Welkam to the Solomons

Go Travel The Pacific - - Solomon Islands -

As­cat­tered ar­chi­pel­ago of some 900- odd richly forested and very moun­tain­ous is­lands and low- ly­ing coral atolls, the Solomon Is­lands has been at­tract­ing in­ter­na­tional tourism since 1568 when Span­ish ex­plorer Al­varo de Men­dana first sailed into this tucked away cor­ner of the South Pa­cific.

Men­dana’s le­gacy can still be found in the Solomon Is­lands to­day with many of the is­lands still bear­ing the Span­ish names he gave them. Th­ese in­clude Santa Is­abel, San Cristóbal and per­haps the most fa­mous of all, Guadal­canal, the name syn­ony­mous with World War II, which takes its name from a small town­ship in An­dalu­cia in south­ern Spain.

Bur for the most part the Solomon Is­lan­ders were left pretty much alone af­ter Men­dana’s visit un­til 300 years later when Great Bri­tain was given con­trol of the en­tire ter­ri­tory.

The Ja­panese in­vaded the Solomon Is­lands in World War II when the re­gion be­came the scene for some of the blood­i­est bat­tles in the Pa­cific theatre, most fa­mously the battle of Guadal­canal.

The Bri­tish re- gained con­trol in 1945 and in 1976, the Solomon Is­lands be­came self- gov­ern­ing be­fore gain­ing full in­de­pen­dence in 1978.

Lit­tle has changed in the Solomon Is­lands over the years which make the place such a breath­tak­ing des­ti­na­tion for in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers look­ing for a new and very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence.

To­day World War II buffs and vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies – mostly Amer­i­can and Ja­panese – SCUBA divers look­ing to ex­plore the crys­tal clear, tech­ni­colour trop­i­cal fish and sub­merged war time wreck in­fested wa­ters and surfers look­ing for the ul­ti­mate un­crowded waves make up the bulk of the 25,000 or so in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers who visit ev­ery year.

But the des­ti­na­tion is fast at­tract­ing a brand new breed of trav­ellers from around the world rang­ing from fam­ily group, hon­ey­moon­ers, sports fish­er­men, yachties, cul­turelovers and sim­ply those look­ing to get off the beaten track and make their own tracks.

The newly emerg­ing, mul­ti­fac­eted Solomon Is­lands can pretty much cater to ev­ery taste, de­sire and bud­get with its myr­iad choice of qual­ity ac­com­mo­da­tion – from the ‘ big gun’ ho­tels of the cap­i­tal Ho­niara to bou­tique re­sort ac­com­mo­da­tion, eco- lodges and home stays dot­ted across the en­tire ar­chi­pel­ago.

Best of all, and quite a sur­prise for many trav­ellers, the Solomon Is­lands are so easy to reach – just a quick hop to Bris­bane from any ma­jor New Zealand de­par­ture point and then an even shorter hop ( un­der three hours) from Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional Air­port to Ho­niara fly­ing a sleek Solomon Air­lines Air­bus A 320 com­plete with full on­board ser­vice.

Most vis­i­tors fly in on a Solomon Air­lines Dash 8 ser­vice from Ho­niara, land­ing at Munda airstrip, which is about to get an up­grade, thanks to a New Zealand aid, pro­gramme.

Built by the Ja­panese in late 1942 as a jump­ing- off point for their at­tacks on Al­lied forces on Guadal­canal, work was hid­den by co­conut fronds strung on ropes. Although Amer­i­can planes soon lo­cated the airstrip and bom­barded it, Munda con­tin­ued to be used by the Ja­panese un­til they were de­feated here in 1943. Caves on one side of the airstrip are tes­ta­ments to the ef­forts sol­diers made to pro­tect them­selves and Bar­ney Paulsen, owner of “must visit” at­trac­tion Peter Joseph Mu­seum, be­lieves some may lie buried un­der col­lapsed earth­works.

