Welcomem… a k l e W
hen I first visited the Solomon Islands I had absolutely no idea how beautiful the country would be. I admit I knew very little about the Sollies, just what you see on TV, which isn’t always positive. I arrived at Henderson airport and found armed guards at the terminal gates. The heat was oppresive and I thought to myself, how am I going to write a story about this place? But then something amazing happened. The security officers all smiled and pointed me towards the visitors queue (which was indeed very short) at the immigration hall. And then the immigration officer welcomed me to the Solomon Islands with a big grin. That first trip, three years ago has lead to many more since
and I have been fortunate enough to see some of the magical islands and lagoons of the Solomons. It really is the Pacific’s best kept secret – we just need to get out and tell people. In this issue of Pacific Island Living – Solomons Edition we feature the stunning Marovo Lagoon, useful information for first time visitors and tips on where to dine. We’d love to know what you think of these magnificent islands, please do get in touch via our website at www. pacific-island-living.com where you can read this and every other issue of the magazine online, or join 50,000 others and follow us on Facebook! Happy reading – Tiffany Carroll, editor.
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Surfing theinSollies the west r e w o p e v a W
Vavaghio’s legendary right hander, completely deserted and waiting for savvy surfers to experience the place and the space.
The Solomon Islands has transformed the boardroom to board-room, meaning that surfers really do enjoy space on the break and some of the world’s best-kept secret surf spots in unspoilt surrounds. Keri Algar reveals all but may never be allowed back after telling us about it.
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Santa Isabel Island
Luckily for surfers the Pacific is a great misnomer. From October to April storms in the North Pacific generate long period swells which track down and catch on the island’s north facing reefs. This is the cyclone season and it is the best time of year for powerful surf. Waves range from two to six feet. Isabel’s 260km-long north-northeast facing coastline is ideally situated to capture these swells. It is one of the largest in the nation’s double chain of islands, and one of the least populated. Known surfing areas are located in the north of the island where conveniently there is a strip of grass (hopefully mown) called Suavanao airport. An hour or two by banana boat north of Suavanao is the province’s most secluded lodge on Vakao Island, Vavaghio Guest House. Under the jungle’s dappled shade and set back from a mangrove beach are a cluster of newly built bungalows. They’re traditionally yet comfortably designed with fans and solar power to accommodate a maximum of eight
PICTURES: Tyson Lloyd, Ben King and Keri Algar.
n the western edge of the Pacific lie 992 scattered islands, wonderfully remote, fringed by reefs, and exposed to ocean swells year round. For the adventurous surfer, Solomon Islands is matchless in the South Pacific. Tourism is at a delightfully nascent phase. While island life does an impressive job at evoking Club Med’s famous slogan, The Antidote to Civilisation, one can safely assume that the luxury resort is a long way from being built. Beyond the principle island of Guadalcanal and its capital Honiara, canoes replace cars, air con is a rare treat, and traditional life subsists by wits, not state services. Without hoards of tourists, one may in fact find the antidote to surfing crowded waves. With this in mind, it’s fair to say the search for waves suits an exploratory spirit. Yet as tourism develops it does so with surfers in mind. While the truly intrepid may drift through the nooks and crannies of the vast archipelago, holidaymakers a little less daring will discover picturesque, if not luxurious, accommodation a stone’s throw from world-class waves.
