Solomon Is­lands

The Solomon Is­lands are a slice of par­adise largely un­known by the crowds who flock to other South Pa­cific des­ti­na­tions. LEE MYLNE un­locks some of the se­crets of these beau­ti­ful is­lands.

Travel Bulletin - - CONTENTS -

From the air, the Solomon Is­lands are a scat­ter­ing of emer­ald jew­els in a turquoise sea. There are more than 900 of them, gleam­ing be­low in that im­pos­si­ble blue… mak­ing get­ting a win­dow seat a pri­or­ity. This is a sight not to be missed. Trav­el­ling to and within the Solomon Is­lands – less than three hours fly­ing time from Bris­bane – is part of what makes a visit to this is­land na­tion so dif­fer­ent. Travel light, if you can, be­cause much of your time get­ting around will be on small planes or even smaller boats. From the cap­i­tal, Ho­niara, on the is­land of Guadal­canal, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “the Sol­lies” is all about get­ting to other is­lands and dis­cov­er­ing their dif­fer­ences. It’s worth spend­ing at least a cou­ple of days in Ho­niara, ei­ther at the be­gin­ning or end of your trip, to get a per­spec­tive on the his­tory of the Solomons. Dur­ing World War II, this peace­ful ar­chi­pel­ago was the scene of some of the most fierce bat­tles in the Pa­cific, on land and sea, and in the air. Iron Bot­tom Sound, the wa­ters off Ho­niara, is named for the 42 wrecks that lie there, air­craft and ships that sank to a wa­tery grave dur­ing and af­ter the war. Many relics of war can be seen on guided tours that are well worth tak­ing. We headed to the Solomon Is­lands Peace Park Me­mo­rial and Guadal­canal Amer­i­can Me­mo­rial, on the hill above Ho­niara, which pays trib­ute to the Al­lied Forces sol­diers, sailors and air­men who fought seven ma­jor naval bat­tles against the Ja­panese, be­tween Au­gust 1942 and Fe­bru­ary 1943. Bring­ing some of the re­al­ity of this past home is the Vilu War Mu­seum, an ope­nair dis­play of a vast col­lec­tion of air­craft, can­nons and other war relics, set in beau­ti­ful trop­i­cal gar­dens. While bat­tle­field tours are a draw­card for some, the main at­trac­tions of the Solomons are the sim­ple plea­sures of is­land life. It’s easy to fall in­stantly in love with this place when you ar­rive at Fat­boys Re­sort on Gizo is­land. Re­cep­tion is in a grass-roofed over­wa­ter pavil­ion, where fish­ing boats pull up in the morn­ing to de­liver the night’s catch – and if you want lob­ster for break­fast, lunch or din­ner (or all three), you’ll never find any­where that it’s fresher!

A long jetty leads to the scat­tered bun­ga­lows, and it’s worth get­ting up early for spec­tac­u­lar sun­rises. Two more bun­ga­lows are un­der con­struc­tion, but it’s never go­ing to be crowded here, with only about 20 guests catered for. Hang in a ham­mock on your pri­vate ve­ran­dah, re­lax in the bar look­ing out to­wards the ex­tinct vol­cano Kolom­banga or snorkel with trop­i­cal fish and reef sharks in the clear wa­ters around the jetty. Kayaks and small in­flat­able boats are avail­able for guests to rent, and it’s worth tak­ing one to head across the la­goon to Kennedy Is­land. Take a pic­nic or the mak­ings of a bar­be­cue lunch and ex­plore this tiny tran­quil is­land that is named for the for­mer Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. Dur­ing World War II, as a naval lieu­tenant, Jack Kennedy earned hero sta­tus for his ac­tions in sav­ing his crew af­ter his pa­trol boat was run down by a Ja­panese de­stroyer. They came ashore on this un­in­hab­ited is­land, which you can walk around in about 15 min­utes. Among the best ex­pe­ri­ences you can have in the Solomon Is­lands is a vil­lage visit, which can be ar­ranged through your ac­com­mo­da­tion. We took a short boat trip

from Fat­boys to at­tend Sun­day ser­vice at the tiny Church of Zion at Ba­banga and were wel­comed warmly. Home­s­tays in self­con­tained bun­ga­lows are also avail­able at this vil­lage. On Ren­dova Is­land, Ti­tiru Eco Lodge runs walk­ing tours to the nearby Ugele Vil­lage, where life­style tra­di­tions – weav­ing, toy mak­ing, carv­ing, cook­ing, mu­sic and other tra­di­tional prac­tices – are demon­strated. You might even get in­volved in the danc­ing! At Munda, there are more war relics at Bar­ney Paulsen’s back­yard Peter Joseph World War II Mu­seum. These are smaller and more per­sonal, in­clud­ing a heart­break­ingly large col­lec­tion of dog­tags (the mu­seum takes its name from the sol­dier whose name was on the first dog­tag Paulsen found in the bush sur­round­ing his home). He’s still find­ing them…wa­ter bot­tles, uni­form but­tons, grenades, cut­lery, cig­a­rette hold­ers and more…and track­ing down as best he can the fam­i­lies of those they be­longed to. From Munda or Lola Is­land, where Joe En­trikin from Zipolo Habu Re­sort runs fish­ing tours, take a trip to Skull Is­land for a look even fur­ther back into the his­tory of the Solomons. Here lie the re­mains of the tribal chiefs and war­riors, vis­i­ble to the el­e­ments, sur­rounded by jun­gle. Sim­ple plea­sures are the key to vis­it­ing the Solomons. Snorkelling or div­ing, kayak­ing, hik­ing, and learn­ing about the tra­di­tional life of the largely Me­lane­sian pop­u­la­tion will soon have you in re­laxed mode. In­ter­net ac­cess – even in Ho­niara – is mostly slow and patchy, so this is an ideal des­ti­na­tion for a “dig­i­tal detox”. Don’t ex­pect five-star lux­ury; com­fort­able, clean bun­ga­lows built in tra­di­tional style or mo­tel­style ac­com­mo­da­tion is the norm, with the em­pha­sis on good, fresh food and out­door pur­suits. Ho­niara’s best ho­tel is the Her­itage Park Ho­tel, with all the trap­pings of city ho­tels in­clud­ing a pool, restau­rant, busi­ness cen­tre and sou­venir shop. If you want to name-drop, head to Ta­va­nipupu Pri­vate Is­land Re­sort, where Wil­liam and Kate – the Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge – stayed dur­ing their Solomon Is­lands visit in 2012. It’s re­ally the only lux­ury re­sort in the Solomons and takes a max­i­mum of 18 guests (or you can book the whole place out for greater pri­vacy). Dis­cov­er­ing the se­crets of the Solomons – and maybe learn­ing a few words of Pid­gin along the way – is a richly re­ward­ing travel ex­pe­ri­ence. It might well be one of those places that you want to keep a se­cret!

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