Story and images by Dave Abbott
Part 2: Diving the Solomon’s
After three days of wreck-diving around Guadacanal it was time to fly out of Honiara on to Gizo for some mixed wreck and reef diving.
Internal flights in the Solomon’s are either on a Dash 8 or an 18 seat Twin Otter, real workhorses capable of short take-offs and landings, and ideal for island hopping!
Small islands present their own problems when it comes to building airstrips, and Gizo’s novel way of solving this was by joining two small islands together and levelling them to make what is still a short runaway. Consequently Gizo must be one of the few airports in the world with no parking lot because there are no roads here and no vehicles. Just a jetty.
Gizo and Ghizo
We were greeted at the tiny terminal by Danny Kennedy, owner of Dive Gizo, who ferried us over to the dive shop on the main island of Ghizo (same name different spelling) then across to another small island (Mbabanga) to spend the night at the iconic ‘Fat Boys’ resort with its laidback restaurant built out over the water on stilts, great food and quirky but comfortable bungalows. With its amazing views over the lagoon, this is a great place to stay!
The diving out of Gizo proved to be a nice blend of wreck and reef diving; we did five great dives with Danny, getting a good overview of what is on offer.
Our first dive was on the wreck of the Toa Maru, a nearly intact 140m long Japanese transport ship. The stern lies at 37m, the bow at 7m, making it a great dive profile. Being intact it is easy to penetrate and take a look around inside, and there are still many WWII relics to see, from old Saki bottles and ammunition to a small Japanese tank.
The clear water of the Solomon’s means you can also get a great perspective of the whole ship from the bow, and there are lots of soft corals and fish life on the deck and rails, even Crocodile fish!
For our second dive Danny took us to the famous ‘Grand Central’, renowned for having had the second highest fish count in the world on a single tank dive.
Over 270 different species of fish were identified! This dive is a pleasant cruise along a pretty reef wall out to a point and a deeper drop-off where we saw some of the larger pelagic species including Trevally, Batfish, Barracuda and reef sharks.
After a surface interval we followed this up with ‘Beach Dive’ dropping down over a ledge at 30m to a surreal seascape of huge sea fans interspersed with bright red whip corals and massive wine-red barrel sponges the size of 100 litre drums.
A Grey Reef shark cruised by followed by a couple of exquisitely patterned Napoleon wrasse then we completed the dive on an idyllic sandy beach.
A quick dive on a Japanese Zero lying in only 9m of water in Gizo Harbour finished this most satisfying day with the strange juxtaposition of finning around an historic 70 year-old WWII wreck, only to surface a few metres away from a bustling little jetty!
The following morning was to be our last with Dive Gizo and at a beautiful site called ‘Gap Out’ off lush green Naru Island. This is a really pleasant drift dive along Naru wall starting at 30m and slowly ascending while drifting with the current past large sea fans and gorgonians, through schools of Barracuda and large Humphead wrasse.
Giant anemones with their little families of Clownfish kept us entertained on our safety stop along with a myriad of small colourful reef species.
Our final dive there was on an intact Hellcat ‘Betsy II’ in Blackett Strait, lying on a silty and weed covered bottom in just 10m. This US fighter plane was actually discovered by Danny back in 1986.
Apparently the pilot Richard Moore was able to make a flaps-down water landing after being shot in a firefight over the Strait and quickly rescued by a canoe full of friendly Solomon islanders. Considering how many WWII ship and plane wrecks litter the South Pacific I am amazed researchers have managed to find out the stories of many of these wrecks, right down to the names of individual pilots and crew.
An exhilarating boat ride through narrow twisting mangrove channels and past the occasional small village brought us to Lola island, where, after lunch and an afternoon nap at Zipolo Habu resort, we were picked up by Dive Munda in one of their dive boats and taken across to Munda.
The ubiquitous ‘banana boat’ is the dominant form of inter-island travel in the Solomon’s and to me the hum of 2-stroke outboards is one of the distinctive sounds of these islands!
‘Magical Munda’ is renowned for outstanding diving and I had been looking forward especially to this part of my Solomon’s experience.
After settling into the very comfortable Agnes Gateway hotel, I wandered across to catch up with Belinda, Jos and Chevone at Dive Munda to talk about the week’s diving coming up. They had a very full itinerary planned for me to take in some of their best dive sites, and my time there turned out to be the highlight of my Solomon’s’ trip…but all about that in the next issue!