Solomon Islands is an archipelago of 922 quintessential palm and sand fringed islands. Forget Honiara on the main island of Guadalcanal. Like all capitals, it’s busy, crowded at times, and hot and dusty most times.
The knowing SI visitor pauses on landing at Honiara international airport to catch a domestic flight to any one of the many island groups, then checks in to a leaf hut and dines on a reef fish caught maybe an hour earlier.
The difficulty is choosing just which island to plop on.
Most are uninhabited and perfect for a picnic away from the sights and sounds of modern life. Transport around these islands is by canoe, some are motorised, but most have been carved from the trunk of a tall tree.
There are many choices for the nature-loving traveller.
In the Western Province, a popular guided hike is up Kolambangara, a stratovolcano island, noted by Bird Life International as Important Bird Area (IBA) because of the range of rare species.
Here and at neighbouring Ghizo Island you can wander through the jungle guided by a knowing local, to seek out rare birds, butterflies and plants with medicinal use.
There are western-style hotels on the major islands, along with traditional guest houses, most of them built the way of generations past in this subsistence farming Melanesian/Polynesian culture.
It’s not often you can watch a roof being replaced by the cutting and weaving of palm fronds.
Not too many places in the world can offer fresh crab, reef fish (sweet lip, trevally, mia-mia, mackerel) straight from canoe to kitchen, for the price of a club sandwich. Or drink fresh bush lime, a chilled Sol Brew or a Chardonnay while watching the sun set over a shimmering tropical lagoon. There’s not a car, street or traffic light within cooee.
This traveler has made many a canoe ride and slept in many a leaf hut. One of my favourites is Zipola Habu Resort on Lola Island in the Vona Vona Lagoon, Western Province.
Lola is a typical SI palm-fringed island floating in a lagoon of crystal-clear turquoise water (suitably warm at around 28C), with white sandy beaches and wild orchids hanging from the trees.
Hardly necessary are the hot water showers Joe and Lisa Entrikin, the family owners of this island and resort, have installed in their guest leaf cottages.
Zipola is popular with fisherfolk, but also those who like to dine on fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables, and enjoy fresh water and air.
Then there’s Fatboys on Mbambanga Island, a short canoe ride from Ghizo airport. Here the onshore leaf bungalows are simple, comfortable and quite beautiful. No cars, only canoes.
The same tropical island paradise adjectives apply to this unique bar and lounge built out over the water of the Vella Lagoon. Fresh everything sitting over a tropical aquarium.
Here you occasionally you see travellers from a “White Boat”, a super yacht most likely from a European or North American port. It’s large, silent, luxurious, and cruising these waters because the owners seek privacy. No paparazzi here.
Manager Manoj has only one golden rule – Fatboys is always open.
Then there’s Uepi Island and Morova Lagoon which, decades ago, was described by author James Michener as the eighth wonder of the world.
And for good reason. Marovo Lagoon is the largest saltwater lagoon in the world, and is protected by the world’s largest double barrier reef system.
Here floats Uepi Island. The waters are rich in coral and marine life.
One can sit on the jetty looking down on the giant clams and endless flow of fish – and a sea snake or two.
The water is so clear as you peer through the mangrove roots in the shallows it is easy to follow the activities of the octopus, sea horse, cuttlefish, squid, the velvet skinned moray eel, and tropical fish that make this their home.
While a classic raised barrier reef island covered in impressive rainforest and outlined by fringing reef and sandy beach, Uepi is unique in that it is washed by warm lagoon waters on one side and oceanic depths on the other.
Just 2.5km long with beautiful gardens and coconut palms around the guest cottages, the rest is pure rainforest rich in flora and fauna.
Ask about the rare tree-climbing crabs only spotted by torch at night.
Many visitors are drawn to the World War II history, most famously former President John F Kennedy, who was marooned on what is now Kennedy Island.
While slowly being covered by jungle growth many items have been salvaged and are displayed in the Vilu War Museum in Honiara and the Peter Joseph museum in Munda.
Scuba divers come from around the world to explore the famous war-time sunken wrecks. And there are still many more islands to consider.
International flights now also land at Munda in the Western Province, the gateway to Ghizo and Kennedy Island.
Average flight time from Brisbane to Honiara is three hours and 15 minutes.
• Exchange currency for SI dollars at airport on arrival.
• Use mossie repellent dawn and dusk.
• Pack lightly – it is hot and humid all year.
• Coconuts fall from the trees so don’t stand under one. Pineapples are picked fresh and the juice is bright yellow. Do eat one.
• Forget a schedule. Solomon Island time can be any time.