Masig: The remote coral island off Australia’s Queensland coast that’s now much easier to visit

There’s something surreal about departing Cairns airport and, just a few hours later, touching down on an Australian island that’s closer to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea than it is any major mainland city.

No passport was required for me to get here, and there’s no visa to be stamped. But as the plane door opens and the steamy, tropical air envelops me, it feels like I’ve landed in a different country.

Welcome to Masig Island, a teardrop-shaped coral cay sitting high in Torres Strait, Australia’s most northerly frontier and the meeting place of the Indian and Pacific oceans.

The archipelago’s 270-or-so (there’s some debate) islands – most of which are uninhabited – are scattered like opaline jewels between the tip of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland all the way to Papua New Guinea. Stepping onto the Masig runway, I’m just nine degrees south of the equator.

My host for the next couple of days is Fraser Nai, an imposingly tall, dreadlocked islander who turns into a kid when he talks about Masig, his ancestral home.

As we walk, he tells me about beach camping with his cousins as a child and walking across sandbanks at low tide to neighbouring Kadal island. His family would cook up freshly caught crayfish and feast until they couldn’t move, then sit around singing and dancing late into the night.

Fraser is the co-owner of Strait Experience, a company he launched last year to allow smooth access to this otherwise tricky-to-navigate (and time-consuming to reach) pocket of the country that featured in Zac Efron’s 2022 Netflix documentary Down to Earth: Down Under. Unless travelling with his company, which takes care of permissions, visitors must register with the regional council prior to travel.

With Strait Experience, you can now fly in for a day from Cairns, spending two hours venturing north over the dense, mist-shrouded jungle of the Daintree Rainforest, the Coral Sea, then finally to the aqua waters of the Torres Strait.

The Daintree Rainforest located in Tropical North Queensland, Australia. This ancient rainforest is over 135 million years old, making it the oldest rainforest in the world.
The Daintree Rainforest is over 135 million years old, making it the oldest rainforest in the world (Photo: Nigel Killeen/Getty)

Planes land on Ngurupai/Horn – a jungle-clad island that played a pivotal role in Australia’s Second World War defence – with a ferry connection to Waibene/Thursday Island. Across these two main islands, Fraser and his team arrange gallery visits, tours of war relics and cultural performances with guides and artists, many of whom are passionate about teaching younger generations about the importance of preserving their culture.

For for those who rightly feel one day is not enough, you can arrange a longer visit like mine to include Masig and North Cape.

Being on Masig feels like someone has turned back the clock a few decades – in the best possible way. At less than three kilometres long and only 800 metres across at its widest point, it’s easy to explore, particularly with Fraser at the helm, but best done at a languid pace.

The heat zaps you. Which is why Fraser suggests we begin our day on a dreamy beach of liquid blues and sugary white sand that I can’t quite believe is real. I’m struck by the raw clarity of the sunlight, dancing over the shallow water – it’s like someone has taken dirty glasses off my nose and polished them for the first time ever.

The outlook wouldn’t be out of place in the Maldives or Seychelles – only there aren’t any overwater bungalows or luxury spas here. In fact, there’s just one hotel, Lowatta Lodge, with only a handful of cabins and rooms. There’s a small store where you can pick up supplies, but when you’re in the company of Fraser, you’re invited to eat with the islanders. There’s no-one he doesn’t know. During my visit, I enjoy seafood feasts that beat any expensive lobster meal I’ve ever had in other tropical island retreats.

Strait Experience crew explaining about A Strait Day tour, while on a flight from Cairns to the Torres Strait Image via
The Strait Experience crew on a flight from Cairns (Photo: Phil Warring/Tourism and Events Queensland)

Activities on Masig are focused on the sea, and when kids aren’t dive-bombing into it, they’re gliding over it in dinghies, ready to throw in a line. Indeed, the economy of the islands today is based on traditional fishing practices of Australia’s two indigenous peoples who live here, the Aboriginal Kaurareg and the Torres Strait Islanders. In the not-too-distant past, Masig families owned luggers and were instrumental in Australia’s pearling and shell industries. But after its collapse in the 60s, they shifted to catching mackerel, prawns and crays.

Fraser zips me out to one of the nearby uninhabited islands for beachcombing and snorkelling – ours are the only footprints in the sand. Sitting in the shade of a palm tree watching the day disappear, I’m overcome by the soothing power of nature. Being here, there’s nothing to distract other than the occasional toothpaste-white wave rolling over the ocean and the flutter of bird wings through the fronds overhead. If there was ever a true salve for the soul, this is it.

Travel essentials

How to get there

It’s a two-hour flight from Cairns to Horn Island with Strait Experience, followed by a 45-minute flight to Masig,

Strait Experience offers full-day to seven-day tours around the archipelago, as well as private journeys. Trips from A$999pp (£415),

Where to stay

Lowatta Lodge is the only accommodation on Masig. You need to bring your own food or buy basic supplies at the store on the island. Guests can borrow bikes to cycle around the island. Cabins cost A$280 (£144),

Further information