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guests plus Vavaghio’s hosts, a local Habotu family and Gary, a Kiwi conservationist. The Habotu’s embody the kindness and gentleness Isabelan’s are known for in the Solomons – a pleasant respite from Honiara’s betel nut stained grimaces! Straight out the front is a reef pass with a perfect left mirroring a perfect right. They’re both long, sometimes hollow, and breaking into a deep channel. There are a number of other reef set-ups to suit different swell directions and breezes, all within a few minutes by boat. Here, a surfer is happily spoilt for choice. Naming rights are up for grabs. Even in the swell season though, there are flat spells: if the conditions aren’t in your favour, look beneath the waves. Solomon Islands form part of the Coral Triangle encompassing PNG, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, an area considered to be the global epicentre of marine biodiversity. If the sea is flat, head to the Arnavon Islands. From Vavaghio the islands are an hour’s boat trip north, in the Manning Strait between Isabel and Choiseul Province. The area is one of the more successful conservation stories in the Solomons and home to the largest hawksbill turtle rookery in the South Pacific. Even if the surf is pumping at Vavaghio it’s worth dragging yourself away to see not only the turtles, but an underwater lightshow of colour and variety, the result of almost two decades of conservation. Isabel also features two other well-known places for
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PICTURES: Tyson Lloyd, Ben King and Keri Algar.
World famous diving has placed the Western Province on the map for its galaxy of islands and tourquoise water. Below: Local
Exploration vs Exploitation Among surfers there is a deep-seated fear around exposing such splendid isolation – what if it gets crowded? In the Solomons forestry and fishing have ravaged landscapes in and out of the water as well as unsettled village life. A surfer’s fear should be measured against a country desperate for a sustainable economy. There is a nationwide push for eco-tourism; it is regarded as a catalyst for rural development. In any case, given the nation’s limited infrastructure, the logistical challenges of reaching these reefs, and the unreliability of almost everything, well, anyone willing to take on the adventure deserves the rewards.
Advance Notice If you wish to eat…Book in advance. Whether it’s a humble village stay or an exclusive eco-lodge, your hosts will need time to prepare provisions. It may involve harvesting the family’s garden plot, a trip to the market, trading with neighbours, or a day’s fishing.
‘grommets’ knows there’s something to smile about.
surfers to stay and access different reef systems and cultural experiences. Kagata Village Stay is as grass roots as a surfer will find in the Solomons. Perhaps a little too rustic for some people’s comfort, but for those who wish to completely eschew modernity and claim an authentic experience, this is the spot. Papatura Island Retreat is set on a beautiful crescent shaped beach on its own 274-hectare island. It is also traditionally styled, but managed by two expat Gold Coasters. The lodge is prepped for more people and offers a few more mod cons including a well-stocked bar. It boasts a standout selection of waves for different conditions and abilities, and caters to the keen fisherman.
The Beautiful West
World famous diving has placed the Western Province on the map and insofar as tourism it is the most developed region. It is also one of the prettiest parts of the Solomons, comprising a galaxy of islands with volcanic peaks, turquoise water, extensive reefs and tiny islets. It pays tribute to the South Pacific’s legendary beauty. Regular flights arrive from Honiara to Gizo, where a number of lodgings accommodate surfers, ranging from rural village stays to exclusive eco-lodges. While waves have recognised names, surfers are still few and far between.
For travel information and island intelligence contact the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau, on Mendana Avenue: T: +677 22 442 F: +677 23 986 W: www.visitsolomons.com.sb
A few minutes by bus or taxi from Gizo is Pailongge, a long right that’s well exposed to swell. It works best on bigger swells, when the wave’s sections join up and it can get hollow. It breaks in front of a village where a couple of local surfers reside and have helped set up a quaint and convenient home stay; ask for Sammy. A little further south is Titiana, which surfers can also paddle out to. Across the water from Gizo on an idyllic beach lies Sanbis Resort, an eco-lodge perfect for those seeking a touch of luxury. Private villas, hot water, ensuites, a gourmet kitchen and WiFi: Sanbis marries isolation with comfort. While it accommodates 20 guests, a maximum of eight surfers fit on one boat to reach the waves. Venturing further afield and with access to more isolated breaks is Zipolo Habu Resort, on remote and utterly scenic Lola Island. Nearby, Skull Island has reputedly the Solomons longest rights, but is notoriously fickle. Desperates, a punchy and hollow right, is also here. Isabel and the West are by no means all there is to surfing in the Solomons, yet they are an easy day’s journey from Honiara and have accommodation for surfers. A map of the Solomons presents miles of potential island reefs, bays and crevices for swell to wrap around; look to north Malaita, the northwest tip of Guadalcanal, Central, and Makira’s Star Harbour. •
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Honiara Hit (and miss) Parade A Sollies selection, from the Big Breakfast to the Big Fibreglass Fish, Honiara tastes pretty good.
