The Solomon Islands, aptly named the Hapi Isles, is the epitome of a hidden South Pacific paradise, rich in art, dance and iconic panpipe music.
These 992 islands and coral atolls have been attracting visitors since 1568 when Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana first arrived. Many of the islands bear the names he gave them – Santa Isabel, San Cristóbal and the best known, Guadalcanal, the site of the World War II campaign where the Allies ultimately prevailed. The people here take immense pride that this was where freedom for the Pacific was won.
Lately there’s been another invasion – of dive enthusiasts from around the world keen to explore this diving mecca.
They’re discovering for themselves an amazing mix of WWII wrecks, technicolour coral pastures, steep walls, shallow reefs, tunnels, drop-offs, and a veritable pot pourri of demersal, reef and pelagic fish swarming in bath warm waters.
So where to go?
Here’s some of the more accessible sites:
Honiara is the perfect place to start, with dives on the famed Bonegi 1 and Bomnegi 2 easily arranged. A short boat ride away lies Tulagi, the venue for the well-known ‘Twin Tunnels’, and the many wrecks below in Ghuvatu Harbour. For serious wreck diving, Iron Bottom Sound is literally littered with wrecks, including a recently discovered submarine.
North west from Honiara is one of the best dive outfits anywhere – Solomon Island Dive Expedition’s (SIDE) Dive Munda. Munda has it all: swim-through caves, boat and plane wrecks, and pristine coral right near the best accommodation, the Agnes Gateway Hotel. Munda is where the currents create perfect conditions for barracuda and Jacks feeding frenzies. At Barry’s Breakfast you can hang mid-water surrounded by swarming pelagics.
Gizo is home to the highly reputable Dive Gizo and from here you can access Grand Central Station which boasts the highest fish count in the world – more than 275 species recorded.
Wreck enthusiasts are catered for with a 440-foot Japanese freighter, the Toa Maru and an almost fully-intact US Hellcat fighter aircraft in shallow waters.
Marovo Lagoon has been recommended for a World Heritage listing renowned as it is as one of the best dive locations in the Solomon Islands. Mantas and hammerheads throng here, along with barracuda, eagle rays and swarms of jacks. The flow through here stirs up the nutrients attracting in the whole food chain.
The Russell Islands
Divers seeking an amazing experience aboard SIDE’s luxury liveaboard vessel, the MV Taka, head for this island group 40 kilometres off the northern tip of Guadalcanal. These islands offer special geological features such as the Mirror Pond Cave and Bat Cave where divers surface in an ocean water pool surrounded by jungle. Here too is the Leru Cut, just three-divers wide penetrating from the rocky coastline deep into the jungle. At Karumolun Point divers get an opportunity amongst schooling Jacks and barracuda, and where the occasional squadron of devil rays show up amidst staghorn meadows, turtles and countless clownfish.