Whether you’re a lounge lizard or an adventure junkie, the Solomon Islands is sure to please, writes Tatyana Leonov who found laughter, a little luxury and a lot to love in this Pacific paradise.
Cast a net somewhere remote and watch the sun’s flickering rays do the dawn dance, scuba dive amongst colourful darting sea critters after a breakfast of fresh papaya, explore secret islands and sprawling valleys in the afternoon, and come nightfall laze and eat to the sweet serenade of the rustling wind.
A holiday in the Solomon Islands can be anything you want it to be. Life is simple and experiences are driven by what the local people and natural surroundings have to offer. Showy hotels, fancy five-star restaurants and snobby concierges have no place here. Instead life is about laughter, adventure and being at one with the people and land.
For water addicts
The Solomons are defined by the ocean that surrounds them, and if you could, you would spend months (or even years) exploring the magnificent underwater haven mottled with vibrant reefs and coral cays. Snorkeling opportunities are abundant and most locals will vouch that wherever you jump in, you’ll see something spectacular.
One of the most renowned environs for spotting perennially remarkable sea life is Uepi Island in the Western Province. Wade in from almost any spot off the Marovo Lagoon (the longest saltwater lagoon in the world) and plunge into an underwater sanctuary where giant clams totter, reef sharks sashay and thickets of bright-coloured fish zip all around.
The scuba diving, of course, is spectacular too. Uepi Island Resort (uepi.com), the most luxurious accommodation on the lagoon, has a dive shop and SSI training facility, so avid divers can explore terrains ranging from easy lagoonal coral patches to advanced sheer drop-offs.
Another snorkeling and scuba diving hotspot, also in the Western Province, Njari Island claims title to the most diverse range of fish in the Solomons (and second in the world). Former expats (now residents) and founders of Dive Gizo (divegizo.com), Danny and Kerry Kennedy, purchased the island in 2002 and in 2004 The Nature Conservancy (TNC), counted 279 different species of fish in the waters surrounding the island (the only other location in the world where the fish count is higher is in Raja Ampat in Indonesia). Take an expedition with Dive Gizo and enter an underwater realm that will astound in a way like no other.
For history buffs
The waters surrounding the Solomons are home to a profusion of relics and ruins because during WWII the Solomon Islands played an important role in the struggle by allies against the advancing Japanese forces. Some of the severest fighting took place in the Guadalcanal area, with one of the worst battles in 1942 exacting heavy losses on both sides.
Divers can explore a cornucopia of wrecks, including cargo ships and fighter planes, peppered across an ocean floor that’s rich in colourful coral ranges. It’s essentially a submerged museum and makes for a bizarrely entrancing environment. A B-17 (Flying Fortress) US bomber which failed to land safely on 24 September 1942 is one of the most visited marvels. It’s no longer intact, however the front section of the plane (fuselage, cockpit and wings) is still almost in one piece and consequently very popular with both sea creatures and divers.
Bonegi 1 and 2 are also popular WWII shore dive sites. The site of two Japanese shipwrecks is located 13 kilometres west of Honiara near the Bonegi Creek, the two vessels are often referred to as the best wreck shore dives around.
For culture enthusiasts
Culture in the Solomons is defined by spending time with the locals and participating in their daily lives. Throughout the year there are a number of festivals on that embrace all things Solomon Islands culture – music, dance, weaving, carving and more. Easter and Christmas are popular periods and this is the time families and entire villages gather and celebrate together. During these periods visitors will most likely find a celebration to watch (or even participate in).
Independence Day on 7 July is one of the most important days for locals and is best spent in Honiara where thousands of people gather for a flurry of parades, performances and festivities.
If you don’t get to the Solomons for a festival there are still plenty of ways to immerse yourself in local life. Many island resorts are managed by local people and they are usually happy to demonstrate cultural facets such weaving, carving and cooking.
Tituru Eco Lodge (titiruecolodge.com) on Rendova Island in the Western Province goes one step further. Five thousand villagers call Rendova Island home and when guests come to stay at Tituru Eco Lodge (the only resort of the island) the activities are all about embracing Solomon Islands culture.
Manager Kilo Paza is one of the few people from Rendova Island who left the Solomons to study overseas. Returning to his home with business acumen he created a resort where cultural involvement takes precedence and usual resort offerings are non-existent. There are no white-sand beaches, no wifi, not even a cocktail list. Guests stay in charming rustic huts, eat local food and explore the beautiful ecosystem by trekking, walking and swimming.
The highlight of a stay at Tituru is the village tour. Kilo takes guests to the local village where residents re-enact scenes from their life. Smiling women weave baskets from local palm fronds and craft toys for their children from tree bark, other women mash local greens and fry fresh-caught fish, men pound stone into furniture and craft beautiful wood carvings. And everyone (including hundreds of children) joins in to sing and dance.
For luxury lovers
With just eight bungalows, Tavanipupu Private Island Resort (tavanipupu.com) in Marau Sound, is the country’s most lavish accommodation – and possibly the Pacific’s best-kept secret (although Prince William and Catherine Middleton stayed at Tavanipupu in 2012 and today many more people know about this gem).
The local timber bungalows are spacious and well appointed with ample natural light and airflow, breakfast arrives on your balcony whenever you desire, lunches and dinners are indulgent multi-course meals (with plenty of local seafood available) and activities span stand-up paddle boarding, boat expeditions, cycling tours, sea kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving.
A stay at Tavanipupu is about soaking up luxury Solomon Islands in true island style. And that’s the beauty about the Solomon Islands – even the most luxurious resorts stay true to the ethos that is Solomon Islands living – where laughter, adventure and being at one with the people and land comes easy … whatever your travelling style.