This untrodden archipelago in the South Pacific is the place to go for diving, trekking, and relaxing on footprint-free beaches
Writer: Dani Redd / Project Manager: Jordan Levey
If you dream of travelling to an untouched paradise, head to the Solomon Islands. It’s an archipelago of 992 small islands scattered across the South Pacific, east of Papua New Guinea and stretching to Vanuatu in the west. Imagine iridescent seas, deserted white-sand beaches and dramatic sunset skies. The archipelago is popular with honeymooners, thanks to its idyllic atmosphere, but it also attracts adventure travellers keen to explore the archipelago’s most far-flung corners. The most intrepid attempt to scale Mount Pomonaseu, the highest point in the Solomon Islands. Many more take advantage of the islands’ unrivalled diving opportunities, exploring an underwater world of translucent seas and over 900 different species of coral, while surfers seek out the uncrowded waves and beach breaks on offer across the archipelago.
But the islands haven’t always been peaceful. The island of Guadalcanal was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, which raged for six months and cost more than 30,000 lives. The landscape is littered with war artefacts, from rusted tanks in the jungle to foxholes used to shelter beleaguered, heavily outnumbered US Marines. The seafloor is strewn with submerged aircrafts and shipwrecks from the conflict, many of which are easily accessible dive sites.
The Solomon Islands is a diverse archipelago of different tribes and nationalities, where almost a hundred languages are spoken. Visit this fascinating region to uncover the local customs, or ‘kastoms,’ as they’re known on the islands.
Focussing on Sustainable Development
For decades, the economy of the Solomon Islands has been dependent on agriculture, forestry and mining, which account for around 40 percent of GDP. However, the Solomon Islands are vulnerable to climate change. Since the 1950s there has been an increase in sea temperature of between 0.12 – 0.18 degrees centigrade a decade. This, coupled with sea level rise, threatens agricultural production and fishing.
So, what is the solution? The Solomon Islands is working with the Australian Government on strategies to become more resilient. They continue to survey vulnerable habitats, assess change, and measure water quality. They are also investing in early warning systems and climate change adaptation systems.
Meanwhile, the government is highly aware of the importance of developing sustainably. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is deeply involved in policy planning. Organisations such as Tourism Solomons help promote responsible ecotourism initiatives such as the conversation area of Tetepare Island and Titiru Eco-Lodge, which is built in harmony with nature. As the CEO of Tourism Solomons, Josefa ‘Jo’ Tuamoto says, “introducing this type of responsible tourism product that conserves our pristine environment, while helping to improve the welfare of the local people, is very much the way forward for this destination”.
He also points out that increased revenue from tourism will help support the economy. That hope is well placed in 2019 with the destination on track for an expected $0.7 billion in foreign exchange earnings. “This will greatly assist the country in addressing the issues of economic and sustainable development and support social change such as mitigating urban drift by local youth,” Tuamoto adds.
Despite the country’s challenges, tourism’s boost to the economy – and the government’s awareness of developing sustainably – provides hope for the future.
Industry Insights: Tourism Solomons
The Solomon Islands government has set an ambitious target for the tourism sector to achieve by 2025: to attract 60,000 annual visitors to its shores, netting the economy one billion SBD ($120 million). As the national tourist office, Tourism Solomons is playing a key role in achieving this target, helping promote and market the Solomon Islands around the world. We spoke to the CEO of Tourism Solomons, Josefa ‘Jo’ Taumoto, about the organisation’s goals and vision for the future.
Outlook Travel: What are your key focus areas and objectives as an organisation?
Josefa ‘Jo’ Tuamoto: We have several focus areas. For a start, we serve as the primary source of Solomon Islands tourism-related research, marketing, training and resource materials. We also provide marketing and promotional support to organisations in the Solomon Islands tourism sector. It’s also important to help forge partnerships and investment between public and private sector stakeholders. One of our most fundamental objectives is to act as ‘brand champion’ for the Solomon Islands regions, championing the unique, distinctive elements of our archipelago both nationally and worldwide.
How do you market a region as diverse as the Solomon Islands?
