The South Pacific is full of best-kept secrets and the best of all those has to be the Solomon Islands. More infamous than famous, most of us had given the Solomons a miss when choosing an island holiday since ‘the tensions’ of the late nineties began. However thanks to renewed vigour from the local tourism office and the positive impact of RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) the Solomons is now a ‘must see’ destination.
In fact, Lonely Planet lists the Solomons as number six in the Top 10 places to visit – the only country in the Pacific to rate a mention.
So it’s time to step up adventure, blaze a new path and beat the crowds. Bags packed, I’m headed for the great unknown – quite unintentionally. It had been very difficult to get information on the Solomons and apart from a royal visit, there is not much in the way of media about the place either.
It’s around a 3.5 hour flight from Brisbane to Honiara and the heat is oppressive on landing. The betel nut-stained smiles of the airport staff are reserved and I get the feeling there’s some place they’d rather be. I feel like I’ve stepped back in time, to a sort of post-war Saigon. There are armed RAMSI officers present at the airport, dripping with sweat and I assume these guys are new to the post, not yet acclimatised.
The drive in to town is slow and there are people everywhere. There’s only one road in to Honiara and one road out. The buildings are old, the town weathered.
But then I take a closer look, and behind the corrugated tin buildings are years and layers of peeling paint, revealing colour – loads of colour. And I realise Honiara is in fact, quite beautiful.
A visit to the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau reveals there is much to uncover in Solomon Islands in fact, from gorgeous snorkeling and diving spots around Guadacanal to outer island resorts, fishing trips and World War II history tours.
But one place in particular has caught my eye – Tavanipupu in the Marau Sound, about a 30 minute flight from Honiara. It’s overcast and muggy in Honiara and while the owner of Tavanipupu tells me honestly it’s the same on her island, I’m assured of a night in paradise.
Flying over Guadacanal the coastline is dotted with white beach islands just off the coast, all it seems, uninhabited. There’s not an over-water bungalow to be seen, nothing in fact except palm oil plantations and mining sites. It’s rugged inland and I keep my eye on the coast, amazed at the turquoise water and shaking my head at the lack of tourism development.
Over another mountain range and we see the beautiful Marau Sound in the distance. Even in the poor light, this place is stunning. The water so clear we can make out the rather large fish swimming below. I make a mental note to check what sort of ‘fish’ they are before taking a dip.
We arrive at the island’s long jetty, the coral is alive with colour and staff is on hand to collect our luggage and offer a cool drink. Nothing is underdone here, from the oversized jetty to the enormous reception pavilion and bar area. There’s space, space, space.
The walk to our bungalow is along a white sandy path, our bags beat us there.
Behind a wooden fence a massive, and I mean massive ‘bungalow’ is revealed. We’re torn between running inside or meandering down a private jetty leading to an over-water lounge room.
The jetty wins. The water is pristine and filled with tropical fish just waiting at the timber ladder.
The bungalow is open-plan, open-air (except for the discreet mosquito screens). There’s a comfy lounge, king size four poster bed and some beachy books on a side table.
Only local timber has been used in the construction of the bungalows and it is simply stunning. Exposed beams, loads of natural light filtering through the rosewood shutters. It’s cool and over-sized, just like the whole resort.
We’re asked by the chef what sort of food we like and he suggests a couple of things for dinner. There’s no menu here – it’s that kind of place. You have a craving? Tell the chef and he’ll whip it up. For dinner we had Vanuatu beef, lobster and a sensational sorbet and fruit salad.
Breakfast is delivered in baskets to your bungalow the contents of which include the freshest local fruit, gorgeous home-baked bread, Nespresso coffee and pastries.
Tavanipupu’s owner, Pamela Kimberly is quite rightfully proud of her resort and her team. It’s been a labour of love for the passionate American, but you get the feeling she wouldn’t change a thing.
“There could hardly have been a worse time to buy a private island. Especially one with a nearly defunct resort in a totally remote part of the world. The date was August 2008, literally days before the global financial crisis hit the world with a sickening thud,” Pamela laughs.
Clearly distracted by the island’s natural beauty, Pamela admits she didn’t put a lot of thought in to buying Tavanipupu.
“I did not notice the small resort on it had been dormant for nine long years and was completely falling down with no infrastructure left,” she says. “After four years, Tavanipupu’s occupancy was at 10% – sometimes it hit 22% if there was a group booked, but things were, well, slow.”
Then in mid-2012, a call came in, booking the resort for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, their only night off during the official tour to Solomon Islands.
“I’m a firm believer in that old adage that says if it seems to be too good to be true then it probably is not true. I saw no reason why it wouldn’t be the same this time, maybe especially this time. I figured it could be the weather, or they changed their minds, or someone got sick, oh my goodness, I could think of so many things that would prevent them from coming.
“Nevertheless, I worked like a mad woman to create a beautiful bungalow for them. I have a wonderful crew of local boys, they are true artists! They can make wood and leaf and stick do things that defy the rational world. Oddly enough, they themselves have never spent even one night in a room with running water, electricity and the creature comforts of our island resort,” she says.
“We were in the process of building on this house anyway, but with the most famous couple in the world booked in, we put extra care into it.”
And it’s obvious – the bungalow is truly fit for a king.
Regular guests can book Kate and William’s bungalow, or any other bungalow at Tavanipupu. With a dive shop opening soon and fishing trips already available, there is plenty to see and do on the island.
Or not –Simply lay back in your hammock, have cocktails delivered or perhaps take a dip in the beautiful Marau Sound.
Rates start at $250 a night for an older style bungalow, up to $1200 a night for the royal suite.
Meal packages are $150 a day and the food is amazing – everything from fresh lobster, to organic beef, vegetarian options and more.
Solomon Airlines fly from Brisbane to Honiara. Visit www.tavanipupu.com