Welkam to the Solomons
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