Forget what travelling the Pacific used to be like – around the Solomon Islands it's still that way. These islands are laid-back, welcoming and often surprisingly untouched. From WWII relics scattered in the jungle to leaf-hut villages where traditional culture is alive, there’s so much on offer. Then there’s the visual appeal, with scenery reminiscent of a Discovery Channel documentary: volcanic islands, croc-infested mangroves, huge lagoons, tropical islets and emerald forests.
Don’t expect white-sand beaches and ritzy resorts. With only a smattering of traditional guesthouses and comfortable hideaways, it’s tailor-made for ecotourists. For outdoorsy types, lots of action-packed experiences await: climb an extinct volcano, surf uncrowded waves, snorkel pristine reefs or kayak across a lagoon. Beneath the ocean’s surface, awesome WWII wrecks and dizzying drop-offs will enthrall divers. The best part is, there’ll be no crowds to mar the experience.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Solomon Islands.
One of the star attractions in Honiara’s hinterlands is Mataniko Falls, which feature a spectacular thundering of water down a cliff straight into a canyon below. The hike to these waterfalls starts in Lelei village with a steep ascent to a ridge, followed by an easier stretch amid mildly undulating hills. Then you’ll tackle a gruelling descent on a muddy path to reach the floor of the little canyon where the Mataniko flows. It's roughly two hours return.
While Honiara won't be mistaken for Lagos, the country’s bubbling principal food market covers a whole block between Mendana Ave and the seafront. It has a huge selection of fresh produce, especially fruits and vegetables, that come from outlying villages along the northern coast and from Savo Island. Also on sale are traditional crafts. The fish market is at the back. There's no hassling to buy anything, but beware of pickpockets.
A perfect cone-shaped volcano that rises to 1770m, Kolombangara looms majestically on the horizon, due east of Ghizo island. It's a two-day hike to the top and back. It rises from a 1km-wide coastal plain through flat-topped ridges and increasingly steep escarpments to the rugged crater rim of Mt Veve. Logging has been a major activity, with Ringgi being the main settlement, on the south coast.
With its traditional-style houses raised on stilts over the shore, the friendly fishing village of Lilisiana, about 1.5km from Auki, is photogenic to boot. Lilisiana’s peaceful beach is a narrow, long, golden sand spit beside coral shallows.
From Henderson airport, a track leads south to this area that's also called Edson's Ridge, after Edson's Raiders. Commanded by Colonel Merritt Edson, they defended the ridge against the Japanese in 1942 in their determined but unsuccessful attempts to seize the airfield. There’s a humble pyramid-shaped US war memorial on the ridge. About 1km beyond Bloody Ridge, you’ll come across a Japanese war memorial that honours the 2000 or more Japanese killed during these actions.
If you want to get a taste of rural life and enjoy superb scenery without travelling too far from Auki, make a beeline for Gwaunaru'u. This sweet little village near the airfield, about 10km north of Auki, abuts a huge bay fringed by a 2km-long expanse of volcanic sand. It's at the mouth of a river that offers great swimming opportunities. Be warned: there are plenty of sand flies. Get here by taxi or contact Discover Malaita Tours.
At 63m, these waterfalls are spectacular. They are a fairly easy four-hour walk (return) from a tiny settlement about 2km south of Tenaru Village. It's flat and shady all the way. The path follows the floor of the river valley and cuts across the river’s many bends, crossing and recrossing a dozen times before reaching the falls.
About 12km west from Honiara, Bonegi is music to the ears of divers, snorkellers and sunbathers. Two large Japanese freighters sank just offshore on the night of 13 November 1942, and make for a magnificent playground for scuba divers, who call them Bonegi I and Bonegi II. As the upper works of Bonegi II break the surface, it can also be snorkelled. There’s also a black-sand beach that is suitable for a picnic.
About 25km from Honiara, a turn to the south from the coastal road brings you to this great open-air museum. Here there are US, Japanese, Australian, Fijian and New Zealand memorials, four large Japanese field guns and the remains of several US and Japanese aircraft, including a Betty bomber, a Lightning fighter and a Wildcat fighter whose wings can still be folded as they were for naval carrier-borne operations.