SOLOMON IS­LANDS: THE DAILY LOBSTER

The turquoise sea in the Solomon Is­lands of­fers gourmet de­lights as well as war his­tory, sub­lime snorkelling and rus­tic is­land re­sorts.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY LEE MYLNE

The turquoise sea in the Solomon Is­lands of­fers gourmet de­lights as well as war his­tory, sub­lime snorkelling and rus­tic is­land re­sorts.

“Does any­one like lobster?”

I’m nod­ding al­most be­fore the ques­tion is com­pleted. And then my host presents the chal­lenge: to eat lobster ev­ery day that I am in the Solomon Is­lands.

On a six-day visit to the Solomons, I’m ready to take the chal­lenge. And it’s not even a con­test. By chance, my three trav­el­ling com­pan­ions are (a) veg­e­tar­ian (b) al­ler­gic to crus­taceans and (c) not very keen on seafood.

The gaunt­let is thrown down on our first evening in the Solomon Is­lands, as we con­tem­plate the menu at GG’s Res­tau­rant at the Her­itage Park Hotel in Ho­niara, the cap­i­tal. Still ad­just­ing to the heat and hu­mid­ity, we’re in air-con­di­tioned com­fort at the posh­est res­tau­rant we dine at dur­ing the week.

Look­ing down from the walls are large por­traits of the Solomon Is­lands Gover­nors Gen­eral (hence the res­tau­rant name), each posed in front of a framed pho­to­graph of Queen El­iz­a­beth II, a re­minder that the Solomons is part of the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth.

I be­gin my quest for a lobster-filled week by or­der­ing fresh lobster tail, grilled and served with lash­ings of gar­lic sauce, kumera (sweet potato) rosti and salad. It’s de­li­cious, and sets me up for sight­see­ing. It’s worth spend­ing at least a cou­ple of days in Ho­niara to get a per­spec­tive on the his­tory of the Solomons. Dur­ing World War II, this tran­quil ar­chi­pel­ago was the scene of some of the fiercest land, sea and air bat­tles in the Pa­cific.

Iron Bot­tom Sound, off Ho­niara, is named for the 42 wrecks that lie there, air­craft and ships that went to a wa­tery grave dur­ing and after the war. Many relics of war can be seen on guided tours that are well worth tak­ing.

On the hill above Ho­niara, the Solomon Is­lands Peace Park Memo­rial and Guadal­canal Amer­i­can Memo­rial pay trib­ute to the

Al­lied Forces sol­diers, sailors and air­men who fought seven ma­jor naval bat­tles against the Ja­panese, be­tween Au­gust

1942 and Fe­bru­ary 1943.

Fur­ther out of the city is the Vilu War Mu­seum, an open-air dis­play of a vast collection of air­craft, can­nons and other war relics, set in beau­ti­ful tropical gar­dens.

But while bat­tle­field tours are a draw­card for some, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “the Sol­lies” is all about is­land-hop­ping.

Leav­ing the main is­land of Guadal­canal behind, we fly over turquoise seas scat­tered with the more than 900 emer­ald is­lands that make up the Solomons group. Our sec­ond des­ti­na­tion is the is­land of Gizo, in the Von­avona La­goon.

Switch­ing a small plane for a small boat, we stop in for lunch at San­bis Re­sort, which has the only over-water pizza oven in the South­ern Hemi­sphere. And yes … there’s lobster pizza on the menu. Here, it’s called cray­fish, but for the pur­pose of my chal­lenge, it’s a lobster by any other name and ticks the box for the day.

But food is the last thing on my mind when we ar­rive at the laid-back Fat­boys Re­sort on Gizo, where a grass-roofed over­wa­ter pavil­ion serves as re­cep­tion and a long wooden jetty leads to the scat­tered bun­ga­lows for a full-house of 20 guests. It’s hard to choose be­tween hang­ing in the ham­mock on my pri­vate ve­ran­dah, snorkelling with fish and reef sharks in the clear wa­ters around the jetty, or re­lax­ing in the bar look­ing across the la­goon.