Agnes Lodge, a two- minute walk from the air­port, of­fers Go West tours that cover ev­ery­thing from fish­ing to na­ture tours. The lodge is man­aged by Kiwi Don Croft: his mother- in- law Agnes Kera bought it in 1977 and Don’s wife, El­iz­a­beth, main­tains an in­ter­est.

World War 2 arte­facts abound around Munda, in­clud­ing Amer­i­can land­ing craft be­hind the vil­lage of Kia, while in Ro­viana La­goon and be­yond, divers have the op­por­tu­nity to see downed air­craft on the ocean floor.

For those who don’t dive,

snorkelling or kayak­ing around the la­goon’s many islets is an ideal way to gain an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the nu­mer­ous fish species in th­ese wa­ters.

Of course, you may pre­fer your fish on the end of a line and there are am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to score, as ev­i­denced by the “skite wall” at Zipolo Habu Re­sort on Lolo Is­land. There, grin­ning fish­er­men ( and women and kids) hold their catches, while a help­ful chart en­ables the ig­no­rant to work out whether they’re look­ing at a mack­erel or coral trout. The re­sort name trans­lates ap­pro­pri­ately as “good luck fish­ing”.

A 20- minute boat ride from Munda, the re­sort was set up in 1989 by Amer­i­can Joe En­trikin and his wife, Lisa, who owns the is­land. Zipolo Habu started with two tra­di­tion­ally styled bun­ga­lows, de­signed by Joe, and has been steadily grow­ing since then. Lisa does most of the cooking, of­fer­ing fresh fish and cas­sava chips, and cray­fish that ranks with the best in the world – and it’s cheaper than im­ported steak. She also land­scaped the grounds.

Lolo Is­land is an ex­cel­lent base for divers, surfers and fish­er­men, while the less en­er­getic should not miss the op­por­tu­nity to take the short boat

ride to Skull Is­land.

Named for the slightly spooky pres­ence of dozens of hu­man skulls on an al­tar- like coral plat­form, the islet is a re­minder of the head­hunt­ing that ex­isted in the re­gion un­til about a cen­tury ago.

De­scribed as a rit­u­alised form of war­fare, the skulls were a sign of a chief’s power and two of the last head­hunt­ing chiefs are buried on Skull Is­land. An attack by a Bri­tish war­ship, Roy­al­ist, in 1892 marked the be­gin­ning of the end and the ar­rival of Methodist mis­sion­ar­ies in 1902 has­tened the decline of head­hunt­ing.

Skull Is­land ( Von­avona) is the best- known of sev­eral pre- Euro­pean sites in the Solomon Is­lands’ West­ern Prov­ince, some of which can be vis­ited by tourists, although a rea­son­able level of fit­ness is needed to ac­cess some sites.

One of great im­por­tance is Ro­viana Is­land, al­most op­po­site Munda. Ro­viana was the head­quar­ters of In­gova, one of the most feared head­hunters, who died in 1906. It was not un­til the 1990s that sys­tem­at­i­cal ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions stud­ied his fortress on the ridge 600m above the shore. Coral walls up to 3m high sur­rounded the fortress, which had 13 shrines full of skulls and of­fer­ings. The ma­jor­ity of th­ese were ded­i­cated to long- gone chiefs, an in­di­ca­tion of the age of the set­tle­ment.

Un­for­tu­nately, in 1993 one of the most im­por­tant shrines, Olobuki, was de­stroyed by a Chris­tian group and mem­bers ap­par­ently threw away the skulls it con­tained.

The best known, though, is Ti­ola. If enemies ap­proached, a dog gave early warn­ing by bark­ing. When it died, a stone replica was made and it was said to turn its head in the di­rec­tion of the enemies’ war ca­noes. Clearly, it failed to pro­vide suf­fi­cient pro­tect against Roy­al­ist, whose crew was said to have de­stroyed 150 war ca­noes ( tomako) dur­ing its raid.

www. fly­solomons. com

www. ag­nes­lodge. com. sb

www. zipolo­habu. com. sb

www. mundadive. com

www. vis­it­solomons. com. sb

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