Going Off The Map – The Remote Beauty Of The Solomon Islands
Imagine a country made up of over 900 lush volcanic islands, a third of which are uninhabited; where cultural identity thrives, where the land is a tangle of tropical rainforest and the ocean is a wonderland of colorful reef and historic wrecks. If in your mind’s eye you are seeing a scattering of emerald islands ringed with white gold beaches and sapphire seas, you’re probably imagining a place that looks a lot like the Solomon Islands. Located 1,200 kilometers northeast of Australia in the southwest Pacific, the Solomon Islands are a true adventurer’s fantasy- a place that remains untouched by urban development and the taint of pollution, and where nature still revels in all its considerable glory. From tiny atolls to more significant islands, the country’s interior offers plenty of opportunities for exploration, from tumbling waterfalls, to thick jungle and colorful local villages. The real reason to visit however is for the scuba diving in the Solomon Islands, which offers pristine reefs, adrenaline-fueled big animal encounters and some of the most impressive, evocative wreck diving in the world. Best of all, thanks to the remoteness of these magical islands, there are no crowds either on land or underwater, leaving visitors free to experience the Solomons in peace.
Although diving in the Solomon Islands boasts crystal clear seas, warm water temperatures and unparalleled marine life, the country’s most unique underwater attraction is its Second World War wrecks. The seafloor around many of the islands is littered with ships and aircraft that were the casualties of the Solomon Islands campaign of 1942- 1945, in which Allied forces struggled to stop the Japanese advance into the South Pacific. In particular, the Battle of Guadalcanal sent many vessels to a watery grave, and diving around Guadalcanal Island today is therefore an unforgettable experience for any wreck-diving enthusiast. There, troop carriers, transport ships, submarines and planes can all be found, each of which now provides a stunning backdrop for the wealth of marine life that has transformed the wrecks into living war memorials. Tulagi Island is another wreck-diving hotspot, with many wrecks located just off the beach where Allied naval bombardments and amphibious landings happened simultaneously on 7th September 1942. All of the Solomon Islands’ wrecks are protected under National Heritage listings, and the salvaging of any artifacts is strictly forbidden.
Although wrecks form a significant part of the Solomon Islands’ attraction, the country’s waters are also home to a vibrant array of marine life. Sheer walls, impressive pinnacles and thriving coral reefs provide excellent sightings of species ranging from the tiny pygmy seahorse to the giant manta ray. Schools of humphead parrotfish and angel fish can be seen moving across the reef, while the deeper water is patrolled by shoals of hunting trevally and barracuda. Popular dive sites for spotting these beautiful creatures include Tulagi’s Manta Passage, named for obvious reasons; the coral gardens and steep drop offs of Uepi; and Shark Point, a sloping reef 25 minutes from Munda where grey reef and silvertip sharks are usually seen. Macro species are rife at the Solomons’ muck diving sites, where mantis shrimp, harlequin snake eels and ghost pipefish can all be found.
There are two ways to experience the stunning and varied dive sites of this Pacific destination- either from a luxury dive resort, or with a Solomon Islands liveaboard charter. Dive resorts provide an opportunity to focus on one particular area whilst also enjoying terrestrial activities and land-based comforts, while liveaboards like the MV Bilikiki and the MV Spirit of Solomons are an excellent way to get the absolute most out of your Solomons experience by diving as many sites as possible. However you choose to discover these unique islands, one thing is for certain- doing so is sure to be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.