Dif­fer­ent strokes in the Solomons

All at sea on a kayak ad­ven­ture in the the world’s largest saltwater la­goon

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - ANN BOLCH

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

above

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

PIC­TURES: UEPI IS­LAND RE­SORT

Beach­front bun­ga­lows over­look crys­tal-clear wa­ters

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