9 September 2019.
To be able to escape a bitterly cold winter for sun-drenched shores and dreamy turquoise seas is a truly wonderful thing.
And so, after a month spent bundled up at home begrudging the August chill, that’s exactly what I did, trading woolly socks and too many layers for a week exploring the blissfully hot western province of the Solomon Islands.
Despite being just a 3-hour flight from Australia’s eastern shores, this remote archipelago adrift in the South Pacific remains virtually untouched by mass tourism, offering a rare opportunity to disconnect completely and witness an ancient culture at work and a life lived on the water.
Clocking onto island time meant a week of slowing down; waking without an alarm to a warm salty breeze and the distant crash of waves filtering through the window, kayaking through lush mangroves and being mesmerised by the endless thread of aqua reef, wandering local markets and devouring the tastiest tropical fruits I’d ever eaten, and enjoying the stillness as the world drifted by before me.
While there were perhaps not quite as many sunny days as I’d have hoped for, a few days of offbeat adventure with plenty of time for relaxation was just what I had been craving.
Tourism in the Solomons is still very much in its infancy – that’s a big part of why now is such a great time to visit – but it can also mean that knowing where to go and how to actually get there isn’t always straightforward.
So for anyone keen to plan their trip but not quite sure where to start, this Solomon Islands itinerary should act as a good guide and includes my suggestions on where to stay, how to get around and a few tweaks I’d recommend from my own trip to help you plan an awesome island adventure of your own.
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After a brief layover in Honiara, my first real taste of the Solomon Islands was from the seat of a tiny Twin Otter propellor plane, soaring across the wild jungle-clad interior of Guadalcanal, catching glimpses of shrouded peaks on the horizon and tracing the wide swathe of aqua reef that stretched on for miles beyond the window.
Despite being the largest settlement on New Georgia Island, I touched down in Munda to find a small village of dusty tree-lined streets, a handful of mini-markets and a stunning out look across velvety expanse of the Roviana Lagoon.
After checking into your accommodation, get your bearings with a stroll around the village. Stop by the bakery, a place I was recommended by precisely every single foreigner I met in town, which can be found on the far corner of the block behind Qua Roviana and sells a selection of coconut rolls, cream buns and bread.
Down by the waterfront you’ll find the local market where a handful of stalls remain set up throughout the week, though things really pick up on Friday which is the official market day. There’s also a small cafe on the main road offering simple meals and snacks in case you need something to tide you over until dinner.
With a long travel day behind you, however, chances are you’ll want to do little more than put your feet up and let the tropical warmth seep into your bones. Having arrived from a very chilly Sydney winter, this instant wave of heat was a very welcome change.
For dinner, make a beeline to Agnes Gateway Lodge and enjoy a sunset drink overlooking the vast lagoon.
| PLAN YOUR TRIP |
FLY | Best is to book the direct connection from Brisbane to Munda with Solomon Airlines which departs just once a week on Saturday, returning on the same day. Although the domestic flight over the reef was one of the highlights of my trip, internal flights will be one of your biggest expenses in the Solomon Islands so, if you’re on a tighter budget, taking the direct flight will help save you a big chunk of change.
Alternatively, there are five direct weekly flights from Brisbane to Honiara with Solomon Airlines, or two weekly flights with both Nauru Airlines and Virgin Australia, from where you’ll need to take a domestic flight to Munda. Seats on these small planes are a free for all so be sure to get yourself a window seat. You can thank me later!
STAY | Qua Roviana is a comfortable budget-friendly option set just a 2-minute walk from the airport and just around the corner from the waterfront. Wifi is available, albeit snail-paced, and the large lounge area provides a comfortable place to relax and meet other guests.
EAT | As well as being another reliable option for accommodation in Munda, Agnes Gateway Lodge is where you’ll most likely be eating all your meals. The menu includes an assortment of delicious local seafood dishes and curries with prices starting at around A$18.
Wait times can be incredibly slow for food, especially if there’s a big crowd around – you’re now on island time after all – so I’d recomend getting your orders in early. i.e. the night before for breakfast, and in the morning for dinner, and then allocate a time you’d like to eat.
