Story and photos by Dave Abbott
I am very lucky that my job as an underwater documentary cameraman means I get to spend a lot of time in some very cool locations. Planning documentary shoots are a little different from planning a dive holiday though, and I have learnt that when choosing a recreational dive destination you have to think quite differently.
A big thing to keep in mind when planning a dive holiday is that you are unlikely to spend more than about four hours underwater each day. So picking a destination that has a lot to offer above water as well makes sense if you want to get the most out of your trip.
For me the whole experience of being immersed in a different country’s culture is as much a part of what makes a dive trip special as the diving, So the Solomon Islands, with its rich and fascinating culture, is ideal!
This 900 island archipelago within the Coral Triangle has amongst the highest marine biodiversity in the world, home to over 1100 species of reef fish, 10 species of shark, 5 species of marine turtle and over 500 different corals, …as well as dugongs, crocodiles, whales and dolphins.
Obviously this makes the diving outstanding. When you add in warm clear water, beautiful walls covered in colourful fans and soft corals, and some fantastic WWII ship and plane wrecks, there is enough diving to keep you busy for weeks!
What makes the Solomon’s perfect though, are all the things to do between dives. For a start the scenery is beautiful, with postcard-perfect tropical islands in every direction you look, volcanoes shrouded in lush rainforest, picturesque villages nestled along the lagoon shores, over 230 varieties of orchid and with other tropical flowers adding a kaleidoscope of colour.
More importantly, the food is awesome! Lots of fresh fish and delicious tropical fruit.
What’s more there are waterfalls and caves to explore, jungle walks, village markets, skull caves, WWII relics and endless snorkeling in the lagoons.
I’m not usually one for ‘touristy’ activities, but here I wouldn’t miss the chance to fit in a village visit between dives. They give a real insight into traditional life in the Solomon’s, and it’s fascinating to see how the people use the natural resources around them to make almost everything they need for daily life.
80% of Solomon islanders still live a traditional life style, with gardening and fishing providing food and cash to buy fuel for the small boats that are the main mode of transport. Traditional dugout canoes are still widely used as well; you often see islanders paddling between villages or fishing from them miles from shore.
An awesome way to experience some of the best diving in the Solomon’s is via one of the liveaboard options. Both the Bilikiki and the Taka (Solomon Island Dive Expeditions) follow itineraries taking in the Florida and Russell Islands. Both are roomy, well laid-out boats with friendly experienced crew.
The Russell Islands have some of the most spectacular tropical diving I have seen in the South Pacific, with prolific fish life, pelagics, beautiful hard and soft corals and stunning topography.
Another very special place with awesome diving as well as land-based activities is Tetapare Island, accessible from Munda via a 3-hour boat trip.
Tetepare has been uninhabited for over 200 years, a Marine Protected Area, one of the last undisturbed, lowland rainforests in the Western Province, and home to several endemic species of bird, bats and fish.
The diving here is mostly along impressive deep walls where it is common to see sharks and turtles in addition to the usual array of fish and soft corals.
Accommodation on the island is in a small eco lodge with fairly basic facilities with spectacular views and fantastic local food! The island (and guests) are looked after by local rangers who live in the nearby Ranger station. They can host you for a variety of exciting activities, such as a favourite; turtle capture and tagging!
The ‘rodeo-style’ capture technique involves diving off the bow of a small boats, grabbing the turtle and wrestling it up onto the boat. The Green Turtles so captured are taken back to the beach, measured, weighed, tagged and released. Since the program began the rangers have tagged over 1500 turtles around Tetepare and in the process doing a fantastic job of preserving this special place. The chances are you will also see Dugongs in the Tetapare lagoon, or take a walk down to Crocodile lake where, if you bark like a dog (a croc’s favourite food), a good-sized crocodile will surfacing in the mirror-calm green waters.
At night sometimes the massive Coconut crabs emerge to forage on the forest floor, their large claws powerful enough to husk coconuts. For Kiwi divers the Solomon Islands are very accessible, just 5 ½ hours away flying via Brisbane either to Munda or the capital, Honiara. Local flights service all the main islands and dive resort areas while the two liveaboard dive boats operate out of Honiara.
The Solomon Island people are cheerful and friendly, the scenery beautiful, the food good, and the diving excellent: What more could you want?