night) on the sand in absolute paradise.
DAY 9 – Badu Island, magical Badu.
Today we woke in paradise and enjoyed some traditional Badu scones for breakfast lovingly prepared by the man of so many talents, Laurie Nona. We then ventured into the acclaimed Badu Art Centre where we spent half the day learning about the local art and artists and selecting treasures to take home. I can’t wait to hang Laurie’s art on the walls of our new home (oh yes, he’s also an artist).
We then spent the afternoon preparing a traditional Amay. We built a fire and stripped eucalyptus leaves. We wrapped the meat and veggies in banana and palm leaves. Then we chucked the parcels on the hot stones and buried them with the leaves, wet mats, and sand, and abandoned the whole thing for a few hours.
And what a few hours.
We enjoyed a few beers and some great chats, played in the ocean with the kids, practiced our headstands in the sand ….
….and then I rode a horse…bareback…in the ocean…on an island. Unbelievable.
That night, after we’d devoured our incredible feast and we lay on the sand staring up at a billion stars, I dug my hands deep, deep into the sand, down to where it was cool to touch. I felt connected to the island and its stories. I felt an enormous sense of gratitude and peace. I silently and wholeheartedly thanked the ancestors for allowing me the gift of these two days on Badu.
I am touched by this place.
Slept in a tent, on the sand, under a billion Badu stars.
DAY 10 – The End of Extreme Dreams Torres Strait 2021
Badu Island to Thursday Island and eventually home.
Bye-bye Badu. Bye-bye Torres Strait. What an adventure!
Today we took a teeny tiny plane from Badu back to Thursday Island in what was a perfect way of capping off a truly epic Best Life Adventure. We flew over the islands that we had passed on our sketchy boat ride to Badu, over the islands we had paddled around in our Outrigger canoes, and saw the magical beauty and scale of this special place from the air.
This place where we had formed bonds of friendship and connection with the people and the land.
This place where I leave a little piece of me behind.
I’ve lived in Queensland most of my life but I was so completely ignorant of the Torres Strait.
I’m so bloody happy I came here. I feel more connected to my country. I know her better.
Thank you Ben Southall for once again removing me from what we come to accept as “normality” and providing challenge, adventure, and space for curiosity and connection. My soul needs this.
Until the next one …………
This video created by our serial venturer Shaw Innes gives you a taste of what their journey was like.