After experiencing the gorgeous views of the reef on the previous days’ flight, there was really only one way to begin my time in Munda, with a dive trip on the lagoon.
The Solomon Islands are one of the last frontiers of unspoilt reef and its warm waters and the mingling of currents bring an explosion of life to this corner of the Pacific. Munda is an excellent place to begin your underwater exploration boasting spectacular reef dropoffs, vibrant coral gardens rich in macro life and several WWll wrecks.
I spent a fantastic morning out on the water with Dive Munda and was lucky enough to spot a number of reef sharks, a pair of manta rays, moray eels, barracuda and plenty of nudibranchs before enjoying the surface interval on a postcard-perfect little island. It wasn’t long before a storm rolled in however and we had to hotfoot it back to the mainland through a torrential downpour.
It’s important to note that while the lagoon remains relatively calm, even in stormy weather, a number of dive sites do require heading out into open ocean where strong winds can create big swell and choppy seas. If you’re prone to seasickness, definitely come prepared and consider leaving anything you wouldn’t want to get absolutely soaked back in your hotel.
If you’re not a diver, Agnes Lodge also offers a number of tours in the area. I heard wonderful things about the half-day trip to Hopei Island which includes snorkelling and a beach barbecue, but there’s also the possibility to hike to a waterfall, kayak around the lagoon or visit some of the significant WWll sites near Munda.
Despite the dreary weather, I finished the day with a sunset cruise up to Biri Biri Island complete with boat snacks and wine. A lovely bookend to the day that offered up a first glimpse of the village life surrounding Munda and the local fishermen at work.
| PLAN YOUR TRIP |
DIVE | Dive Munda is located inside Agnes Gateway Lodge and is your one-stop shop for all things diving, offering multiple dives each day as well as customised day trips and dive packages for longer visits. They run a well-organised shop with friendly, knowledgable dive guides, carry out thorough briefings and keep well-maintained equipment.
Dive Munda has also partnered with several lodges in the area, including Titiru Eco Lodge and Zipolo Habu Resort, meaning you can stay further afield and still experience the exceptional diving Munda has to offer.
TOUR | Check out the tour board near the bar area at Agnes Gateway Lodge for all the available options and be sure to lock your activity in the day before so that food and boats can be arranged in advance.
After an early breakfast by the water, I transferred to a banana boat with trusty skipper Billy at the helm and set sail for the towering cloud-covered peaks of Rendova Island. The 45-minute crossing makes a wide arch across the lagoon, weaving between jungle-covered islands and tiny wooden huts.
Turning into the protected waters of Saqiri Cove, you’ll be met with the impossibly tranquil setting of Titiru Eco Lodge nestled amongst the mangroves.
Don’t miss a walk through the beautiful organic gardens where coconut palms rise high above the narrow pathways, orchids and hibiscus pepper the garden beds and the trees are so heavy with fruit it’s a wonder they’re able to stay upright.
Unfortunately, the rain persisted for most of the day which meant that many of the planned activities were put on hold, but with a full day you’ll have plenty to occupy your time.
Explore the mangroves by kayak or foot, visit the nearby marine sanctuary for a spot of snorkelling or take a hike through the dense jungle. It’s also possible to visit the nearby village to learn about their local customs and traditional way of life here on Rendova or take a botanical walk to learn about the medicinal properties of the native vegetation.
Activities aside, one of the best things to do here is simply to enjoy a hot cuppa on your verandah and watch the world go by. The silhouettes of frigate birds dancing on the wind, brightly-coloured kingfishers darting through the trees, local fishermen criss-crossing the lagoon and the ephemeral beams of golden light shifting across the tree tops.
It’s a rare thing these days to simply sit and be, free from the endless distractions of the internet or the need to constantly be switched on and doing. But out here in this remote hideaway between the trees, you could not pick a more serene or beautiful place to disconnect and escape the ceaseless bustle of everyday life, at least for a short while.
Be sure to savour it while you can.
| Plan Your Trip |
GET THERE | Once you’ve made your reservation, Titiru Eco Lodge can help arrange for your transfer to the property, either directly from the airport or from the marina if you’d prefer to spend a few days in town. Though I stayed for just one night, you could certainly spend more time enjoying the peaceful setting.
