— Solomon Islands —
Virtually untouched by commercial development, the Solomon Islands are a natural paradise located south-east of Papua New Guinea and only three hours by air from Brisbane, Australia.
The people of the Solomons still practise a traditional way of life, preferring to respect the old customs and traditions. They believe in maintaining and preserving their beautiful unspoiled environment.
Capital and places to visit
The Solomon Islands are geographically fragmented with six main islands and hundreds of smaller islands, including man-made atolls. The main islands are Choiseul, Guadalcanal, Santa Isabel, San Cristobal, Malaita and New Georgia and the capital is Honiara.
The Western Province is perhaps the most visited region of the Solomons and its centrepiece is the largest, double barrier lagoon in the world, Marovo Lagoon, that has been nominated for World Heritage listing. Literally thousands of islands scatter the lagoon, from tiny coral islets on the fringing reef to massive 1600-metre volcanic islands. Some are still active and can be visited such as Simbo as well as the undersea volcanoes near Ngattokae. Inside the lagoon, the islands are surrounded by spectacular coral formations and white sand beach.
All the facilities needed by modern visitors are available in the quiet, peaceful town of Gizo, the capital. There are banks, luxury hotels, guesthouses and backpacker accommodation, bars and restaurants.
The province offers traditional villages, secluded beaches, superb snorkelling and scuba diving where you can explore the watery graves of undisturbed WWII relics.
The islanders are smiling, warm, friendly people, mostly Melanesian (90 percent), with some Polynesian, Gilbertese, European and Asian. English is the official language, though there are more than 120 indigenous languages.
It is believed that the Austronesians discovered the Solomon Islands about five thousand years ago and Melanesian hunter and gatherer voyagers first settled in the larger islands. Polynesians known as the seafarers later arrived and settled in the smaller islands and atolls that border Solomon Islands’ northern and eastern boundaries.
The Spanish were the first Europeans to visit the islands, Alvaro de Mendana naming them the Solomons. Some of the fiercest fighting of WWII took place in and around Honiara and names such as Bloody Ridge, Red Beach, Skyline Ridge and Henderson Field will live long in the memories of both sides of the conflict. Here in 1942, the bloodiest and longest campaign saw the loss of nearly 38,000 lives and the turning point of the war in the Pacific. There are many battle sites and relics of the war to be found not only here, but throughout the islands.
The Solomon Islands became a fully independent nation in 1978 and today the country operates under a provincial government system of nine provinces. The national parliament adopted a Westminster system and has a democracy-style government.
The Solomon Islands’ archipelago offers one of the richest underwater worlds on the earth and boasts kilometres of deserted sandy beaches and an unparalleled sense of calm. Lush tropical rainforests cover most of the island group. Exotic orchids, ferns and palms are found everywhere and butterflies and exotic birds are abundant while a variety of trees and shrubs have been introduced along with fruits and vegetables.
With more than 300 days of perfect weather each year, this is plenty to do in this tropical paradise.
In Honiara visit the bustling Chinatown area with, curiously, an adjacent Old and New China Town. Take time to visit the intact WWII relics of fighter planes, tanks and machine guns slowly rusting in peace as well as Japanese and American war memorials. Learn a little about the history of the Solomon Islands and visit the old hanging site, a relic from the British colonial past. The National Museum is located in Honiara and the Honiara main market is a good place to find local bargains. The Western Province offers traditional villages, secluded beaches, superb snorkelling and scuba diving where you can explore the watery graves of undisturbed relics from the war.
Where to stay
Wherever you choose to stay, be sure to learn from your hosts a little of the their culture and religion. Depending on your budget you can stay in a premier hotel, in apartments, rest houses, village resorts or in cabins or lodges.
You can unwind in a locally built cabin perched over a pristine lagoon or relax in a self-contained bungalow on the edge of a sandy beach or be mesmerised by the views over the archipelago’s crystal clear waters from one of the resorts. Those truly wishing to immerse themselves in the local culture may choose a village stay where they can live in a local community and experience the local life first hand.
There are public buses, hire cars, taxis (negotiate the fare before making a journey), and you can see a lot simply by walking. Inter-island travel is available by either by aircraft or boat. Solomon Airlines flies to about 20 destinations throughout the country. They are also available for charter. For those with more leisure time, an interesting option is to travel by cargo vessel.