The Heritage Park Hotel is reputedly Honiara’s best and was considered good enough to host the recent royal visit by Wills and Kate. Situated right on the shores of the bay, all rooms have water views and being the 5-acre site of the former Governor’s Residence, the grounds are well established and tropical. There’s a selection of dining opportunities, from Pool Side and casual to The Terrace for all-day dining to the Renaissance for that special pan Asian or European fine fare. While the atmosphere is slightly Spartan the food at Renaissance is right up there for freshness and quality. My two-tailed lobster with ‘lashings’ of garlic and butter was not only great value, it was sensitively grilled and juicy and rated highly on my unofficial Pacific Lobster Register of Creative Crustacean Cooking.
The Lime Lounge
The food scene provides a few very credible options and the local lobster and seafood is not to be missed. Not surprisingly the hotels (which top out at 4 stars) have some decent dining venues but these are complemented by a couple of very good café-style eateries with some great dishes. The Lime Lounge (right) is an old stager and sits on Commonwealth Street in the middle of the CBD and offers a selection of artwork for sale along with a good breakfast and lunch menu. The bush lime blended with ice and mint is a great tropical refresher for immediate consumption after stepping out of the humidity. For a substantial breakfast go for the RAMSI Big Breakfast, which apart from including plenty of bacon, eggs, tomato, toast and sausage can be topped up with a steak. Follow with a Merlo espresso and you have the perfect start to the day if you’re about to go out on patrol. (Closes 4pm)
Club Havanah and Mandarine
For something more substantial in the evening try the Honiara Hotel which is set on the hillside behind town. While the hotel has a slightly jaded feel, the vibe is colourfully louche and quirky, and features a giant fibreglass fish! There are three restaurants here, the Oasis, Club Havanah and the Mandarine (often spelt Mandarin!). The night I was there we chose Club Havanah which is their open pavilion French specialist but after getting seated we were presented with a list slightly longer than the menu of food items that
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had mysteriously gone AWOL from the kitchen. No worries, in island fashion we relocated to the Mandarine where the Chinese cuisine was plentiful, fresh and well presented, and accompanied at times by a bit of over-amplified Karaoke from the adjoining room. From there it was back to Club Havanah for their, rightly, highly recommended desserts. Profiteroles, a selection of fruit and ice cream served in half a pineapple, nougat and honey and fruit coulis are among the gorgeous Gallic temptations.
This absolute-waterfront beauty is modern and airconditioned with an expansive outdoor deck and jetty at which is moored the Extreme Adventures ‘fleet’ of tour and dive charter boats. The décor is timber, glassy, contemporary, clean and open, and the menu includes some great pastries, cakes, sandwiches, snacks, sushi, perfectly poached eggs and absolutely fabulous fresh tropical fruit smoothies which are meals in themselves. The service from the friendly Melanesian staff is attentive and courteous and the coffee is from Di Bella, one of Australia’s more recent additions to the bean scene and is a great brew. Open 7am to 5pm daily.
Frequently Asked Questionsnds a l s i e h t d aroun
Where are the Solomons?
An archipelago of 992 islands, we are located in the South Pacific, north-east of Australia between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Vanuatu.
Australian, New Zealand and most EU passport holders can enter for up to 30 days with a visa on arrival. Passports must be valid for six months. More information can be found on our website: www.visitsolomons.com.sb
People & Culture
Solomon Islanders are a blend of mainly Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian people with a population of around 550,000. Our cultural values stem back thousands of years and are very much linked to our land and surrounding seas. Most of the population still live a subsistence lifestyle where family and village community are the centre of social life.