On my sec­ond night at Fat­boys, I tear my eyes away from the turquoise water and the ever-chang­ing face of the ex­tinct vol­cano Kolom­banga in the dis­tance, to or­der gar­lic but­ter lobster, which ar­rives served with salad and a cou­ple of rounds of baked kumera. Lobster number three is quickly de­voured.

My boat comes in just after break­fast on Sun­day morn­ing. Some of the local men have been out fish­ing overnight, and bring their catch to sell to the re­sort. Large squid and small lob­sters are un­loaded onto the jetty as we gather around to watch the process. Se­lec­tions are made and weighed, prices ne­go­ti­ated with each fish­er­man and the deal done. One of the kitchen staff, Tori, beams with de­light as she stag­gers un­der the weight of the pur­chase. I’m grin­ning too; you can’t get lobster much fresher than this!

But it’s Sun­day, and we’re off to church. Among the best ex­pe­ri­ences you can have in the Solomon Is­lands is a vil­lage visit, ar­ranged through your ac­com­mo­da­tion. We take a short boat trip to the vil­lage of Ba­banga to at­tend Sun­day ser­vice at the tiny Church of Zion, where we’re warmly wel­comed.

Later, we’ve ar­ranged to have lunch on a small is­land across the la­goon. Kayaks and small in­flat­able boats are avail­able for Fat­boys’ guests to rent, and it’s worth tak­ing one to Kennedy Is­land, named for the former Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. Dur­ing World War II, as a naval lieu­tenant, Jack Kennedy be­came a hero for sav­ing his crew when their 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.

Fat­boys’ staff have the bar­be­cue siz­zling when we ar­rive. Dozens of lob­sters, small and sweet and quite pos­si­bly the best I’ve ever tasted in my life, have been split in half and driz­zled with lime and chilli. They’re served on “plates” wo­ven from palm fronds as we waited for them to cook, with sides of kumera and slices of fresh co­conut.

There’s other fare, too, for those who are not hav­ing lobster, but there are so many lob­sters my ap­petite proves in­ad­e­quate. So when an­other cou­ple kayak onto the beach, they are quickly in­vited to join our pic­nic and help out with the lobster con­sump­tion!

The next day, we’re at Munda on the is­land of New

Ge­or­gia, where more war relics are on dis­play at the Peter Joseph World War II Mu­seum in Bar­ney Paulsen’s back­yard. The mu­seum is named in hon­our of the owner of the first

dog tag Bar­ney found in the bush sur­round­ing his home. His collection is now heart­break­ingly large, and he’s still find­ing them, along with water bot­tles, uni­form buttons, grenades, cut­lery, cig­a­rette hold­ers and more.

The most eye-pop­ping lobster dish of all ar­rives at our water­front din­ner table at Ro­viana res­tau­rant at Munda’s Agnes Gate­way Hotel. This is the whole she­bang, and even my non-lobster-eat­ing friends have their cam­eras click­ing. Like oth­ers I’ve had, it’s served in gar­lic but­ter, with salad and kumera, but this one also comes with beans, mush­rooms and rice.

On my last day in the Solomons, I meet the lobster chal­lenge early. Lobster for break­fast? You bet. My cray­fish omelette has cheese and onion in it as well, and is served with two slices of white toast, a slice of fresh pineap­ple and two chunks of paw­paw.

Chal­lenge com­pleted. I’ve managed to vary my lobster in­take each day for six days, eat­ing it in dif­fer­ent forms for break­fast, lunch and din­ner. Was I sick of it? Not at all … and the mem­ory of that bar­be­cued lobster, practically straight from the water, stays with me. It will take a lot of beat­ing. •

“Dozens of lob­sters, small and sweet and quite pos­si­bly the best I’ve ever tasted in my life, have been split in half and driz­zled with lime and chilli”

Open­ing im­age: Tori with lob­sters at Fat­boys. Clock­wise from top left: Von­avona La­goon; Ba­banga Vil­lage, Gizo; Kennedy Is­land Lobster BBQ.

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