Her­itage Park Ho­tel

Go Travel The Pacific - - Solomon Islands - Munda -

The Her­itage Park Ho­tel is the Solomon Is­land’s pre­mier in­ter­na­tional ho­tel. Fit for Roy­alty and ready to look af­ter in­ter­na­tional, Aus­tralian and New Zealand vis­i­tors who want to ex­pe­ri­ence Ho­niara, the melt­ing pot of var­ied cul­tures that ex­ist in The Solomons. In re­cent times it has been vis­ited by U. N Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Bang Ki- Moon and the Royal cou­ple Prince Wil­liam and Kate Mid­dle­ton. Lo­cated on Men­dana Av­enue in the heart of Ho­niara's CBD, the ho­tel opened in Au­gust 2009 with 48 luxury rooms and 27 apart­ments built in pods through­out the land­scaped grounds.

The ho­tel is steeped in his­tory. A for­mer res­i­dence of the West­ern Pa­cific High Com­mis­sioner dur­ing the colo­nial era and when Solomon Is­lands be­came in­de­pen­dent in 1978. The cur­rent ho­tel build­ing in­cor­po­rates part of the orig­i­nal struc­ture with the re­cep­tion area, lobby, main restau­rant, ter­race area and kitchen con­tain­ing rem­nants of the old once grand- dame,“We've kept the orig­i­nal floor­ing in the restau­rant to­day which came from the ball­room” says Her­itage Park Ho­tel Manager, San­jay Bhar­gava.

The ho­tel com­plex is home to restau­rants and bars as well as re­cep­tion, con­fer­ence fa­cil­i­ties, busi­ness cen­tre and three re­tail out­lets. The ho­tel com­pound in­cludes a com­mer­cial com­plex which houses The Bank of South Pa­cific and is home to Aus Aid.

The Ho­tel is lo­cated ad­ja­cent to the main shop­ping area and cor­po­rate of­fices and is within 250 me­ters from the Bri­tish, Aus­tralian, New Zealand, US, Ja­panese, and other em­bassies and con­sulates.

Pro­vid­ing an in­ter­na­tional stan­dard of ser­vice is one of the ma­jor val­ues of the ho­tel “the level of ser­vice here is the same as in any top qual­ity in­ter­na­tional ho­tel in the world” Bhar­gava is keen to point out.

Only 12kms from the Ho­niara Air­port, it of­fers an un­for­get­table stay at this his­toric town. Ex­pe­ri­ence the vi­bran­cies of Ho­niara or launch into the West­ern Prov­ince from the Her­itage Park Ho­tel

As I float there, bob­bing around in the ocean, ad­just­ing my eyes to take in the bright pur­ple var­ie­gated stripes of the clam be­low me, the elec­tric blue of the fish that just darted past me, the flash­ing sil­ver of the school of fish in front of me, I sigh the might­i­est sigh of con­tent­ment and hap­pi­ness that I am fi­nally here. A trip on my bucket list for so many years I don’t even know where the ini­tial in­spi­ra­tion even started any­more. Then I re­mem­ber that I have a snorkel in my mouth and I can’t keep sigh­ing like this and I’m snapped back to re­al­ity.

I’ve ar­rived at Hardy Reef af­ter a two hour cruise from Air­lie Beach through the Whit­sun­day Is­lands and across the ship­ping chan­nel to the outer Great Bar­rier Reef. The re­gion’s largest tour op­er­a­tor Cruise Whit­sun­days has a fleet of ves­sels that they op­er­ate in the area but to­day we’ve trav­elled on the pride of their fleet ‘ Seaflight’.

“Peo­ple love trav­el­ling with us out to the reef on this boat be­cause it’s large and spa­cious and has sta­bilis­ers mak­ing the trip very smooth,” Skip­per John Dyson tells me.

I cer­tainly en­joyed loung­ing on the white leather couches in the Cap­tain’s Lounge look­ing out of the large win­dows at the is­lands that John pointed out as we passed them by, while oth­ers sat out­side in the sun, wind in their hair no doubt hold­ing them­selves back from try­ing to walk out to the bow of the boat to recre­ate that scene from Ti­tanic, and oth­ers sat on the lower deck in the air con­di­tion­ing and watched videos of the coral reefs they were about to see, in­ter­rupted only by the comedic safety and snorkelling demon­stra­tions of the crew.

