THE SOLOMON ISLANDS
Spectacular reefs in the Southwest Pacific
Water Temperature: 26-30°C/79-86°F
Diving: Wrecks, sharks, Manta Rays, walls, gardens, caves, critter diving, shore diving, whales
Willing to share option
Southeast of Papua New Guinea and dividing the Pacific Ocean from the Solomon Sea, the Solomon Islands comprise a double chain of island which stretches 500 miles from Papua New Guinea in the northwest to Vanuatu in the southeast. The 922 islands, which vary from tiny low-lying coral atolls to large mountainous islands covered in lush jungle, lie scattered over a million square kilometres of sea. There are six major islands: Guadalcanal, Malaita, New Georgia, Santa Isabel, Makira and Choiseul. The original people of the Solomons are Melanesian and Polynesian and most, except for those living in or near Honiara, still live in traditional palm-leaf houses in rural villages.
It was in the Solomon Islands, in 1942, that the American offensive reversed the tide of war against the seemingly invincible Japanese army. On 7th August 1942 eleven thousand marines landed on Guadalcanal and proceeded with an offensive that resulted in 24 Allied ships and 24 Japanese ships being sunk, in addition to more than 600 aeroplanes destroyed. These once violent war machines now lie half hidden by marine life in their final resting place. No longer used as weapons of death and destruction, the warm South Pacific seas have preserved and enrobed these wrecks with colourful shrouds of coral. Many lie beyond the depths which make them available to sport divers but it was, perhaps, this event that placed the Solomons on the world map for divers. However, it is the fabulous quality and richness of the reefs and their remarkable marine creatures, along with the quality of the boats that explore the area, that most often attracts divers to these far-away Pacific islands today.
Diving in the Solomon Islands is truly spectacular. The remarkable underwater treasures include spectacular shallow water caves, dramatic walls, an abundance of fish and, of course, some of the wrecked ships and aeroplanes that finally came to rest during World War II. An array of brilliant hard and soft corals, huge seafans and a diverse underwater terrain populated by a variety of splendid and unusual reef fish and numerous big pelagics is the remarkable mixture that places the Solomon Islands firmly amongst the greatest diving destinations on earth.
THE RUSSELL ISLANDS, MARY ISLAND & MAROVO LAGOON
The Russell Islands have a series of spectacular steep, coral-covered walls and exceptional visibility. Vivid nudibranchs hide within the coral or graze the walls and several varieties of pipefish occur here. Sharks, Manta Rays and even the occasional saltwater crocodile may be encountered! The Russells are also the location of magical Custom Cave. When the sun is directly overhead, beams of sunlight enter the cave through a narrow opening, giving a spectacular and breath-taking natural light show in an otherwise eerie and dark cave. According to the locals, there is also a ‘Custom Trevally Fish’ with special powers, which can be called upon by certain chiefs to bring death to their enemies!
Seismic activity has left geological features that have given rise to some favourite dive sites. Leru Cut is a split in a reef extending 70 metres into an island. Swim to the inner end and surface under a green jungle canopy where you might be lucky enough to see parrots and cockatoos! Twin Tunnels are parallel lava chutes (or chimneys) that can be penetrated for exploration and which join together at about 30 metres. Exit here and you may meet some patrolling sharks in the deep blue water.
Diving at Mary Island, a rugged, uninhabited island between the Russell Islands and Marovo Lagoon, is dependent on local conditions because of its location, but its open-ocean situation acts like a magnet to attract pelagics. Sightings here have included Killer Whales (or Orca) and other whales and dolphins, while jacks and barracudas are frequently seen in big schools. A night dive here will reward the diver with the spectacle of a large school of flashlightfish darting across the dark reef outline. Beneath the boat mooring is a superb site for Harlequin (or Ornate) Ghost Pipefish, blennies, shrimps, cuttlefish and octopus.
The number of wreck dives offered will be dependent on the local conditions and the interest of the participants on any particular cruise. Many of the wrecks in the Solomons are beyond the scope of the sport diver, but several wrecks are regularly dived by our liveaboards. The wreck of the Ann (not a World War II wreck, but a more recent one) and the White Beach military dump are on the diving agenda. A regular dive from Bilikiki and Spirit of Solomons is the Mavis Flying Boat. Lying in 33 metres of water on the north-east side of Tanambogo Island, she is one of only several Kawanishi H6K4 (Mavis) Flying Boats ever made. One of the largest aircraft built up to that time, Mavis #3 was sunk by the USS Wasp’s VF-72 Squadron in the early morning of 7th August 1942. Mavis #3 lies upright on a sandy bottom. The left side is intact, missing a few panels only. The bow is damaged (probably from the collision with the sea bottom when it sank) and the right wing is missing and the right side open. There is still much of Mavis left to explore!
Uepi Island has some wonderful soft coral gardens and an exuberance of reef fish. Here divers have sighted schools of up to 80 Pygmy Manta Rays. These superb fish, which only have one-metre ‘wingspans’, can be seen feeding and playing. From Uepi Island one can visit some wonderful nearby dive sites. On Charopoana Island you can take a fabulous warm water drift dive through waters teeming with fish and bedecked in an abundance of coral or wonder at the coral gardens on the steep submarine wall at Landoro Island. The underwater cavern at Embolo Island is an exciting place to investigate. The shallow and fascinating 2-18 metres-deep Muck Dive is heaven for the underwater photographer. A truly outstanding variety of unusual creatures make their home on the pier pilings scattered amongst the WWII remnants. Several cuttlefish, a number of unusual shrimps, Beaufort’s Crocodilefish and the weird sand-crawling Caledonian Stinger are waiting to have their portraits taken!
On land, the human residents of the ‘out islands’ live virtually untouched by modern civilization. Their ancient customs and traditions have led to their homes being referred to as ‘the islands lost in time’. Shore visits to some of the islands provide visitors with the opportunity to watch a traditional dancing ceremony and see ‘tabu’ sites housing the remains of paramount chiefs.
COMBINATIONS: It is usually straightforward to combine a liveaboard trip in the Solomons with a visit to Papua New Guinea. Talk to us about the possibilities.
FLIGHTS: Please contact us.