No man is an island, except perhaps in the Solomon Islands. A journey through the lagoons and waterways of the Pacific archipelago takes you past tranquil eco-resorts, Jurassic landscapes and even island graveyards – but rarely past a crowd. Of the more than 900 islands that make up the nation, only 347 are inhabited; some by many, some by very few. If you’ve ever wanted to get away from it all, the Solomon Islands is the place to do it. Just ask these three...

A man in a plastic kayak that fades from blue to white, holding a wooden paddle, grinning at the camera. The man is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and there are white clouds on the horizon
Kennedy Island's caretaker Joel says his life of solitude is a happy one © Kimmie Connor / adventuresnsunsets / kimmconn

The king of Camelot

“KENNE-DEE!” The shrill voice rings out repetitively across the island.

“KENNE-DEEEE!”

It’s enough to drive you mad, but Joel, the island’s caretaker, doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe you’d have to be a bit mad to take on custodial duties on a tiny islet in the middle of the Solomon Sea.

“Kenne-“ the voice begins again, but Joel is louder.

“Hey! Come here!”

Obediently, a parrot emerges from the generous canopy of trees to sit beside Joel at the barbecue. In a quieter, almost subservient voice, it announces: “Kenne-dy.”

A colourful parrot hangs upside down from a tree branch, peering into the camera lens. The parrot's head is black and red, it has a yellow breast and green and red body.
Kennedy the parrot is a chatty fixture of Kennedy Island © Kimmie Connor / adventuresnsunsets / kimmconn

The purple-naped lory is a long way from his native Indonesia. Joel too is a long way from his birthplace of Papua New Guinea. This island clearly attracts adventurers from afar, particularly given its history.

Plum Pudding Island was just another speck on the Solomons’ watery canvas in August 1943, when the US patrol boat PT-109 was destroyed by a Japanese raider in Gizo Lagoon.

The surviving crew, led by Lt. John F Kennedy, sought refuge on the nearby island – a four-hour swim away. Despite its delicious name, Plum Pudding Island was devoid of sustenance of any kind. Kennedy and his men survived there for two days before their rescue.

Joel can recite the legend of Kennedy Island (as it was renamed after the war) word-for-word.

“But I don’t really think about JFK.”

That’s impressive, given the tall, solidly built, softly spoken man has looked after Kennedy Island for two years.

“And three months,” he adds.

Joel was a bouncer at the pub in the nearby town of Gizo when he was offered the caretaker role. Kennedy Island’s owner also manages the pub, and was impressed by Joel.

“I’d never been to Kennedy Island before. I didn’t hesitate to say yes, though. I like to avoid big crowds of people, so it was ideal. There are no fights either."

Today, Joel spends most of his time alone on the island – with only the feathered Kennedy for company.

“I do everything. I clean, rake, maintain the buildings, tend bar til the evening, then I rest. I’m a one man army.”

War tourism is a huge market in the Solomon Islands. The waters beyond Kennedy’s shores are peppered with WWII wrecks accessible by divers. It’s also a perfect spot for snorkelling. As an Australian couple paddles lazily beyond the beach, Joel admits that life on the island can sometimes get boring.

“But it’s always happy. I’ve never thought about leaving. I’m like the king of this island,” he says, suddenly lost in thought. “The king of paradise.”

An aerial shot of Njari Island. A thin island with white sand beaches and dense forest inland surrounded by the bright blue Pacific Ocean
Seen from the air, Njari Island is anyone's definition of paradise © Danny Kennedy/Dive Gizo

Looking for Mr Sandbar

For many, escaping to a desert island is a lifelong fantasy. But the reality is a different story.

Njari Island belongs on a postcard: a carpet of pristine bone-white sand rolling seamlessly into the deep blue Pacific. To the south, a small forest seems as if it hasn’t changed for millions of years. Only a glimpse of a modest house within spoils the illusion.

To Joseph, it’s the office. The short, balmy walk to the edge of paradise is his commute, and his young daughter, his co-worker. His boss is an hour away, on another island.

