By Wayne Dixon
Our air conditioned flight is coming to an end & it just doesn’t seem right. Here I am on board Solomon Air’s Flight from Brisbane to Honiara & I’m wishing it was longer. It’s not often I’ve wished that. From up here the town of Honiara stretches further than I imagined hugging the coastline north & south of its ever working port.
Palm & coconut trees fade into the backdrop of green jungle hills & mountains as we land. The doors of the shinning jet open & then it hits – the heat. Ahh the heat. I know I’m in the tropics when the heat has that kick to it, that sultry casualness. I’m in love.
We are greeted by Stella our guide & new fiend from the Solomon Island Visitors Bureau. Welcome to the Happy Islands. A guitar trio harmonise a catchy Melanesian melody as we are presented with a lai of frangipani, the scent of heaven.
Braided haired men & neatly dressed school girls’ teem into the main thoroughfare, as school is out for the week, at 1.00pm on this thick sweltering Friday. Bright colours & strong sunlight catch the makeup of the people here. Melanesian, Polynesian & Micronesian make up the Solomon’s population, but all are wicka (one) here, all blend in this tropical rainbow of an island.
We head out of the airport region past Fighter One a scene of fierce battle in WWII & further towards town, is a 9 hole golf course built over another battlefield, Fighter Two. Dead soldier’s ghosts guard the forgotten fortress.
Past the rows of streets that run along the river is Honiara’s Chinatown. A scene of destruction by flood & destruction by locals, now all passed, life moves on & all is well here.
Honiara is a little bit port warehouse with a kind of in waiting seediness that usually precedes major refurbishment. Misunderstood by visitors & embraced by its locals & expatriates, the Solomon’s biggest city is where everyone needs to be sometime. I think they are all here now.
Tropical view from Tavanipupu
There is an oversupply of historic sights of significance to both the allied historian & his Japanese counterpart in Honiara. These monuments & memorials wrecks & museums are bound to stir you, as they did me. The history of this place can be an intense personal experience
We check into the Heritage Park Hotel in Honiara & meet up at the restaurant to sample “snapper sollies style” marinated snapper in coconut milk & an Indian fish curry to die for. Located on the waters edge & within walking distance to all the towns attractions the Heritage Park is a must stay in Honiara. The rooms are perfect for a short or long stay with every little detail attended to by the friendly staff. Drinks by the pool & long lunches over seen by their exemplary chefs are de rigueur here, go to www.heritageparkhotel.com.sb
Our journey up Skyline Drive to the US War Memorial reveals the layout of the city below. Plaques here set out precise locations of battleships sunk by the allies & Japanese. Popular with tourists & history buffs from Japan & the USA, Australia & the UK, this land echoes with aural phantoms of booming barrels.
As I look out from Skyline Ridge I see boats taking divers out to the sunken relics of the deadly battles of WWII. They dive unencumbered & unworried around aircraft & ships in clear sharp water. Shot & sunk by unseen guns of a cunning enemy.
An alternative to staying in Honiara itself is Raiders Hotel & Dive on the Florida Island, just 1 ½ hours off Honiara by boat. A handy distance to the main city of the Solomon’s, yet a paradise in itself Raiders offers visitors the chance to stay close, but still dive the wrecks of WWII, snorkel the passenger ship World Discoverer Village Tours, snorkel seaplanes, war ships or unforgettable reefs. This boutique hotel with 8 rooms & 14 beds offers a stay with relaxing to the max, or adventure by the day yet is just offshore to the main island of Guadalcanal go to www.raidershotel.com for bookings & details
Following a filling breakfast buffet at the Heritage Park Hotel we head for the port where a fast boat waits patiently. Our destination is the private island of Tavanipupu in Marau Sound, near the eastern tip of Guadalcanal, made famous by the visit of Prince William & Princes Kate in 2012. The boat barrels along at a rate of knots, & with the great conditions we should be there in about 3½ hours.
Everywhere I look there are islands. Small isles with their own reef hide organic gardens tended by the young men of the nearby village, appear one at a time along this magical jungle coast. Young boys in amazingly seaworthy dugout canoes fish in front of tiny villages with no competition. No one will go hungry here.
Passing close to shore, swells smash the shoreline in perfect formation, our wake helping create a tubing right shore break. Along this peaceful coast villages hide behind coconut trees. Huts on stilts cast their aura over the ghosts of forgotten armies.
