Munda, Jewel in Solomon’s crown

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*Part 3 of Dave Abbott’s journey*

/Story and images by Dave Abbott/

*Munda in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands is a wild and largely untouched destination for divers, with pristine reefs, deep walls, and high biodiversity…*

The small village of Munda lies on the edge of beautiful Roviana lagoon, a huge body of water dotted with small islands that offer a wealth of spectacular diving.

I arrived into Munda for the last leg of my Solomons trip by boat, and after settling into the very comfortable Agnes Gateway hotel, caught up with Belinda Botha at Dive Munda to talk about the coming week’s diving.

Dive Munda has won numerous awards for dive tourism and is highly regarded around the world. No surprise when you meet Belinda, who has a passion and enthusiasm for diving that is inspiring! Not only is she regularly exploring and adding new dive sites and products, she is also committed to helping the local community develop and grow in a sustainable way by training and employing local people, encouraging local eco-tourism ventures, sponsoring annual fish counts and promoting sustainable fishing practices.

Dive Munda’s friendly crew

Currently Dive Munda employ 12 local dive guides, all of whom they have trained from scratch… including the first two local female dive instructors in the history of the Solomon Islands. Managing the dive operation when Belinda is away are South African couple Chevone and Jos, who have a friendly yet professional style that will appeal to Kiwi divers.

A burly cocoanut crab roams the forest floor

*NB* Dive Munda is also part of Solomon Islands Dive Expeditions (SIDE) and offers fantastic liveaboard expeditions on board /MV Taka/ in one of the last wild frontiers of the South Pacific.

Munda’s diving

The beautiful patterned mantle of a giant clam

My overriding impression of the diving around Munda was of breathtaking colour, crystal clear water, and incredible diversity. Sea fans are synonymous with the Solomons, and on almost every wall dive you will see layer upon layer of huge colourful fans interspersed with red whip corals and massive barrel sponges. A vast array of intricately patterned reef fish populate this 3-dimensional world, while schools of Barracuda, Batfish and Bumphead wrasse cruise the clear waters above the reef.

30+ dive sites

A small blue-spotted ray not quite blending in!

Dive Munda has identified 30+ dive sites spanning a diverse range of habitats and terrain. Some truly spectacular dives to enjoy out of Munda include Bilikiki, Shark Point, Langarana, and ‘Cave of the Kastom Shark’ to name a few, but my favourite was Bella Bella – truly stunning with its layers of huge fans, and dappled sunlight casting surreal shadows on the reef wall.

As well as beautiful soft corals, the reefs around Munda have exceptionally healthy hard corals, great to see when so many reefs through the Pacific are suffering from coral bleaching. Beautifully patterned clams, cheeky anemone fish and Blue spotted rays shelter in the sandy guts under the coral heads. Turtles frequently glide overhead.

Releasing a turtle back into the water after measuring and tagging

There are some awesome wrecks dives around Munda too, and I enjoyed diving two of the WWII planes nearby; the Airacobra, an American P-39 fighter lying on the sand at around 27m, and the Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless dive bomber in Rendova Harbour, both covered in colourful encrusting life and home to interesting fish and invertebrate life.

Tetepare

Splashes of colour adorn this Airocobra sitting at 28M

After a few days diving some of Munda’s best sites, we headed out for a special overnight trip to remote and uninhabited Tetapare Island three hours by boat.

Thanks to local legends of evil spirits, Tetepare has not been inhabited for over 200 years. It is one of the last undisturbed lowland rainforests in the Western Province and home to several endemic species of bird, bats and fish, as well as being a Marine Protected Area with some awesome diving!

The Airacobra sits on the sand at 28M

After a couple of spectacular wall dives off the end of the island we went ashore to set ourselves up in the small eco lodge and meet the local rangers. This is an authentic eco lodge with no power and only basic amenities, compensated for by the friendly caretakers and fantastic local food.

After our dives one of the rangers took us further up the island by boat to Crocodile lake, small and picturesque, with a mirror-like green surface that looked empty until the ranger gave a bark like a dog (a croc’s favourite food)! A minute later a large croc surfaced, his head pointed toward our hiding place on shore! Saltwater crocodiles are far more of a risk than sharks in the Solomons though you are unlikely to see one while diving.

Turtle tagging

Saltwater crocodile – more dangerous than any shark!

Later that night we went out looking for the massive Coconut crabs found here, and the following morning accompanied the rangers on a turtle-tagging mission in the lagoon. It was fascinating to see their ‘rodeo-style’ capture technique… diving off the bow to grab the turtle and wrestle it up onto the boat! The captured turtles (Green’s) were then taken back to the beach, measured, weighed, tagged and released. Since the program began rangers have tagged over1500 turtles around Tetepare.

Nusa Kunda

Spectacular sea fans

My final experience with Dive Munda was a trip across to Nusa Kunda or ‘Skull Island’ on Vonavona Lagoon. This tiny island definitely emanates an eerie atmosphere being the resting place for the skulls of Rendovan chiefs and their vanquished enemies. Dating from the 1920’s when the practice of head-hunting was coming to an end, the skulls rest in wooden alcoves on top of a waisthigh burial mound, a reminder of the Solomons fascinating history.

I was sorry to leave Munda. I had experienced some spectacular diving, made lasting friendships, had a taste of the Solomons rich and vibrant culture, and been entranced by its beautiful scenery. I am going to miss Munda’s spectacular golden sunsets, friendly locals, delicious local food and amazing marine life, but it definitely wont be my last visit.

*If you haven’t been already, make sure not to miss the beautiful, wild and exciting dive destination that is the Solomon Islands.*

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