Salt­wa­ter de­light

A re­mote surf re­treat in the Solomon Is­lands

Paradise - - In Paradise | Contents -

The things that count are dry board shorts for the morn­ing, trop­i­cal-strength wax on your board and a stripe of zinc cream across your nose.

I’m on an is­land with no hot wa­ter, where a python is coiled in roof rafters over the bed in one of the huts, and where her­mit crabs scurry from un­der­foot at the out­door shower.

There’s no in­ter­net. To hear news of the out­side world, it takes an ex­pen­sive satel­lite telephone call.

When the sun sets, the so­lar light­ing is a bit dim.

But so good is this idio­syn­cratic des­ti­na­tion in the Solomon Is­lands that most guests vow to re­turn.

The Pa­p­atura Is­land Re­treat – once fea­tured on the cover of Amer­ica’s re­spected Surfer mag­a­zine – is in the north of the Solomon Is­lands where the is­land na­tion al­most nudges Pa­pua New Guinea’s Bougainville.

This isn’t as big as trav­el­ling to Tahiti’s Teahupoo or Fiji’s Cloud­break. But here, in the turquoise Pa­cific Ocean, surfers take off on empty reef breaks ev­ery day.

They fall into a sim­ple life­style where time doesn’t mat­ter. “I en­cour­age them to take off their watches,” says the re­treat’s pa­tri­arch Peter Blanche. “All they need to know is that the gong goes at 1pm for lunch and 7pm for dinner.”

Other things that count are dry board shorts for the morn­ing, trop­i­cal-strength wax on your board and a stripe of zinc cream across your nose.

It’s so warm, there’s no need for hot wa­ter for bathing.

To get to Pa­p­atura is a pil­grim­age. First, make your way to Ho­niara, the cap­i­tal of the Solomons; sec­ond, squeeze into a Twin Ot­ter for a 60-minute flight to the grass land­ing strip on Santa Is­abel Is­land; and, third, take a speed­boat to Pa­p­atura Faa Is­land.

The re­treat sleeps 32 in tra­di­tional-style huts made of tim­ber and bush ma­te­ri­als such as sago palm, which is used for the thatched roof­ing. Sev­eral of the huts are un­der the shade of co­conut trees on the beach, where the ebb and flow of the turquoise wa­ter rolls shells, and fallen co­conuts, back and forth.

My hut has a loft with a dou­ble bed un­der a mos­quito net, and a free­stand­ing floor fan to blow air around dur­ing the hot nights.

There are three sin­gle beds down­stairs, a ve­ran­dah with deckchairs, and a bath­room with a hand basin and toi­let. The python is in the rafters next door.

There are more huts tucked into the rain­for­est, but still close to the wa­ter. They are all con­nected by raised board­walks to the open-sided bar and restau­rant, where the dress code is bare feet.

Nightly, icy cold SolBrew lagers pre­cede the catch of the day. At the com­mu­nal din­ing tables, you’re likely to have mud crabs, reef fish in co­conut sauce, or cray­fish split long­wise and flame grilled.

The surf­ing is con­trolled, with only 14 surfers al­lowed among the 32 guests at any one time. If you’re not surf­ing you can take aa­jun­gle walk to a wa­ter­fall, swim, snorkel, visit vil­lages or fish for ev­ery­thing from dog­tooth tuna to squid.

The surf breaks (there are about a dozen) are ac­cessed by short boat rides of 10 to 25 min­utes. They in­clude lefts, rights and A-frame peaks, mainly over shal­low wa­ter that means Pa­p­atura is best for in­ter­me­di­ate-plus surfers. There’s one be­gin­ner break, CC’s, a long and small ‘Waikiki-style’ wave.

We surf at An­chovies, a righthander that is small dur­ing our stay, but re­sort man­ager Bobby Pa­juoja says he has seen it reach “15 feet”.

There are just four in our group and we stay in the warm wa­ter for hours (no wet­suits re­quired). Rolly, our lo­cal surf guide, pro­vides some handy point­ers on po­si­tion­ing. At any time we can paddle back for a breather un­der the canopy of the boat, which is an­chored along­side the reef.

Some of the other breaks in­clude Tarzans, an A-frame peak; PT’s, a right-han­der; and Donuts, a long right-han­der suited to long boards.

The re­treat has two dogs – Zoli and Kumma – named af­ter even more surf breaks.

The dogs like to smooch up, es­pe­cially if there’s a prospect

of a snack. Zoli, the black one, ar­rived here years ear­lier in an empty beer car­ton on the Twin Ot­ter. He was a skinny puppy res­cued from the streets of Ho­niara.

Pa­p­atura Faa Is­land once had a co­conut plan­ta­tion that sup­plied Es­tee Lauder, the Amer­i­can beauty brand.

But by the time Aus­tralian cou­ple Peter and Margie Blanche ar­rived from the Gold Coast, about a decade ago, to start their idyll surf re­treat, the plan­ta­tion had been aban­doned.

Peter says Pa­p­atura met all the cri­te­ria for a re­treat. Fresh wa­ter. Tick. Re­li­able waves. Tick. A shel­tered bay. Tick. Will­ing vil­lagers. Tick.

They ne­go­ti­ated a lease with lo­cal landown­ers. Ini­tially, it was to be 75 years, the ap­prox­i­mate life of a co­conut tree here, but in the end, they set­tled for 50 years with an op­tion. “We’re here for the long haul and lov­ing it,” Peter says. Tick.

Air Ni­ug­ini flies from Port Moresby to Ho­niara five times weekly. See airni­ug­ini.com.pg.

Touch­down ... (from left) the grass land­ing strip at Santa Is­abel Is­land; out­door shower with bam­boo screen; one of Pa­p­atura's beachfront huts.

Specks in the ocean ... (from left) is­lands and reef in the turquoise Pa­cific; Pa­p­atura's own­ers Peter and Margie Blanche; a board ready to go.

The perfect recipe ... a boat, a reef, and un­crowded waves.

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