South sea adventures on the MV Bilikiki

Guest blogged by Anne

The Solomon Islands are situated to the north east of Australia and east of Papua New Guinea as shown here:

They used to be known as the “Hapi Isles” but they are struggling to rebuild their reputation after some problems with sectarian violence in the early 90s which resulted in the government asking for Australian help to get the country back under control. We had originally planned to fly in and board our liveaboard immediately but thanks to the childish airline antics we ended up spending two nights in Honiara which is the capital city with around 100 000 inhabitants. Compared to Port Vila, Honiara seems pretty dodge, quite dirty, crazy traffic and not at all scenic. People here chew betelnut (actually a combination of betel leaf, Areca nut, slaked lime and mustard pod) which is a mild narcotic so everyone has red or black teeth and there is a lot of spitting. Some pics of Honiara:

Honiara from above

 

Honiara street with parliament up on the hill

 

The town started to grow on us after a while. Although the people are not as outgoing as the niVanuatu, they are actually very friendly and helpful and the city is very safe except for a bit of pickpocketing. We stayed in a quirky hotel called the King Solomon which had a cool pool area and hand carved decor as well as a whacky cable car thing which you could use to avoid the stairs to your room. We ate at some excellent restaurants. Some pics of the hotel and whacky cable car thing:

King Solomon Hotel
Cable car thing

 

Honiara is on the island of Guadalcanal which you may have heard of if you are interested in World War 2 or have watched The Pacific or The Thin Red Line. The island was witness to the major turning point in the Pacific theatre of war where the US only just succeeded in winning and holding the strategically important Henderson’s Airfield with a relatively small group of under supplied and outnumbered Marines. Once the islands had been cleared of Japanese, the Airfield was an important forward base for the rest of the Pacific campaign. There is not much left to see, with a lot of the old equipment having been salvaged and sold for scrap or souvenirs . We went on an excellent half day tour with Destination Solomons which took in the US war memorial, the memorial to Allied forces including the local Coastwatchers who sided with the Americans and the Vilu outdoor museum. The museum is fantastic, it’s basically a beautiful garden filled with the rusting remains of various war memorabilia like fighter planes and guns. The family which owns it are very knowledgable about the exhibits and can tell you a bit of the history of each item. Some pictures from the tour:

Vilu museum
Dave inspecting a downed plane

 

After two days in Honiara we boarded the Bilikiki which would be home for a week of non stop diving. The boat is longer and wider than the ones we’ve been on before which makes for decent sized cabins and really big living areas although it has fewer decks which means there are fewer options for finding a quiet spot away from everyone. Food was particularly good (and unusually healthy) with lots of fresh fruit, veggies and fish bought daily from the villagers who paddle over in their canoes. Daniela and Csaba make running the operation seem effortless.  Here is the Bilikiki:

The Bilikiki

 

 

As expected, diving in the Solomons is a big improvement on Fiji with much more variety of life, plenty of corals, big schools of fish and no shortage of macro critters. Not as good for critters as Indonesia, but probably the best place we’ve dived for bigger fish with stacks of barracuda, trevally, rainbow runners, tuna, snappers and reef sharks. We also dived a few wrecks. The liveaboard route covered the Florida, Russel and Mary islands. Temperatures were around 28/29 degrees. Some top dives:

  • A Japanese flying boat which was sunk during a bombing raid at the prewar capital Tulagi (too deep for photos)
  • A big sea mount with tunnels which you can drop down through a 18m and pop out at 35m with the top covered in barrel sponges full of squat lobsters and surrounded by massive schools of fish
  • One the best manta dives we’ve ever done, sitting in 8 meters of water against a wall with a current screaming past while about 7 or 8 mantas soared above us for 40 minutes
  • Dives where you swim through tunnels or cracks into the side of the island, one of which ended in a cave full of bats and another ended is a fresh water pool
  • The dives around Mary island including one called (predictably) Barracuda Point which is home to the biggest school of barracuda we’ve ever seen, massive schools of jacks, huge tuna and various other game fish en masse with attendant sharks of various types (including hammerheads although we missed them). We even saw sharks up close on the night dive. And occasionally you hear the rumbling of an underwater volcano
  • A dive off a beach where the US had a base and they dumped all their gear, trucks, unused ammo, bombs etc in the bay at the end of the war

Here are some diving pictures:

 

Many fishes
Manta
Crinoid cling fish

 

Underwater canyon
Dave with Nudibranchs

 

More nudibranch

 

I will load extra diving pictures in a separate post.

The boat dropped us off for a visit to an island village where we spent a bit of time seeing how the locals live and watched some customary dancing. The locals welcomed us with coconuts and flowers and were very hospitable. About 120 people live on the island, growing coconuts and few veggies and fishing. The island has a kindergarten but after that the kids go to a bigger island nearby for boarding school. You feel a bit like you have gone back in time except that every house has a solar panel for charging mobile phones. A few pictures to give you an idea:

 

Frangipani welcome
Custom dancing
Village view
Village cutey
Kindergarten

 

Next up, we need to try to get back to Fiji. But we are booked on a flight to Brisbane. Despite not having Australian visas. Wish us luck.

 

In closing, Dave says I should mention his magnificent tan. So now I have.

 

Links:

http://www.visitsolomons.com.sb/solomon-islands/honiara/tours-tour-operators/x,1,2355/destination-solomons-travel-tours.html

http://www.bilikiki.com

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s