Honiara - Solomon Islands
Despite the allure of brilliant blue seas teeming with multicoloured marine life, there are few destinations in the South Pacific that are completely untouched.
Despite the allure of brilliant blue seas teeming with multicoloured marine life, there are few destinations in the South Pacific that are completely untouched. Luxury resorts are plenty in Fiji; Vanuatu offers up its fair share of adventure pursuits; and Bora Bora is dotted with a tangle of overwater bungalows. But there's one group of islands – 992, to be precise - that remain off-the-beaten track in almost every way. Grouped to the east of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands are your new piece of paradise.
The Pacific archipelago is an easy three-hour flight from Australia to its capital, Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal, but it will feel worlds away. Islands to visit include Guadalcanal (on which the capital is located), Malaita, Choiseul, New Georgia, San Cristobal and Santa Isabel. The Solomon Islands is a lush environmental playground of mighty volcanoes, thundering waterfalls, mist-enshrouded forests, deep lagoons, kaleidoscopic coral reefs and scattered, uninhabited islands.
Like the majority of the South Pacific, days are extremely humid due to the ocean-equatorial climate. The average temperature hovers around 27 degrees Celsius throughout the year, with few extreme change changes in weather. Visit between June and August for a slight reprieve in humidity.
Where to stay
If you're expecting a luxe resort-style experience with all the trimmings, you may need to rethink your travel plans. There are a select number of hotels in Honiara that offer the latest mod-cons and Western-style dining options, including The Honiara Hotel, Iron Bottom Sound, The King Solomon and Casino, but most visitors come for the opportunity to get close to nature.
Though the archipelago had more than 80 years as a British protectorate, many people live as simply as they did thousands of years ago. Across the archipelago, overnight spoils come by way of thatched bungalows. Often, visitors will dine and travel like the locals do. Think feasting on fish likely caught that very morning and travel in traditional wooden dugout canoes – grassroots living at its very finest. And with only a smatter of these hideaways across the main islands, the Solomons are a mecca for ecotourists.
What to do
Arguably the Solomon Islands biggest drawcard is what's below the surface of its crystal clear waters.
When it comes to scuba diving, few places rival the Solomons and getting up close with sharks. The aptly named Shark Point is just a 25-minute boat ride from Munda, and is teeming with these great creatures. Tour operators in the area have spotted up to 12 shark species, including hammerheads, tiger sharks and the particularly aggressive silvertip. However, there's no need to fear; no tourists have ever been bitten, though locals will often regale you with tales of adulterous relatives who have been taken!
If you'd rather not take your chances in Shark Alley, there's a bounty of water-based pursuits to enjoy, including taking a dip beneath the gushing water of Tenaru Falls or splashing on the peaceful shores of Mbonege Beach. Snorkelling is particularly favoured here. With fewer crowds, the underwater world is a veritable Garden of Eden with fluorescent coral nestled alongside impressive, yet crumbling WWII ships, aircraft and submarine wrecks. Then there's always kayaking excursions on rippling lagoons or surfing pristine atolls.
You'd be mistaken for believing the Solomons' only jewels are the ones found below the surface. You only have to venture back to the lush, bottle green blanket of tropical forest to find a wealth of land adventures.
Hiking is a popular activity, whether you're simply seeking views or a physically rewarding challenge. And the best part is that few people before you have walked the same path. Half-, one- or two-day walks can be found throughout the island group winding through gardens, rainforests and villages and up to extinct volcano rims. Try the half-day trek to Mount Reko on Vangunu or the strenuous two-day hike on Nggatokae to Mount Mariu.
The perfect remedy to ease aching muscles post-hike is a session in a restorative thermal hot spring or mud pool. Reoka hot pools are the most easily accessible, following a one-hour hike alongside the Kolika River. But mind your toes – some of the pools are hot enough to poach an egg!
You certainly don't have to break out a sweat on holiday. Back in the capital, you'll find plenty to do that doesn't involve laborious exercise. Many simply fly in and fly out from Honiara to a more remote destination but take your time to wander the city's botanical gardens, enjoy scenic drives to remote villages and explore the remnants of WWII on battlefield tours. Wandering the Honiara Central Market is a great way to see what daily life is like, as well as soak up the eclectic and bustling atmosphere. Don't forget to pick a few souvenirs for the folks back home!
Food and drink
Honiara is slowly developing as a tourist hub, with a variety of restaurants catering to tourists, as well as its own Chinatown. And while dining in the outlying islands often involves eating like a local – think flavours like coconut milk, sweet potato and tropical fruit, Honiara offers a medley of cuisines catering to all, from Indian curries at the (originally named) Taj Mahal; smoky, grilled meats at Korean BBQ; fresh Japanese flavours at Iron Bottom Sound; as well as the inexpensive dishes at favoured expat hangout, The Yacht Club.
Never mind the time zone change and leave those watches at home; time is something that is almost inexistent in the South Pacific. You've heard of island time, but Solomon time is in a league of its own. You'll find many activities run late or outside of their schedule and no one is a hurry to get anywhere. Things happen when they happen! But after a few days on the islands, even the most clock-conditioned traveller will find themselves sliding into this timeless zone, completely letting go of any regimented schedules and giving into the 'right here, right now'. When this happens, you’ll know you’ve been truly seduced by the charm of the Solomons.