Different strokes in the Solomons
All at sea on a kayak adventure in the the world’s largest saltwater lagoon
THERE is nothing quite like gliding over mirrored waters under your own steam, the tip of the paddle dripping gently as you prepare to take your next stroke.
Experiencing the world from a sea kayak is one of my greatest pleasures. Flying fish scoot beside the boat, dolphins come to play, even turtles take a while to realise something is sneaking up on them. Eagles climb, frigate birds dive for their catch, kingfishers bob and watch from nearby banks.
Today, little kids are waving from shore, big kids are paddling their dugout canoes to village gardens and motorboats are ferrying passengers. All of them are wondering what the tufala whiteman are doing in those long, skinny slow boats.
What we are doing is paddling around part of Marovo, the world’s largest saltwater lagoon, which is in the Western Province of Solomon Islands, an ideal destination for such voyages. With almost 1000 islands, some
left within swimming distance, it’s almost too easy to build your own adventure.
Hiring sea kayaks and a guide from Uepi Island Resort seems to be the way to do it. Early in the planning, guests are asked about their level of fitness, preferred activities or sights, and desired amount of paddling per day. With this information, Uepi’s Grant Kelly puts his years of sea kayaking and Marovo know-how into gear to come up with a trip just for you.
Spoilt for choice, we snorkel until the mask-marks on our faces feel permanent, visit villages large and small, and paddle slowly while swapping stories with our guide, Aeram. And there’s plenty more to see and do. If you weren’t interested in World War II history before your visit, you will probably change your mind. The many wrecks and relics on land and in the sea show how heavy a toll these people endured fighting someone else’s war.
Just 30 years before that war, the locals were headhunters who claimed the human sacrifice of enemies gave them power. Early in the 20th century, Christian missionaries put a stop to that, although we hear stories of pioneering missionaries being recalled to base to prevent their full conversion to the Marovian way of life.
Today’s visitors can tramp to waterfalls, circumnavigate islands, pat giant eels as tame as pets, paddle the outer reef, bird watch or scuba dive. Nights are spent with local families at ‘‘eco-lodges’’ — basic accommodation with generally excellent food and friendly service. It’s hot and humid all the time, so if you are used to airconditioning, this place might not be for you, though a dip in the 28C sea is never far away.
Camping the last night on our very own island, hoeing into fried rice and barbecued yellowfin tuna caught by Aeram, is one of the highlights. A brief snorkel away from our campsite lies the 2000m drop-off where the reef gives way to open ocean. The unfathomable dark blue depths give me vertigo.
The pleasure of slipping into a village unnoticed or landing the sea kayak on a deserted beach can sometimes be challenged by choppy seas, head winds and a numb bum. But sneaking slowly through this part of the world is more than worth it. uepi.com gotours.com.au
It’s easy to build your own adventure sea kayaking in Marovo lagoon
Beachfront bungalows overlook crystal-clear waters