There are plenty of activities to keep visitors active and most are aquatic based including world-class surfing, swimming, sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, game fishing and snorkelling. The islands are renowned as a scuba diver’s paradise with coral, shipwrecks, giant clams, tropical fish and game fish.
Golf, tennis and bushwalking are also offered or trek to Savo, the active volcano just 45 minutes from Honiara. Enjoy a visit to the ingenious man-made islands of the Lau and Langalanga people. There is plenty to do!
Food and entertainment
Major hotels have restaurants and there are international restaurants in Honiara. Hotels have beer gardens and bars and several private clubs welcome visitors. Regular island night barbecues are very popular.
The local currency is Solomon Island dollars. (SBD) Tipping is not encouraged and visitors are usually asked to refrain from the temptation to do so due to Islanders’ pride and custom.
The climate is tropical with an average temperature of 29°C. November to April is wetter.
Casual wear is widely acceptable though brief swimwear should be limited to beaches.
International airlines flying to the Solomon Islands include Solomon Airlines, Virgin Australia, Fiji Airways and Air Niugini.
High quality craftwork is available and includes ebony and ‘kerosene’ wood carvings, bowls with mother-of-pearl inlays, shell jewellery, baskets, bags, hats and mats woven from pandanus or coconut palm. Although the only craft shops are in Honiara, you can buy work direct from craftsmen and women on the other islands. Daily markets are held throughout the islands and the largest and most colourful market is the bustling Central Market in the capital, Honiara.
Although the population consists mainly of native Melanesians, most of the country’s population has been converted to Christianity over the years. Anglicans are a majority, followed by Roman Catholics, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists and other sects of Protestants. There are small tribal populations that have stuck to their indigenous beliefs as well.
English is the official language however very few people in the country actually speak it. Melanesian pidgin is a widely spoken language, alongside with 120 other languages spoken by various tribes around the country.
There are loads of things to do in Solomon Islands. There are active volcanoes, WWII wreaks, ancient villages to explore and people of various cultures to interact with as you travel across the country.
Being an archipelago, all the popular activities are in and around the ocean. There are many coral atolls in the region, making it a perfect place for snorkeling. Hundreds of sites are scattered all over the longest lagoon in the world, where you can snorkel and take in the beauty of the corals. If you want something more adventurous, you can scuba dive to wrecks and watch rays in their natural habitat. You can also go kayaking or take a lazy swim near the coast.
The cuisine of Solomon Islands is as varied as the people and the culture of the country. There are influences from all over Asia that can be seen in the local cuisines, along with western influences as well which have been infused into the culture over the last few centuries, since the first Europeans set foot in the region.
You can also have traditional Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, French and other international cuisines in cafes and restaurants all over the country. Given the location of the country, you can also get some of the freshest seafood you have ever had, from fish, prawns, shrimp, crabs and many other varieties to tease your palate.
There are not many nightclubs in the country, although you will find a lot of happening places to party. Locals are a vibrant bunch and on most of the bigger islands, they will welcome you to join their parties and gatherings, where you can have local food and beverages and dance away the evening with the locals.
Solomon Islands is an ecotourism hotspot. It is not a typical tropical beach resort type of a destination. Because of this, there are not a lot of touristy markets and shopping areas in the country. The capital city of Honiara has a few shops and markets where you can shop for local goods.
There are many ways of getting to the country with flights being the fastest and most popular mode of transport for travelers. You can fly and to and from anywhere in the world to the Solomon Islands, except Fiji, which suspended connections due to a dispute. The international airport is located just 8 kilometers outside the capital city of Honiara.
You can also take cruise ships to the Islands. However, these cruises are part of packages and are not be used as a one way transport to the country. There are canoes and boats that can be hired to travel from Papua New Guinea to Solomon Islands, although safety concerns are high in these services.
Citizens of all other countries need a passport and a visa to enter Solomon Islands. Citizens of many countries can get visa on arrival, while others need to apply in advance. Check in advance to know what you are eligible for and plan accordingly.
The climate is mostly the same through the year. It is very humid with temperatures averaging 27 degree Celsius. Check the temperatures in the region that you plan to visit as there are a few places which experience extreme temperatures at times. November to April is where it rains more than usual while June to August is relatively cooler. The cooler season is also when most travelers visit the country.