STAY | Titiru Eco Lodge offers rustic overwater bungalows tucked away in the mangroves with everything from single cabins through to self-contained family units. All meals are tasty, served family-style and showcase the traditional cuisine from the region.
They also aim to only serve what can be caught or grown in the area, an ethos which I absolutely love, meaning all dishes incorporate locally-sourced produce, often plucked fresh from their garden or the nearby reef. This does, however, mean that any packaged snacks or alcoholic drinks won’t be available, but you’re more than welcome to bring your own.
After one last wander through the gardens and a leisurely breakfast – the banana pancakes piled high with coconut and papaya were particularly moreish – prepare for a long day on the water.
It’s about a 3-hour ride directly to Gizo but there are some rough patches which can hamper your progress and you’ll likely have to stop in at Munda to pick up extra fuel for the journey.
Instead of racing across in one jolt though, break up the trip with a stop at Skull Island which sits in the lagoon off the southeastern tip of Vona Vona Island.
Following a brief choppy spell traversing the Ferguson Passage, the calm lagoon emerged ahead washed in golden light, unveiling the shimmering turquoise hue I had, until then, only seen from above.
After settling into my bungalow at Fatboy’s Resort it was time to make the most of this rare moment of sunshine and jump in for a snorkel right off the jetty.
The reef here is admittedly not quite as good as you’ll find elsewhere in Gizo – a devastating tsunami in 2007 sadly caused a lot of damage – but there’s still plenty to see without having to venture too far. Clownfish, pipefish, giant clams and a moray eel all reside beneath the pier, while the bommies offshore play host to plenty of reef fish. If you’re lucky, you might even cross paths with one of the many black-tipped reef sharks that frequent the area.
If you’re not in the mood for a snorkel and the waters are calm, grab a kayak or paddle board and explore the coast of Mbabanga Island instead.
| Plan Your Trip |
STAY | Fatboys is a beautiful mid-range resort set just 10-minutes from Gizo town. It boasts a handful of charming waterfront bungalows with a central overwater bar and restaurant that serves up fresh and completely delicious, mainly seafood-based, meals.
You’ll find plenty of equipment available for guests, including SUPs, snorkel gear, kayaks and a small motorboat, as well as a number of tours on offer. Think excellent snorkelling spots, paradisical island lunches and sunset ‘wine downs’ which are always a hit.
Those on a tighter budget may prefer staying at Urilolo Lodge or Oravae Cottage which both offer simple lodgings right by the water and similar activities in a more modest price range.
Check this post on Solomon Island accommodation for more ideas.
Depending on how you’ve arranged your flights, you’ll be left with either one and a half or, ideally, two full days to enjoy the area surrounding Gizo.
This itinerary assumes you’ve gone for the latter option, but if not, you could easily rearrange the activities to fit into the shorter time frame.
Start your first day with a dive trip around Gizo, home to some of the most biodiverse marine waters in the world with pristine reef rich in fish life and a number of wrecks on offer. A day trip with Dive Gizo generally includes two dives and a delicious island lunch where you’ll be picked up and dropped off from the resort. For those flying out early, be sure to factor in at least 24 hours before your flight.
If you’re not a diver but are seeking some adventure, consider a day hike through the verdant forests of Kolombangara Island.
For your final day, try to get an early start in preparation for a jam-packed island hopping tour.
Make a beeline for Gizo to visit the colourful market area. Every day, villagers come from far and wide to sell their wares and, alongside souvenirs and fried foods, you’ll undoubtedly find a few unfamiliar fruits to try. If you’re on a tight budget, this is also a decent place to pick up a bargain for lunch.
Next, set sail for the spectacular Njari Island off the northern point of Ghizo if you haven’t already visited on the previous day and gear up for some snorkelling. It’s possible to jump in on either side of the island, though there seemed to be far more activity on side opposite to the jetty.
You may notice the buoy floating a short way offshore which indicates Grand Central Station, one of the Solomon’s most famous dive sites known for its diverse fish life. It’s only a short swim from the beach, but hovering over the deep blue can be rather unnerving. Within just a few minutes of paddling along the reef wall, we managed to spot two reef sharks gliding through the depths which put us off the swim for good.