When we ar­rived at the per­ma­nently moored pon­toon ‘ Reef­world’ I was glad I’d taken the crew’s ad­vice and planned out my ac­tiv­i­ties for the four hours we had here. First thing was first and I went straight down into the un­der­wa­ter view­ing cham­ber to scope out my sur­round­ings. Cu­ri­ous fish swim up to the glass un­both­ered by the daily re- ap­pear­ance of cu­ri­ous tourists look­ing back at them. A large Maori Wrasse swims past but he is up­staged when a small child screams ‘ tur­tle’ and ev­ery­one goes run­ning to his win­dow to con­firm he had in­deed spot­ted a tur­tle just cruis­ing past.

Next was a trip in the semisub­mersible which takes small groups of about twenty up and down the reef wall through­out the day. The marine bi­ol­o­gist on­board talked us through ev­ery­thing we were see­ing and even ex­plained why the corals didn’t seem as bright as we might see in doc­u­men­taries.

“The first colour to be lost un­der­wa­ter is red, and that makes some of the corals here ap­pear less bright than they re­ally are,” she told us.

“Of­ten pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers will add a red fil­ter to their cam­eras to bring those colours out.”

Ah huh. Sneaky. Science les­son over and I get back to the pon­toon to be fit­ted in a highly fash­ion­able full body wet suit. Aside from pro­tect­ing me from any marine stingers, the crew on the pon­toon tell me it’ll also stop me from get­ting sun­burnt. Fair call so I agree to put it on ( when in Rome…), grab my snorkelling gear and slide in to the wa­ter straight off the back of the snorkelling deck on the pon­toon. And that’s where I re­ally felt that awe­some mo­ment of sat­is­fac­tion, joy and won­der­ment of the hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent types and brightly coloured fish. Clam af­ter clam, with none of their bright stripy mark­ings quite the same as the other. Soft corals gen­tly sway­ing in the cur­rent. All dif­fer­ent types of hard corals – brain- like, tree- like, plate- like and some out- of- thisworld- like. The beauty of the Great Bar­rier Reef has re­ally lived up to it’s name and af­ter the tips and in­sights from the marine bi­ol­o­gist I feel like I’m spot­ting things I might oth­er­wise have just floated past with­out notic­ing.

Be­fore I know it I’m be­ing called back to the pon­toon or I’ll miss the huge buf­fet lunch that’s been served on­board Seaflight while I’ve been dis­tracted by Nemo and his friends.

A quick selfie from the sun­deck for brag­ging rights sees me grin­ning from ear to ear with ev­ery shade of blue to green of the reef be­hind me. Four hours has flown past and as we pull away from the pon­toon to de­part I no­tice a small group of seem­ingly self- right­eous guests wav­ing back at us from the pon­toon. Surely they can’t be happy at the fact they’ve missed board­ing their boat back home.

“Oh they’re the Reef­sleep­ers,” John tells me.

“They’re stay­ing overnight in swags on the top deck. They’ve got the whole af­ter­noon with the reef to them­selves, as well as to­mor­row morn­ing be­fore we get back here with the boat.”

Sud­denly I’m the green of the Maori Wrasse I was just look­ing at. Lucky things.

Mean­time I set­tle my­self back on the lounge and plan out the rest of my week here. Sail­ing to world fa­mous White­haven Beach to sink my toes in the per­fect, soft, white sil­ica sand – check. Is­land hop­ping to a glam­orous is­land re­sort for lunch – check. I’m still in­cred­i­bly jeal­ous of the lucky few stay­ing at the reef overnight but I think I can han­dle ex­plor­ing some of the world’s best beaches and re­sorts in­stead. I’ll just have to come back.

Pass­ing along ra­zor- sharp es­carp­ments with 100 me­tre drops, los­ing my foot­ing would have been a fa­tal mis­take. I was blessed to be ac­com­pa­nied by a sure- footed porter named Bai who – de­spite be­ing deaf – was able to com­mu­ni­cate clearly.

When we reached the vil­lage of Mile Mile, I felt the adrenalin rush that comes from hard- earned ac­com­plish­ment.

At Mile Mile we had to make do with Taro and what­ever snacks we car­ried in our packs. Nearly too tired to eat, I quickly stuffed two ba­nanas in my mouth, be­fore pass­ing out in a deep slum­ber.

Wak­ing early the next day, my mind felt re­freshed, but my thighs had taken on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of two blocks of lead. I was pleased to hear that the sec­ond day would be less of a chal­lenge.

