Little has changed in the Solomon Islands since Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana first sailed into this tucked away corner of the South Pacific known as the ‘Hapi Islands’. With a blend of Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian cultures, the Solomon Islands offers a breathtakingly fresh alternative to those in search of a very different but highly rewarding travel experience in a truly unspoiled corner of the world.
Standing on a deserted sand cay swathed by an aqua lagoon, the delicate light of sunset changes its warm, golden glow to a soft pastel shade of pink. The slight roll of the ocean crumples almost silently on the shoreline and washes languidly over my sandy toes. A few steps away, a warm tropical breeze caresses the draping of white tulle falling from a romantic wedding gazebo setting. All that’s missing are the people.
Sprawling over 28,000 square kilometres and scattered over 990 islands and atolls, the Solomon Islands could very well be the South Pacific’s best-ever kept secret. Ancient, whimsical, deserted, and divinely untouched, this destination uniquely offers a hideaway unscathed by time, tourism, and people.
Having flown just three hours from Brisbane, we land in the capital, Honiara, and board a smaller plane to skim lower over a canvas of seductive views speckled with a staggering line-up of white-rimmed sandy cays and clear waters. We are headed for the Western Province of Gizo, an area renowned for its coral reefs, diving, snorkelling, WWII wrecks, head-hunting history, ancient culture, and above all, romantic, lonely waters and castaway experiences.
As we touch down on Nusa Tupe Airstrip surrounded by ocean, staff shuffle to load our luggage onto a trolley for us to make our way to a nearby jetty. Just eight minutes away by boat is Fatboys Resort, our home for the next two nights on Mbabanga Island. On approach, the only evidence of life is a large Melanesian bungalow suspended 100 metres out over the colourful Vonavona Lagoon. But as we draw closer five perfectly camouflaged huts tuck closely into the shoreline, built from a blend of traditional leaf and local tropical hardwoods, promising to offer a mix of rustic romance with castaway chic. Close by we learn, are many opportunities to gain insight into the intrinsic life of the locals.
Although I find the resort name a little misleading (the Fatboys name was derived from a Charles Dickens book character, Joe, who ate, drank, slept and avoided work), I yield instantly to its seductive allure, sinking slowly into a lazy hammock, dreaming out onto the surrounding reef and forested mountainous islands. Under the jetty, lion fish hang in the shallows, schools of fish come and go with ease and squid hang suspended as light and time fades.
This is a place to embrace tranquillity and idleness, something the locals do well but strictly adhere to on a Sunday. Our Sunday dawns amid the muffled voices of Gizo fishermen clunking their wooden dugout canoes against the resort steps. Having been out fishing all night, in much the same way they have done for thousands of years, they draw from their boats a fresh array of spiny lobsters glistening in the sun, painted crays, bugs and googly-eyed cuttlefish. With flashing teeth and broad grins, the catch is loaded onto the wooden deck while Fatboys local manager, Mano, brings out the kitchen scales and cash. Bounty weighed, and prices agreed upon, dinner has been purchased for us to devour, directly from the sea to plate.
It is impossible to think that life here could become any more relaxed but as the evening fishermen return to their families, Sunday winds down even further. Beginning in the villages with a trip to church, we are warmly welcomed by the local Mbabanga people to join in a service. As an outpouring of children’s voices drifts above the coconut plantations, we join together on wooden pews in a small, quaint, white stone church, drawing a closer understanding of this religious people where 95% of Islanders are Christian.
After church, local couple Mealea and Baere invite us into their traditional Melanesian home, sharing their humble lifestyle and ancient culture begun some 5000 years ago and continuing to exist with no electricity, running water, internet or shops. Here village life still operates as it has always been, heavily dependent on the wantok system. Under wantok, which means ‘one talk’, individual members of a family or clan will always be looked after and supported by their fellow clan’s people.
As Baere prepares lunch on her open fire in the corner of her hut, we are whisked away to Olosana Island, another deserted cay, to feast on fresh lobster drizzled in garlic butter and cooked over hot rocks, Motu style, on the beach. There is an abundance of fresh seafood like I’ve never tasted before, devoured simply with fingers and presented on woven coconut leaf plates.
It becomes a highlight of our trip – the bountiful sea combined with the fact that around every corner is another deserted strip of sand perfect for a romantic picnic, marriage proposal, lazy afternoon, or energetic snorkel with the fish. We finish our afternoon with a swim and snorkel around Kennedy Island and a plunge down to discover an American Hellcat Fighter Plane, one of the thousands of WWII wrecks that lie in their watery graves here in the Solomon’s. In fact the waters off the capital, Honiara, are named Iron Bottom Sound, so if you’re a diver, expect the wreck diving to be astounding. Same story if you’re a surfer. During November to April when the North Pacific awakes and the same swells that hit the North Shore of Hawaii move through, you can catch some fairly amazing breaks, crowd-free.
All too soon it’s time to depart Fatboys in the Western Province to further our pursuit of romance in Marau Sound, east of Guadalcanal Province, following in the sand prints of Royals, Prince William & Kate, on the private resort island of Tavanipupu. Unlike their visit in 2012 where bodyguards and paparazzi hung off the shores of this normally quiet paradise, we encounter just one other couple. Even when the resort is fully booked you will be hard pushed to share it with more than a dozen people, making it the perfect secluded hideaway to tie the knot on a high vantage point overlooking the blue lagoons, or just spend some treasured time with a significant other.
Four or five days on any island in this country will allow you to slow down and devour the charm of the area. To enjoy simple moments just listening to the lap of a wave, the tick of a ceiling fan, a squeak of a gecko or splash of a jumping fish. It is the only place in the world where I’ve had a delay on a grassy airstrip only to pull out my wet bikinis and hang them out to dry on the wing of the plane. Such is the relaxed style of this natural slice of largely uninhabited paradise.
So if you long to get back to peacefulness and natural beauty, wish to embrace real Melanesian life without all the lashings of larger resorts, be on your own to entwine romance with adventure and seek an island all to yourselves to get married or reconnect, your journey starts right here. But be warned, it may only be chapter one. There are many more pages to the Soloman Islands story.
Need to know
Getting there: Solomon Airlines operates four weekly services between Brisbane and Honiara and one direct service from Sydney. It also operates an extensive domestic network around the Solomon Islands.
Plan your wedding: Contact Solomon Islands tourism for advice on a wedding planner or to put together a package for your special ceremony to take place on a deserted island or resort.
In the capital: Use the capital, Honiara, as a base to discover WWII battlefields and history, world class wreck diving, bustling markets, hiking, fishing and snorkelling.
For more information visit the Solomon Islands Tourism website.
Related article: Unexpected Pleasures in the Solomon Islands