He and his daughter spend most days entirely alone, in one of the most populous sites on the planet. Beyond the shore, beneath the waves, is the underwater equivalent of Times Square.

“At this single site, there are 279 individual species of fish,” says the island’s owner Danny Kennedy, who operates Dive Gizo with his wife Kerrie.

A man and his daughter walk along a pristine white sand beach holding hands. They are both wearing loose shorts and tops. There is one white cumulus cloud in an otherwise clear blue sky, clear sparkling water to their left and tropical greenery to their right.
Joseph and his daughter on their way to work, the shores of Njari Island © Kimmie Connor / adventuresnsunsets / kimmconn

That diversity gives it the fourth-highest fish count of any dive site in the world. It’s placed the Solomons within the Coral Triangle, a region in the western Pacific Ocean that’s home to hundreds of different species of corals, and more than 2,000 species of reef fish.

“That’s why we call it Grand Central Station.”

The Kennedys bought the island in 2004 to use as a snorkelling site. Until that time, locals had used the island for fishing.

“Nobody knew how significant the site was,” Kennedy says. “It needed protecting.”

To keep trespassers away, the Kennedys needed a ranger to live on the island. Once they found Joseph, the fishing stopped. The former hospital security guard’s reason for accepting the job was simple.

“Why not?”

Joseph and his daughter now spend their days exploring the recesses of the island’s wilderness, and by night Joseph keeps intruders away. Under Joseph’s watch, Njari’s marine life has flourished. Grand Central Station has become a hotspot for visiting cruise ships and school excursions.

It’s possible Joseph has the world’s best job, and he knows it.

“Who wouldn’t want to work here?” he says, as his daughter runs down to the shore to gather shells.

A wooden walkway over crystal-blue waters with a rope railing on one side leads to the Imagination Island resort. The resort is partially obscured by lush greenery, there are a few small boats moored on the shore and an orange building in the far background.
Imagination Island offers near-total isolation for guests and staff alike © Kimmie Connor / adventuresnsunsets / kimmconn

Imagination Island, imagine that

“You couldn’t make it up,” says Gilly, the manager of the Imagination Island resort in the Solomons’ Western Province.

“I’m going to die here.”

In 2011, Townsville plumber Allan John Gill received a business proposition from Terry, his friend of 44 years.

“I was a plumber, he was a painter,” Gilly says. “We used to play darts together, go fishing, we even spent Christmas with each others’ families.”

Born and raised in Melbourne (“too bloody cold”), Gilly had long been fascinated by the tropics. His father had served in Papua New Guinea during World War II, and had regaled his young son with stories from paradise. It was a fascination Terry shared.

“Terry rings me up and says, ‘I’m building a resort in the Solomon Islands, can you come and help me do the plumbing?’ At that point in my life, I’d never been overseas,” he says.

Soon the pair were working hard to realise Terry’s dream. Terry ran the resort while Gilly handled the maintenance. Two years ago, Terry died, leaving Gilly alone on Imagination Island. A picture of the late owner hangs above the bar in the resort’s restaurant, and as he talks, he glances up at it.

“I was left holding the bag,” he says. “And now I’m doing something I don’t want to do. I’m stuck here.”

Although he returns to Australia from time to time to visit his daughter, Gilly says returning to his home country doesn’t appeal to him.

“When I’m not here, all I think about is being here.”

A shot of Imagination Island resort taken from a boat at sea. The building's roofs are visible through dense trees.
The Imagination Island resort seems to grow from the island it's built on © Kimmie Connor / adventuresnsunsets / kimmconn

The resort is built onto the island itself, and largely sits over a vibrant coral reef. Guests can snorkel, swim and scuba, go on fishing trips, village tours and even visit the extinct Kolombangara volcano.

For 76-year-old Gilly, the activities are a little different. If he’s not managing the resort, greeting guests or tending bar, he’s knee-deep in maintenance.

“It keeps me young,” he says, gazing out to sea. “After all, hard work never killed anybody. It’s just the loneliness that gets to you.

"The locals are great, but it’s not like chatting to a mate. I miss Terry."

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