As we set off to our ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion, my spir­its rose, as did my en­ergy lev­els. Marakai vil­lage was a light at the end of the prover­bial tun­nel. I was look­ing for­ward to reach­ing Marakai and re­con­nect­ing with old friends.

I love be­ing in the rain­for­est, lis­ten­ing to bird call, watch­ing in­sects and lizards at play and smelling the fresh scent of the leaves af­ter rain­fall. It’s a ground­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that makes you re­al­ize that we are all part of - not sep­a­rate from – na­ture.

The High­land peo­ple are shy but very kind and strong willed; hold­ing firmly to “kas­tom” and su­per­sti­tious be­liefs. The phys­i­cal­ity of their lives sculpts their bod­ies to cope far bet­ter than we do in the wild and the knowl­edge they pass down to each gen­er­a­tion en­ables them to lead a to­tally sus­tain­able ( although hard) ex­is­tence.

Fi­nally, we reached Marakai, six hours af­ter we set out and just

5.3km in dis­tance. We en­tered the vil­lage Naka­mal and were treated to a Na­gri­amel song fol­lowed by a re­fresh­ing wash in the fresh flow­ing wa­ter of a creek ( the women bathing separately from the men).

Af­ter­wards, the Chief in­vited us to par­tic­i­pate in a Kava cer­e­mony, dur­ing which ev­ery­one drank at least one shell ( cup). Din­ner was served; a very tasty “Nalot” made with taro cooked over stones and beaten to a pulp by half a dozen men who pounded the roots with long, heavy clubs of wood.

That night, a blan­ket of stars had been swept across the sky, and the Milky Way lit up the heav­ens like never be­fore. I at once un­der­stood why some High­land peo­ple never ven­tured be­yond their vil­lage bound­aries their whole lives.

The next morn­ing, we dis­trib­uted gifts for the vil­lagers to share; sugar, salt, can­dles and a bush knife. We bid farewell; set­ting off for a night in Lo­tu­nai, be­fore mak­ing our way back to Lu­ganville the same way we came.

De­spite the dif­fi­culty of the jour­ney and the self- in­flicted pain, my treks into Santo’s in­te­rior re­main among some of my most trea­sured ex­pe­ri­ences in Van­u­atu. How long it will be be­fore I re­turn to Marakai next is hard to say as with each pass­ing year my body feels that lit­tle bit older. Dis­tance and time have a way of fool­ing the mind, and it would be a pretty safe bet that my sixth visit will not be my last.

oil – known as the “Rolls Royce” of body oils – and lo­cally grown vanilla are the foun­da­tion of many of the treat­ments and mas­sages, which we had the choice to en­joy in­doors, in the la­goon or on our pri­vate ter­race un­der the Tahi­tian moon­light.

We were happy to find out the re­sort also hosts regular Poly­ne­sian cul­tural pre­sen­ta­tions, in­clud­ing: co­conut palm braid­ing, wood carv­ing, mak­ing of tapa cloth, mother- of- pearl carv­ing, in­struc­tions for ty­ing the na­tive sarong or pareo and even an in­tro­duc­tion to the Tahi­tian tat­too and Tahi­tian dance.

The concierge of­fers a wide range of us to ex­plore the is­land. We could choose to visit the Opunohu Val­ley by 4x4, rent cars or scoot­ers or sit back and re­lax and en­joy a cir­cle is­land tour by bus. The horse­back rid­ing was a high­light as we rode through pineap­ple fields with bright or­ange soil against the blue, blue sky. There were also moun­tain bikes for rent if you pre­fer your own horse­power.

We found out you could hire a speed­boat for a la­goon tour or a sail­boat for a sun­set cruise. There was also line fish­ing ex­cur­sions, wa­ter ski­ing, jet ski­ing ( which my hus­band loved!) or even paraglid­ing!

The Hil­ton Flag flies over an­other award- win­ning re­sort in French Poly­ne­sia, the Bora Bora Nui Re­sort & Spa on the is­land of Bora Bora, just a 40- minute flight from Moorea. We made sure to put that on our list for our next visit to the amaz­ing French Poly­ne­sia.

For the lat­est packages and spe­cials at both ho­tels visit: www. hil­ton. com/ french­poly­ne­sia or book through a Tahiti Tiare Travel spe­cial­ist listed at www. go­to­tahiti. com

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