THE SOLOMON ISLANDS
When I told friends and family I was heading off to the Solomon Islands, I got a lot of different responses but the majority included ‘isn’t that somewhere in the pacific?’… To be honest somewhere in the south pacific is a pretty good guide; they are in fact located just to the east of Papua New Guinea and North West of Vanuatu.
My knowledge of the Solomon Islands was pretty basic before I left. To be honest the first idea which sprang to mind when my travel was confirmed was to see whether the aqua blue waters I’ve seen in countless images are reality. Well I found that yes the water really is that blue and clear but I also found so much more… a country rich in history and culture. A country whose people, although wanting to enjoy the many benefits that tourism brings, is adamant about retaining its ‘off the beaten track’ raw, natural beauty.
Okay – quick recap for those of you who didn’t pay attention in history class:
The Solomon Islands were the sight of intense fighting between the Japanese and the Allies in WWII and the islands are littered with reminders of those intense times. You can expect to see remnants of the fighting on both land and sea; in this respect a degree of humility is needed when travelling through the Solomon’s. If the confrontation of war is not enough to stir something in you, then the realization that head hunting was an accepted aspect in the Solomon Islands certainly should. Most defiantly cannibalism and head-hunting represent the ‘darker’ side of Solomon Islands, however it is well and truly an incredible interesting part of their history.
My journey to discover the Solomon Islands started in Brisbane and a quick 3 hour flight courtesy of Solomon Airlines landed me in Honiara. Now being from frosty Melbourne, Brisbane in May was a warm up but nothing prepared me for the humidity that hit me when I got off the plane in Honiara. My absolute top tip would be to travel in light gear or pack something in your hand luggage for a quick change.
I chatted to plenty of travellers who were staying in Honiara but I was scheduled to jump straight onto a flight to Gizo. A small 30+ seater took us at fairly low altitude across to Gizo and gave us an awesome perspective of how beautiful and remote some of the islands are. Each little island we passed over is framed by that bright blue water and is host to shacks, huts, houses and resorts. On top of this, many of the islands consist of thick, green rainforest only, which left me with a sense of ‘wanting to explore’, find out what was down there.
On arrival at Gizo Airport we were greeted warmly and transferred by long boat to Fatboys Resort. A quick 10 minute transfer across the mirroring flat water and I felt like the holiday had really begun. A coconut mocktail and lei I was handed as my feet hit the jetty certainly cemented the vibe! The resort is run by Manu with his small team of staff who will do anything to see you enjoying your stay. Rooms have ocean views and plenty of fans to keep you cool during the warm nights, it all has a great relaxed ‘nothing is too much trouble’ feel. There are plenty of activities to do whilst staying at Fat Boys, hikes, walks, SUP boarding, fishing, snorkelling or just relax in the hammocks or sun beds that are scattered around the bar. The diving of course is not to be missed and Dive Gizo was on hand to help me do just that.
The owners Dan and Kerrie offer a wealth of knowledge in diving and local culture and took care of me showcasing some seriously great dive sites. My fave had to be ‘Toa Maru’, this 140m Japanese wreck is an all round great dive site perfect for everyone. Dan and Kerry’s experience with divers shines through as they lead each member of our group to get the best of the wreck based on their individual experience levels.
Well, no rest for the wicked and much as I could have stayed and enjoy another 10 years of red sunsets and cocktails at fatboys, Munda was calling! I stayed at Agnes Gateway Hotel (formerly Agnes Lodge) in Munda; a great option as it’s located right in the middle of town affording me a chance to meet the locals and see how they live their lives. Dive Munda beckoned in the afternoon (located on site) and Belinda, the owner offered expert knowledge in all things Diving and Freediving. The shop also offer small group tours with guides that focus on a personalized experience so if you feel the need to be a land lover for a bit they can help. It’s not for everyone but a trip to Skull Island is worth consideration, speak with Belinda as a guide is required. Skull Island is located just a short 20 minute boat ride from Munda and the island is testimony to the history of cannibalism and head hunting that is a part of the local history. This is an unusual experience which is deeply and oddly challenging. It’s not for the fainthearted; personally I declined, but each to their own. I instead decided to hang with ‘Barney’ at the Peter Joseph WW2 Museum. Barney is a local relic collector from the Munda area and he is ‘one passionate individual’. In his open museum/hut, he has thousands of ‘bits and pieces’ ranging from dog tags, bullet casings, coke bottles and even tommy guns and plane engines. It is truly a marvellous sight!
What a whirlwind tour. I bid farewell to Munda and head for Marau. Located to the Eastern end of the main island, it is a 45 min flight from Honiara or a 3 hour boat ride… I drew the short straw as it was a touch wet and as the runway is unsealed so a 3 hr boat ride it was! I have no words –
Okay so I was totally over water after the 3 hour boat road and so arriving at the seriously good looking Tavanipupu Private Island Resort was a welcome site. Known to host royalty (true story) this is a delightful yet humble resort that will suit everyone. Enjoy the facilities, soak up the surrounds and enjoy a range of activities; think kayaking, surfing and fishing through to table tennis and darts. Be prepared to lose your pocket money should you dare to take on Jacob the bar man at a game of darts! Rooms are a pleasure and have private balconies where your breakfast is served; so you can experience a Solomon’s sunrise as you sip your fresh juice.
As my tour of The Solomon Islands was drawing to a close I finally make it back to Honiara to view the newly renovated MV Taka liveaboard. Dan the skipper meets and greets and gives us a run through of what he does on board the Taka. It’s a great set up structured with divers in mind who want to eat, sleep, dive, repeat!
A quick overnight in Honiara at the upmarket Heritage Park Hotel left me well rested and ready to head home. Heritage Park is a great hotel with western standards, providing guest with a higher end finale to their stay in the Sollies. We headed out on our final night to a local hotel for a group dinner at the Honiara Hotel. One of the first hotels in Honiara, it’s definitely one for the memory banks as the grounds are scattered with absurd statues. The food was an absolute joy and shouldn’t be missed and we ended our night full to the brim and well hydrated with Solomon Islands Brew.
– Steve Flack, Allways Dive Expeditions