The Solomon Islands boasts some of the world’s best diving, so when the opportunity came up to check it out there was no way I could pass it up. I headed straight to the cupboard to get out the dive gear, and sort the colder Melbourne gear from the warm tropical gear. Hello 3mm wetsuit! All packed and sorted, I headed to the airport for the first leg of the trip. Coming from Melbourne or Sydney there is an overnight stop in Brisbane on the way to Honiara because of connection times. Luckily most Australian domestic airlines have minimal charges for extra luggage, so carrying my dive gear wasn’t such an issue. For the overnight stay in Brisbane we chose to stay at the Ibis at Brisbane airport, just a short walk from the domestic terminal, a very comfortable and easy option.
Having checked in for our Solomon Airlines flight the following morning, I headed to the departure lounge to meet the rest of the group. Great news again with luggage allowances, as Solomon Airlines allow 30kg internationally and then also domestically if it is in conjunction with an international ticket (Divers also can have another 7kg for sporting equipment). Once on board, we were spread throughout the cabin, however with the configuration of 3 seats either side of a single aisle we didn’t miss each other too much!
A very quick and easy three hours later we landed in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. As does happen when travelling to a tropical destination, we all started to peel off the layers as we disembarked, with the exciting wave of warmth a pleasant break from the cold winter at home. We were travelling straight through to our destination, Gizo, so we proceeded through immigration and quarantine, collected our luggage and headed over to the domestic terminal, not a far walk and not a big building either!
Our flight to Gizo was a short one, just 50 minutes. Arrival at Gizo airport was exciting, the tin shed of the terminal building reminding me of various trips I had done to other remote destinations in the Pacific, and how amazing they all were. I was sure to be in for similar here! Gizo airport is on its own little island, therefore the only way to get anywhere from there is by boat. We walked down to the jetty to meet our transfer, and they piled our luggage on to one boat, and we all jumped on the more comfortable boats heading over to the town of Gizo. I did stop to think that it might not be as easy and comfortable if it was pouring with rain, and I think this is something travellers here should be prepared for.
Arrival at Gizo was to the jetty directly in front of the Gizo Hotel, convenient considering this was our accommodation. My first impression of Gizo was that it was a bustling little town. Gizo has a decent size market right next to the main jetty, and a long main dirt road running right along the waterfront where most of the shops, banks and service were located. We arrived on a Sunday, and being a heavily Christian influenced community, there were loud church sermons running at the market all day, so be prepared for some noise if you stay over a weekend!
Gizo Hotel itself was comfortable and neat. My room was on the upstairs level, overlooking the main road and waterfront. It was a lovely view, but a bit tough carrying my suitcase with all my dive gear up the stairs. The room was air conditioned and had a ceiling fan, which was a nice reprieve by this stage from the humidity. My only complaint was that I had barely any running water, and what did come out of the tap was cold. This is due to the expense of heating and running the water by using generator power, and I would become used to it as it is a common occurrence in the Solomon Islands.
For our first night in the Solomon Islands, we enjoyed a Gin and Tonic and buffet dinner as the heavens opened for a very typical tropical downpour, and a good night’s sleep was had by all. The following morning I woke nice and early to meet Kerrie from Dive Gizo, who transferred us from the hotel to the dive shop, a muddy 200m walk along the road. Dive Gizo is a very well-equipped operation, and very professionally run. There is plenty of hire gear in good condition available, and lots of space to gear up comfortably, and a well-stocked gift shop here for those that would like to take a locally crafted souvenir home.
Directly across the road from the dive shop is the jetty that Dive Gizo use. While the very helpful staff got our gear sorted on to the boats, we wondered over to meet them. The dive boats are very comfortable 7.5m ‘Ray’ boats with bench seats on the side and canopies. After some discussion about which sites to dive, as we had requested the popular Grand Central Station but unfortunately the weather and tides were not our friend, we headed off.
The first dive of the day was the very popular Toa Maru. The Toa Maru is a Japanese transport ship that is laying on its side at a bottom depth of 37m. The huge 140m long ship was attacked by Americans during WWII and ran aground. One of the most impressive shipwrecks in the Pacific at a recreational dive depth, the Toa Maru is reasonably intact, and there are many artefacts to be found in and around her still. Our small group dropped down to 30m, and as we did so the magnitude of this wreck had us in awe.
We made our way very slowly along the deck, which is now on the side of the wreck due to its position in the water. The ship was teeming with life, we were greeted by some beautiful parrot fish as we investigated the abundant coral growth. As we progressed along the deck, our Dive Gizo guide pointed out the 2-man tank on board the ship, as well as several fantastic bright Nudies. We gradually ascended during the dive, and spent quite a bit of time hovering above the wreck, admiring the amazing variety of fish and coral, leaving me thinking that this dive would be ideal for reef lovers as well as the rust lovers among us.
Once back on the boat, we decided to head to Oravae Cottage for our surface interval. Oravae Cottage is a small scale, family run accommodation, secluded on an island away from Gizo town. We enjoyed a look around this unique property, with its rustic bungalows that have a view to die for. A stay here would be perfect for those looking for a real getaway. We spent some time shooting the breeze with the owners, discussing the pros and cons of being so remote. It was a shame to leave this slice of paradise, but we eventually headed off to our next dive site.
One Tree Reef was our next stop. All these dive sites were a twenty minute boat transfer from each other and from Gizo itself. One Tree Reef is a sea mount, known for its beautiful coral. We backward rolled and started our decent fairly quickly, as the rain had started coming down again, and it was much nicer under water than above! We dropped down to 27m to start this dive. With no current at all, and beautiful 29dg water temp, visibility would have been at least 30m, this dive was super easy but breathtaking all the same. The highlights of One Tree Reef were the schooling fish, amazing large fan coral, Parrot Fish (my personal favourite!), and plenty of Anemone Fish. There are 10 species of Anemone Fish living in the Solomon Islands, and I feel like we saw a great many of those here. With our diving done for the day, we headed back to the Gizo Hotel to have a drink and escape the downpour.
The next day, to our relief, we awoke to streaming sunshine! Perfect weather to check out some of the great accommodation options Gizo has to offer. We started by heading to Sanbis Resort. Sanbis is a ten minute boat trip from Gizo. This is a fantastic resort for couples or small groups, with the bungalows mostly ocean facing. There is a large overwater restaurant and bar, as well as an overwater massage bungalow (that caught all of our attention!). This would be a very comfortable place to stay, with good facilities and an amazing location. There is also a smaller dive operation here for those that prefer an in house set up.
After Sanbis, we headed another 5 minutes away to Fatboys. Fatboys is similar to Sanbis, in that it is bungalow style accommodation in a fantastic location, with an overwater restaurant and bar. This resort can cater for larger groups, and has some apartment style accommodations as well as the bungalows. Fatboys remains to be one of the more popular options for accommodation in Gizo, and would be an excellent place to base yourself for a week long dive trip. We headed away from Gizo, towards Munda (stay tuned for the next post on diving in Munda!), feeling mostly sad that we couldn’t stay longer, because no doubt there is so much more to see underwater here!