We realised that if the Solomon Islands was ever going to achieve its targeted $1 billion in tourism-related earnings within the next five to seven years, then a total transformation of the way the destination is positioned on the international stage was required to act as a catalyst. So, we came up with a new brand slogan for our destination: “Solomons Is.” “Is” becomes a simple statement with an intentional double meaning – it is both an abbreviation of islands and a verb, “is”. The beauty of this new brand is it allows us to attach the “Solomons Is.” tagline to just about anything – be that an emotion, an action, a noun or adjective – and we can also readily combine it to target specific demographics such as honeymooners, families or adventure travellers. As examples: "Solomons Is. Adventure"; "Solomons Is. Romance". The brand gives us flexibility with an unlimited life cycle. It also allows every visitor to target or tag their own travel experience, making it uniquely theirs and uniquely Solomon Islands.
How do you see Solomon Islands developing as a business travel hub over the next year to two years?
We believe that the Solomon Islands is a spectacular, exotic and multicultural destination for business travellers. The availability of international-standard conference facilities, and the country’s warm hospitality, offer the perfect mix for an international business event. Honiara, the capital, is well-positioned to be a MICE hub in the South Pacific. Furthermore, Solomon Airlines’ decision to commence a direct service between Munda Airport and Brisbane in June – a flight which takes three hours – will hopefully be a catalyst for increased international visitation. We hope that this will, in the process, attract major investment in infrastructure which the country desperately needs.
Are there any projects in the pipeline you’d like to discuss with us?
Something which represents a major windfall for the country’s tourism aspirations is the Solomon Islands’ hosting of the 2023 Pacific Games. The potential this offers for employment is huge, with required new infrastructure, roads, sporting facilities, new hotel development and related tourism infrastructure projects. Improved infrastructure will also help develop a lucrative MICE industry. Solomon Islands Discovery Cruises, a project launched in 2018, is expanding its itineraries. Small cruise ships will take tourists to remote villages and the region’s amazing coral pastures. Having a dedicated niche adventure programme, operated by a local company, will give tourists a unique insight into our culture, history and environment – a huge build on our existing tourism product.
What challenges does the tourism industry in the Solomon Islands face?
One of the biggest challenges of sustaining tourism growth is making sure that our infrastructure can support increased tourist traffic into the country. Now, we only have 360 quality rooms and that is a constraining factor. Until we have at least 700 quality rooms available, our industry will continue to be constrained and hopes of reaching the one billion SBD target set by the government will be difficult to achieve.
Finally, what sets Solomon Islands apart from other destinations in the South Pacific?
The country has always been off the beaten track. This gives the opportunity for the Solomon Islands to claim characteristics setting it apart from its South Pacific neighbours: uncluttered, uncongested, unspoiled and unlimited adventure to name but a few.
In Focus: Honiara
Around 10 percent of the islands’ population live in the bustling capital of Honiara. Although the city operates as a gateway into the more secluded parts of the Solomon Islands, it’s worth stopping to check out the sights. Get a taste of local culture at the lively Central Market, where producers from across the islands come to sell their fruit, vegetables and daily catch of fish. You’ll also find local crafts on sale. To learn more about the country’s culture, check out the small National Museum, which has displays on traditional dances, body ornamentation and archaeological findings.
The capital is rapidly transforming into a popular MICE hub in the South Pacific. It has a lot to offer business travellers, including high end hotels and conference facilities. There is a good food scene in the city, ranging from upmarket restaurants to barbecued street-food.
The Most Unusual Solomon Islands
There are 992 Solomon Islands, each with their own unique characteristics, customs and stories. Most visitors stick to the largest islands in the archipelago, such as Guadalcanal. But if you venture further afield, you’re sure to have some fascinating adventures. Charter a boat and head to these four unusual islands.
If you’re interested in delving deeper into the islands’ grisly head-hunting past, take the 30-minute boat ride from Munda to this islet on Vonavona Lagoon. This is where warriors bought the heads of the enemies they vanquished – now the skulls line the shores. There’s also a triangular-shaped shrine that holds skulls of Rendovan chiefs, dating back hundreds of years. The last chief, a Christian, was buried here in the 1920s with his head intact.
