THERE wouldn't be too many people whose Christmas morning began with a 10-minute boat ride, a cool wade through the ocean and a short climb up a hill to a beautiful stone church where just the soft, monotone beating of an island drum was the only accompaniment to the voices singing Away in a Manger.
And the warm sea breeze that danced up the hill of Hammond Island and whooshed into St Joseph's church was the culturally unique welcome that can only be experienced in the Torres Strait.
I have been fortunate enough to have been a frequent visitor to this magical part of the world for the best part of a decade, thanks to my Dad's own special attachment to the place through his work in the fire service on Thursday Island.
Thursday Island is rich in history, known for its lucrative pearling industry founded in the 1880s, which enticed workers from all parts of Asia, particularly the Japanese, and is the main commercial hub of the Straits, situated about 40km north of Cape York.
The tropical experience begins with an almost two-hour flight from Cairns to Horn Island and, trust me, when you step on to the tarmac and feel the intensity of the sun smack you in the face, you know you've arrived.
You're offered a small reprieve when an air-conditioned bus takes you to the wharf where you are then ferried across the ocean by boat to Thursday Island, or TI as it is also known.
Now if fishing and boating aren't up there on your interests list, then perhaps this destination isn't for you because the body of water that surrounds the cluster of more than 200 islands in the Torres Strait is fishing heaven.
Mackerel, red emperor, nannygai, crayfish, and coral trout are just some of the tasty marine creatures popular in these parts, while sharks, turtles, and maybe a crocodile if you're lucky, always manage to conveniently break the surface when there happens to be a large fish at the end of the line.
I am very reluctant to speak of my fishing success, or lack there of, this time round but I say through gritted teeth that my partner, Rob and brother, Sam, were the mackerel-catching champions.
For as long as I've been able to hold a rod, Sam and I have had many a barney over who gets to grab the mackerel trolling line first when it goes off and, rather embarrassingly, it has continued to carry on even at the ages of 27 and 25, respectively.
To me, the magic and beauty of the Torres Straits comes from exploring the outer islands, including making the popular trip to the tip of Australia, a good hour's run from TI, which has been something I've wanted to do for 10 years and finally ticked off my bucket list last month.
And yes, as you've seen, I got the token photo to prove it.
Friday Island is Thursday Island's neighbour and home to one of the last remaining pearl farms in Queensland, Kazu Pearl.
It is there you can watch a demonstration of pearl seeding and harvesting, before being treated to a full delicious seafood lunch with traditional Japanese fare. …