Red Beach is portside, the scene of 7000 deaths in one of the deadliest battles of WWII. Today it is serene, its ferocious secrets hidden in a jungle behind a long black sandy beach. I take my own minute silence in salute to the souls of the great departed & try to imagine the hardships of our brave ancestors in the harsh tropical heat, fully loaded & at all times a moving target.
Longshore Drift. Island upon island overlap each other giving one the illusion of one continuous landscape. Camouflaged against each other, invisible inlets let us explore new worlds. It is a privilege to take this boat ride along this large powerful island. Guadalcanal, this is not Great Keppel. This is the real deal.
We are met on the bleached grey jetty by Sean, the manager at Tavanipupu. Coconut cool. The wharf juts out over the coral reef & leads us onto this postcard perfect paradise. Once a coconut grove, Tavanipupu is now the Solomon’s Islands pride & joy. Exclusive seclusion is what you find here with your own deluxe chic bungalow complete with indoor & outdoor showers, shells & flowers, a hammock on the front porch all completed in a rustic island decor with stylish furnishings & well equipped bathrooms.
Our days here are spent snorkelling in heaven, straight off the resort over reefs teaming with vividly coloured fish in gin clear water. Brain corals vibrate with life while giant clams slowly close as you float above. Untouched nature is here in abundance, ancient culture is across the strait. The walking tracks, around the island reveal breathtaking vistas; you can cycle them if you wish. Sunsets are spent with cocktails at the wharf, the colourful magnificence slowing slipping into darkness.
Lobster, bugs & fresh seafood delicacies are shared in the open air dining bure & bar. Icy cold coconuts or a Sol Brew larger, cocktails & a great wine list add to the unique ambience here – without gadgets you can come to know yourself again. I feel enlivened.
Staff here travel from neighbouring islands by dugout canoes, you don’t see that everyday back home. We head out the next morning to snorkel & surf the outside reefs. Miles away from anything, shallow reefs offer a chance for a surf. I opt to bodysurf with my pod & flippers. I think I am the first to do this in the Solomon’s. The water is sublime & the views form this barrier reef are impossible.
At Tavanipupu I start to imagine what it would be like to own your own tropical island. Well here you can. Groups, corporate travellers & wedding parties could not find a better location in the world to book out the whole island. Spend the days kayaking, SU Paddling, fishing off the jetty or out in a boat, Tavanipupu is an amazing setting http://www.tavanipupu.com/.
With our days at Tavanipupu coming to a close we board the boat for the 10 minute ride to the mainland for our Solomon Air flight back to Honiara. Our 8 seater plane taking off from a grass strip runway for the ½ hour flight back. My window holds my attention as we pass over tiny villages lost in the highland jungle that could only be found from this vantage. Red tracks scratched out like giant ants lead to the homes of the ‘bush people’ who live high in the interior. Great craftsman who subsidise their lives by creating the ancient costumes from bark only found here. Primordial prehistoric land, great mountains covered in jungle give way to the Solomon Plains that hug the coast. Plantations of coconut & palm shine emerald green below.
Back in Honiara we visit the underground bunkers used by the US command in their war with Japan. The local museum showcases some of the Solomon Islands ancient culture with ceremonial turmeric bowls, stone & human skulls. It is an ancient land with many stories to tell. We overnight in the Heritage Park Hotel enjoying the hospitality & great rooms www.heritageparkhotel.com.sb
There are many great hotels in Honiara suitable for the overnight tourist or the business traveller.
The Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel has a boardroom for all types of conferences, popular with Australian, South Pacific & Japanese travellers. Its terrace & swimming pool are the perfect place to relax in the heat with a tropical cocktail. Tours of all types can be arranged right here at your hotel, golf clubs & transport can be hired at reception. The six styles of room available suit all your needs from executive, junior suites, to garden view, all beautifully appointed. The friendly staff here make everything a breeze go to www.kitanomendana.com for more information & bookings.
Our next adventure begins with a flight from Honiara to Gizo, with a stop in Munda. The flight takes you over some spectacular scenery, so I secure my window seat on the Solomon Air 18 seater.
