THE exotic Solomon Islands can be found east of Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific. Divided into provinces, they consist of six major islands and more than 900 smaller ones – only a mere 150 are actually inhabited.
The island’s beauty has considerable appeal, enticing growing numbers of tourists to the region. Official figures show an increase of 4.5 percent this year in international visitor arrivals between January and September compared to the same period in 2015.
It has been suggested that within the next 10 years, tourism could become the country’s primary source of foreign exchange, so it’s not surprising that the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau is increasing its efforts to promote the region as a “multi-faceted” travel destination.
With reports of increased investment and commitment to the tourism sector, we took a look at what some of the islands have to offer to visitors.
The largest of the Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal Island has a significant legacy as a pivotal location in WWII. Its waters, forest and tropical bush land are strewn with battle weary relics, but the island is also home to a number of other unique attractions.
The double-sided Mataniko Falls is renowned for its natural pools, caves and the chance to ‘river tube’ back to Lelei village.
For daredevils, the 60-meter-tall Tenaru Falls affords the opportunity to cliff dive, whereas Kahove (Trenches Creek Falls) promises impressive rock formations, canyons and a 40-meter high waterfall.
The mysterious waters north of the island known as “Iron Bottom Sound” are a significant draw for divers on account of the sea vessels and aircrafts lurking in its depths.
Bonegi I and Bonegi II are perhaps the most well-known dive sites and the resting place of the wreckage of Hirokawa Maru and Kinugawa Maru, two Japanese cargo ships sunk in 1942.
Proving shipwrecks are not the only lure to explore deep blue lagoons, Gizo Island in the Western Province tempts tourists with a spectrum of marine life, offshore reefs and coral cays.
From Gizo, visitors can travel out to a number of dive sites including Grand Central Station, an area said to have the second-highest fish population in the world.
Some of the most stunning hard and soft coral reefs can be seen at One Tree Island in the Gizo lagoon. Whereas The Gap, at the Naru Wall site of the lagoon is endorsed as one of the best places to drift dive and observe barracuda, reef sharks and large schools of fish.
Uepi is an uninhabited island resort located to the south-east of New Georgia Island. It’s a secluded paradise, where mobile phone coverage is unlikely, and internet access is limited.
The island sits on top of 2.5 kilometers of colorful barrier reef at the edge of the world-renowned Marovo Lagoon. It is characterized by lush green rain forest, tropical gardens and aqua blue waters. It’s an appealing destination to snorkel, dive, swim, kayak and for general unabashed escapism.
The lagoon is teaming with aquatic life and is especially popular with the relatively docile reef sharks that can be seen in large numbers at the island’s jetty.
Nggatokae (Gatokae) Island
Nggatokae Island is a prime ecotourism destination and the most southeastern of the New Georgia Islands. Here, resorts like the aptly named Wilderness Lodge near Paeva village, are thoughtfully constructed from local timbers to complement and preserve the integrity of their tropical surroundings.
The island’s rain forest, volcanic peaks, river valleys, ancient villages and ceremonial sites can be explored by guided hike. The Mount Mariu trek, with its 2400 foot ascent through ethereal ‘cloud’ forest promises breathtaking views of the island and Marovo Lagoon.
For the adventurous, a 90-minute trip from the island is available to observe the still active submarine volcano, Kavachi. ‘Kavachi’s Oven’ as it is known, last erupted in 2004.