On a sunny day, be sure to take the time to enjoy the beautiful beach here before beginning the journey back toward Mbabanga Island.
At this point in the day, we had been unable to shake the rain, being pummeled by relentless torrents of wind and salty spray which sadly meant any beach-bumming was kept to an absolute minimum. But as we pulled up to the pearly white shores of Kennedy Island, the final stop of the day, a halo of warmth crept across the palm trees reminding me that I was, in fact, in tropical island heaven.
The water here is calm and crystal clear, but the best part about your visit will undoubtedly be the scrumptious barbecue lunch that awaits – a smorgasbord of crayfish, reef fish, locally-sourced vegetables and tropical fruit.
Feet in the sand, dappled sunlight filtering through the trees and a pile of deliciousness at your fingertips – it truly doesn’t get much better. The shallow reef off the island is another decent spot for snorkelling so consider heading out for one last paddle once you’ve had time to digest.
If you’ll be spending your final night in the outer islands, let the relaxation sweep over you and catch a final sunset over the ocean.
If you’re heading back to Honiara or Munda, however, be sure to leave enough time to reach the tiny airstrip or for your boat transfer.
If you’re not travelling on the direct flight from Munda to Brisbane, chances are you’ll be spending at least one night in Honiara with a few hours to explore before your flight.
Start at the sprawling Central Market located a 10-minute walk along the main road before moseying back to visit the small but informative National Museum which traces much of the archipelago’s history and culture.
Next, pop across the road to the newly established Cultural Centre which houses plenty of souvenirs and handicrafts and where you can watch the artists at work. For lunch, wander just a few doors down to Breakwater Cafe on the waterfront, a hub for expats in the city.
For those with more time to spare, consider one final dive trip around the Ngella Islands with Tulagi Dive, or escape to the jungle-clad foothills beyond the city in search of waterfalls and WWll relics.
| Plan Your Trip |
STAY | The 4-star Heritage Park Hotel is located in the heart of Honiara with luxurious rooms, private ocean-facing balconies and many of the creature comforts you may have missed in the far-flung islands like hot showers, air-conditioning and chocolates on the pillow. Facilities include a gym, pool, bar and several onsite restaurants. Internet is also decent, though free usage is limited.
Another solid choice is contemporary Coral Sea Resort which occupies a sprawling garden area right along the waterfront and boasts a collection of bright, waterfront rooms and luxury villas. The restaurants receive great reviews, but the bar is the main draw for locals and foreigners alike with live music that brings the place to life each evening.
FLY | There are two to three daily flights from Gizo to Honiara, either direct or with a brief stopover in Munda. If you’re planning to take the direct flight from Munda to Brisbane, you’ll need to fly to Munda the night before in order to make it in time, otherwise consider taking a boat.
For Honiara, it may be possible to arrive the morning of your flight to Brisbane depending on the day, but be sure to confirm your internal flight in Gizo the day before and arrive well before take-off as overbooked flights do happen.
Flights To The Solomon Islands
As I mentioned earlier, for Australians the best option is to book the direct flight from Brisbane to Munda with Solomon Airlines which departs every Saturday, otherwise you’ll be connecting through Honiara and will need to arrange domestic flights as well.
For those travelling from outside the region, either Brisbane or Fiji will be your best connection points.
Organise Your Tours
Wherever you end up staying, you’ll find plenty of options to get out and explore and often a tour will be your best bet. Most accommodations have a full suite of half and full-day trips available to showcase the best of the area, be it snorkelling, hiking, island hopping or visiting the relics of WWll.
As much of this infrastructure is still being established, it may also be possible to customise your own day trips to suit your interests – just ask!
For those wishing for an offbeat island adventure but prefer to travel as a group, Intrepid Travel recently launched an 8-day Solomon Island Expedition due to begin in 2020. The itinerary is slightly different to this one but has a similar focus on the western province and the areas surrounding Munda and Gizo. Check rates and dates here.
Solomon Island Accommodation
This selection of Solomon Islands accommodation offered up a good mix of rustic, jungle hideaway, beachside escape and comfortable city luxury while still offering the opportunity to experiences several different aspects of island life.