Tropical. The drier and cooler months are April to October. Itâ€™s warmer and more humid from November to March. Average day time temperature around 28c.
The Solomon Islands follows the Westminster democratic
system and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The head of state is the Governor General, representing the British Monarch. The Government is headed by an elected Prime Minister and cabinet. There is a 50-seat parliament with elected members. Honiara on Guadalcanal Island is the capital city and main port of entry and commercial centre.
There are foreign currency exchange services at Honiara International Airport, and at major banks and ATMs in and around Honiara and some of the larger provinces. Credit cards are widely accepted in Honiara but itâ€™s best to take cash to the outer islands. The currency is the Solomon Islands dollar (SBD)
Taxis are widely available in Honiara. While some have meters, it is advisable to set the price prior to commencing your trip. Ask at your accommodation reception desk prior for an estimate on trip prices. Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau staff can also assist â€“ contact us for more information. Buses generally operate along the main East-West corridor from King George School at the eastern end to Rove and White River to the west. Services also operate inland to up to Naha. Less frequent routes also extend further afield. Rental cars are also available.
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Frequently Asked Questions nds a l s i e h t d n u aro Solomon Airlines flies to 22 domestic ports from Honiara. There are regular shipping services to many parts of the Solomons from Honiara.
Most shops in town open from 0830 to 1700 Monday to Friday and until noon on Saturday.
English is the official language of the Solomons, but Pijin is spoken by about half the population. In the early 1900s, copra plantations were established, the labourers employed on them had also worked in Queensland where they had used pidgin English. The local variety stabilised early and several religious missions adopted it for use.
The local time is 11 hours ahead of GMT, one hour ahead of Australia’s East Coast Standard Time.
The Post Office, located next to Telekom is open 0900-1700 Monday to Friday and Saturday mornings.
Keeping in touch
Solomon Telekom Ltd is the main communications provider in the Solomons; 24hr telephone, fax and internet services are available in Honiara and most provincial centres. Mobile coverage is available in Honiara, Gizo and Auki – international roaming is limited so you may have to purchase a local SIM card. Internet cafes are available, so too are WiFi hotspots at major hotels and larger centres. There are two TV channels in Honiara, broadcasting BBC World Service and the Australia Network – from which local news is broadcast at 9pm and again the next morning.
Main centres have hospitals or health clinics. The Solomons does experience malaria and precautions are recommended including insect repellent and sleeping under a mosquito net.
Where power is available (in most major centres) the electricity is 240v AC, with the same power sockets as Australia and New Zealand. Blackouts are common however, so it is a good idea to always have a torch with charged batteries.
Things to do
Solomon Islands is a surfing hotspot for those in the know with only a few breaks having been discovered by outsiders. Be
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the first to surf new breaks in one of the world’s last frontiers. This is the new Bali with uncrowded surf perfection in a pristine natural and cultural environment. The best season for waves is November to April when the north Pacific awakens. New surfing locations are being explored along Guadalcanal’s Weather Coast. For an update please contact Surf Solomons Telephone: (+677) 22 086)
Is it OK to freely take photographs in villages?
It’s common courtesy to always ask permission to take photographs, especially of people.
The national carrier Solomon Airlines, flies to Honiara four times a week from Brisbane; two times from Nadi, Fiji and weekly from Port Vila Vanuatu and Port Moresby PNG. Virgin Australia have twice weekly flights from Brisbane; Fiji Airways fly in weekly from Nadi and Port Vila and Air Niugini have three weekly flights from Port Moresby. •
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In this issue of Pacific Island Living – Solomons Edition we feature the stunning Marovo Lagoon, useful information for first time visitors...
Published on Sep 1, 2014
In this issue of Pacific Island Living – Solomons Edition we feature the stunning Marovo Lagoon, useful information for first time visitors...