KENNEDY OR 'PLUM PUDDING' ISLAND
This idyllic tropical island was referred to colloquially by locals as Plum Pudding Island. However, after American President John F. Kennedy was marooned on the island during World War II, it was renamed. While at war in the South Pacific, a Japanese destroyer ploughed into Kennedy’s PT-109 boat, slicing it in half. He and his men had to swim through the darkness for four hours. They were eventually washed ashore onto Plum Pudding island and were later rescued by islanders. These days, the island is a popular spot for daytrips – tourists snorkel in its bays and hold barbecues on its shores.
Savo Island has an active volcano and bubbling hot springs. The heat of the ground has traditionally attracted megapodes – black birds that use the warm environment to keep their eggs incubated. They arrive at dawn, lay their eggs in the volcanic soil, and then fly away. Unfortunately, such inattention has meant that local villagers have traditionally dug up eggs as a source of food and income. Now, only one egg-laying field remains. However, it’s still worth visiting the island for its deserted beaches, or to trek up to the crater of the volcano.
Known as ‘the last wild island’, Tetepare is the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific. It’s a rugged island, cloaked in rainforest and fringed with coral reefs. There are many stories attempting to explain why the island has been abandoned for 150 years, ranging from fears of head-hunting to curses. Whatever the reason, it’s gloriously untouched. And its landowners want to keep it that way. They have rejected logging offers and protect and manage the island as a conservation area. It’s world-renowned for its dazzling profusion of flora and fauna, including the endangered leatherback turtle.
If you’re interested in finding out more about these islands, or to arrange trips to them, check out the Visit Solomons
Landmark Dive Sites
Once the site of a World War II American supply base, departing troops threw everything into the sea. This created an artificial reef formed of tractors, jeeps, and bulldozers; all now encrusted with colourful corals.
A dive site renowned for its vast population of manta rays, which use this shallow channel as a feeding place. You’re likely to spot other pelagics, such as sharks, here too.
One of the world’s best reef dive sites, consisting of two 120-metre long lava tubes, covered in a multitude of different coral species. There’s a profusion of marine life here, including pygmy seahorses, moray eels and shoals of colourful fish.
Five airlines provide flights into Honiara: Solomon Airlines (a codeshare partner of Qantas), Virgin Australia, Fiji Airways, Air Niugini and Air Vanuatu. Solomon Airlines flies between Honiara and Brisbane six days a week. They’ve also recently introduced a new direct flight between Brisbane and Munda. It’s also possible to fly from Honiara to other tourist destinations in the Solomons.
You can travel around the islands by taxi, although it’s more common to take a boat. Charter a dinghy or hop onto a passenger boat. The MV 360 Flyer/Discovery operates regular services between Honiara, Tulagi and Auki.
For budget travellers…
For beachfront style…
Pacific Casino Hotel
offers 142 spacious, air-conditioned rooms with sweeping ocean views. It’s a great place to relax – soak up the sun by the pool or treat yourself to a massage. But there’s plenty to entertain guests too, including a large casino with blackjack, poker and roulette tables; a restaurant and the lively Canoe Bar.
For South Pacific sophistication…
Coral Sea Resort & Casino
is the Solomon Islands’ first five-star resort, and a stay here comes highly recommended. The resort is in Honiara’s CBD, nestled in tropical gardens with views of the ocean. Stay in spacious suites or the opulent Coral Sea villas, which have a media hub, a kitchenette and a private jacuzzi. Relax by the outdoor pool. Treat yourself to a meal with friends at Haydn’s Steakhouse, or a romantic dinner at Harry’s Landing. If you want to explore further afield, the resort has a luxury boat which can be chartered for everything from fishing trips to sunset cruises.
For oceanfront luxury…
For diving trips…
For unique cultural excursions…
For bespoke travel tours…
Guadalcanal Travel Solomons
will help you streamline your trip to the Solomon Islands. Its staff can arrange accommodation, car hires, tours and activities for personal and corporate travellers, individuals and large groups. With over 100 years of travel industry experience, and knowledge of the area, they can provide unique insights into local culture and activities.
For upmarket Asian street food…
For laidback snacks…
For authentic Indian cuisine…