Heritage Park Hotel
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