The view below as we fly towards the Western Provinces is outstanding. Reef fringed islands some with small villages on a beach, others uninhabited. We pass over the Morovo Lagoon, one of the world’s largest lagoons, it is stunning. As we touch down on Munda airstrip & passengers disembark a herbaceous scent of burnt coconut husks blends with the heat. Munda is a popular spot to stay and Agnes Lodge is located on Roviana Lagoon only 3 minutes from the airport at Munda. On the seafront in a room or a bungalow you can organise sea based tours, scuba diving, hops to nearby islands & fishing trips. Near all the activities in the Western province, home to some of the best surf & fishing in the Solomon Islands, go to www.agneshotelsolomon.com for booking & information.
Landing in Gizo is an adventure in itself. The strip is on a nearby island has no road & no parking lot, just 2 rows of fast boats lining the jetty waiting to take travellers to their selected resorts. Fatboy’s is ours and its only 5 minutes away by boat on Mbabanga Island.
Bungalows perched on stilts looking over the turquoise lagoon are over water at high tide. Rooms are traditional style made form hardwood & are all on the water’s edge. Mosquito net & a booming fan above the well-made bed with island flower arrangements laid out greet me. The restaurant is over water & all types of water craft are parked beside.
The view looks out to Kennedy Island, the island where JFK survived after the sinking of his PT.109 in WWII. You can paddle a kayak, an SUP or a poly boat from Fatboy’s over to Kennedy Island. We had a traditional island feast over there with lobster tails, fresh fish, lime chilli sauce, yams and more. I recommend this. You can go out fishing with the boys or on a sunset atoll trip. The fishing is outstanding with Barracuda & Spanish Mackerel amongst the many varities caught. Eat your catch freshly prepared at the restaurant & hand feed the reef sharks that come in at night. Lying in my hammock at night, looking at the sky, I reach a state of deep relaxation. There is no noise, nothing. Days are spent in the crystal water floating into bliss. Nights are spent singing with the locals after another perfect meal. Go to http://solomonislandsfatboys.com.au/
Further along Mbabanga Island is a traditional Micronesian coconut plantation. It is well worth the walk here to see how life can be lived, so simply, so happily. Also on Mbabanga Island is Sanbis Resort, one of the premier resorts in the Solomon Islands with a great restaurant renowned for its pizza & super fresh seafood. Here you can relax away your time or stay in or on top of the water all day long with fantastic snorkelling onsite or day trips to Skull Island through the magnificent Vona Vona Lagoon, fishing trips & much more. Hans can take you to local surf spots. He has boards for hire & most trips to the reefs are only 15-20minutes from the resort. Rooms are eco-friendly bungalows with modern ensuite bathroom with their own secluded beach in a natural setting. Enjoy tropical fruits, fresh juices, wood fired pizza and of course the SB Bar near the end of the jetty, a perfect spot for looking at the lagoon & spectacular views. http://www.sanbisresort.com/for bookings and more information.
Enjoying island life
Back in Honiara on our final leg we explore a typical Melanesian village, not far out of town that brings this ancient culture to life in front of our eyes.
Honiara Hotel has just added a new wing to its well established hotel. An institution of charm in Honiara & close to all amenities. Honiara Hotel overlooks the city & iron bark sound. Known as a home away from home their friendly staff can organise your groups or couples local & museum tours, the famous WWII Guadalcanal Battlefields Tour. Fishing & visits to nearby islands or the hot water spring on Savo Island go to www.honiarahotel.com.sb for bookings & more info.
Sanalae Apartments are located on top of the Panatina Ridge close to Honiara Golf Club & shopping plaza. Home too many extended stay corporate travellers, its well-appointed rooms & location only 5K from the airport. The modern style studio apartments have onsite parking, daily room service, 24 hour security with sea & garden views. All rooms have a/c & ceiling fans, cable TV, microwave & cooking utensils – great for the extended stay with Honiara as your base go to email@example.com
The Solomon Islands is one of the hottest destinations for 2016 & I can see this extending way beyond that as it retains the sense of adventure as it is off the beaten track. It may seem remote or inaccessible but it is not – it is only 3-4 hours from Australia & a pristine paradise of enormous potential. 922 islands within minutes of each other. It is hot right now & with the New Solomon Islands flight schedules to allow international passengers to connect directly with their domestic flights to the islands, it will get hotter. The time is now to fly to the happy smiles of the Solomon Islands.
The author was a guest of the Solomon Island Visitors Bureau & Solomon Air