As some of you may know; the Solomon islands is expensive - fuel costs and domestic flights will dig into your pockets, - but if you are after an exotic place few ventures, love the sea, and where everyone seems to know everyone, - then it´s well worth it. Weather was mostly sunny, some overcast days and some rainshowers, sometimes heavy rain at night. Seem to be the same all year around from what people told us.
Our initial plan was to travel to Gizo, then take the Gizo-Munda boat run by Agnes Lodge in Munda (departs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday - price 250 sol dollar pp.), but after staying three nights in Sanbis Lodge (outside Gizo), we actually hired a cabin onboard a 60 feet sailing catamaran for five days - which turned out to be on of our best adventures on our travels ever (details furter down). Tip: bring plenty of cash; ATM on the less populated islands are few and far between. If you are going diving; Belinda at Dive Munda is amazing in terms of responding to email and all your questions about diving in the Solomons in general. From speaking to other travelers in the Solomons; I got the impression that DiveMunda carries an excellent reputation.
Taxi to city centre from airport; 100 sol dollar, and in general the cabdrivers will charge you 10 sol dollar per kilometer. The ATM at the airport didn´t work when we arrived, but there´s a place called "the Palace" on the way to town where there´s three ATMs and you can also get your local simcard here. I got B-mobile (vodaphone) which worked fine in Gizo and Munda (nothing works at Tetepare, but they were supposed to get a tower on the island in October this year so that may change), but did not work in Sege (Telecom does however).
We stayed at Tanuli Royal Plains Motel - got a last minute (same day) offer on hotels.com that was cheaper then what they wanted when I called them up (paid 340 sol dollar online, compared to the 440 they wanted for standard room when I called). It´s 2.5-3 km out of town and nothing to see on the way, so you want to get a taxi to town. No food service, not even breakfast, but rooms were clean and we had no complaints.
In town we found a lot of places listed as restaurants actually only serves breakfast and lunch, and I think you have more options during daytime if you want to eat more cheaply or experience local food. The Limelounge has great coffee and nice food, and free wifi that works. We walked around this arena in the dark, and there is plenty of "bottle shops" and people drinking it seems. Did not feel unsafe, but probably wouldn´t want to walk on dark sidestreets by myself as a woman. We had dinner at the King Solomon hotel, -they have a big menu serving thai and some western dishes (incl pizza) and gives you plenty of food on your plate. Friday night they had some entertainment going on (traditional dance), and the place was full. We ended up at a concert at a place called Cowboy and Grill (Max-a-million from Jamaica was the headliner) with some local people we met earlier, a lot of fun and cheap beer but that´s another story.
We flew to Gizo (cheap and great eggrolls served in the domestic terminal in Honiara if you haven´t had breakfast). The airfield is on a separate island to Gizo town (which is bigger than Munda and has a great market, although I didn´t really see much of the place).
We enjoyed three nights at Sanbis Resort, and were warmly welcomed by the staff and the owner Hans. The food was fresh and tasty, and the water warm and crystalclear. Lots of fish and some good snorkeling right off the Sanbis Bar on the water. They sank a Tunaboat here a few years back and it is great fun for freedivers. Be warned though; Gizo is still recovering after the tsunami i 2007 so you´ll see some damage to the reefs in this region.
Did two dives with Dive Gizo. A wreck dive on Tao Maru (Japanese supplier ship) that was incredible. A deep dive at 37-38 meter so you´ll want to have your dive computer. Equipment was great, the DM did guiding but little else, so not for the inexperienced diver. We did our surface interwall on a beautiful island watching dolphins and kids in canoes. Next dive was Grand Central Station; not much current that day so not much going on here in my opinion.
From Gizo via Munda to Tetepare
A sailing catamaran was anchored outside Sanbis, a couple doing charter cruises around the Solomons that did not have any guests at the moment. Since we hadn´t booked anything the 5 next days we asked if they could take us to Tetepare Eco Lodge (saved us the 1900 sol dollar it would cost us for transfer from Munda to Tetepare). Best decision ever! Gavin and Lusiana took such great care of us onboard Chemistry; Gavin knows the reefs and Solomon islands inside out having sailed here since 2008, and Lusiana - with her huge smile and warm positive character - was a joy to be around. We snorkeled on some amazing reefs; such as Lighthouse reef outside Munda (grey reefs sharks and turtles, lots and lots of fish action and many different kinds of clow fish). Gavin took us out on the dingi one day to snorkel on a Hellcat fighter plane on 10 meter depth, and we came across three mantarays! Nedless to stay we stopped and snorkeled here as well.
Everywhere we anchored it didn´t take long before kids or adults that lived nearby came by to greet us from their dugout canoes. One morning we witnessed kids in schooluniforms in canoes paddling to school. They also have an excellent kayak onboard that you can use for free, and the locals will love it if you´re on the water too.
We bought fresh vegetables, coconuts and eggs every day, and were invited to breakfast by some locals one morning. It was an amazing five days, and highly recommended. If you are interested; Gavin and Lusiana have four cabins, and take people for fishing, snorkeling, and you can even go surfing or diving if you like (have to use local diveoperatours). They have a website; www.svchemistry.net but I think it´s easiest to contact them via their facebookpage Paradise Cruises. We paid 150 aus dollar per person per night (incl food) and I would rate it as five star service (Lusiana bringing you coffee as soon as you wake up, everything is homemade; the granola, yoghurt, bread and cheese. You´ll get all the fresh and tropical fruits you can imagine, and the lunch and dinners are equally impressive). The cabins are spotless and have a nice hatch you can open or you can stargaze in bed. What we loved the most? Gavin and Lusiana´s support of the local communities and their respectful treatment of the locals and the environment.
We stopped in Munda to use an ATM and visit a world war 2 museum. A local guy has collected tons of stuff from the jungle, such as dogtags, weapons, handgranades, engines, helmets and lots of other stuff you can touch and look at. This guy really is fantastic and so knowledgeable. Even if you´re not into war-history; you´ll love him and be sucked in by his enthusiasm.
We had a look at Agnes Lodge which seemed like a great place to stay in Munda, but probably not so nice to go swimming here as every waste from the small town goes directly into the water. We did stop by Zipolo island resort not too far away, and it seemed like a very nice set-up.
You can have a look at 15 or so human skulls, but there is no information here and we heard that originally the skulls were from the headhunting days - but since everything was washed away by the tsunami I´m not exactly sure what these "new" skulls were doing here. I would have been very disappointed if I´d paid a lot of money to go there.
Three nights here gives you time to do quite a few activities together with the rangers, but if you love snorkeling or want to visit villages on nearby islands, go hiking, tag turtles or measure coconutcrabs, - stay longer! We spent all our time snorkeling or trying to find the dugeons that come and eat the seagrass, - but since most of the grass were covered by sand after the tsunami - most of them left. Now two-three of them has come back - and we saw one guy on our last day from the boat. From reading the guestbook it turns out quite a few people have seen them while snorkeling which must be amazing.
While snorkeling you will easily see three different species of sharks; blacktips everywhere, a few whitetips and many grey reefsharks around, stingrays and huge eaglerays, turtles, schools of barracudas and bumphead parrotfish. The fish in the "Chanel" are huge, and the snorkeling is nothing short of spectacular, there is so much fish and things to see that you don´t know where to look. Tetepare is highly recommended and we loved our stay here; the food too was great - but don´t expect luxury accommodation or service - but as long as you notify them if you need anything they will help you straight away. And if you´re a diver; be prepared to cry yourself to sleep that you can´t go diving here (Or beg and try and pay Dive Munda lots of money and try to make them take you, - you might have to arrange everything with Tetepare yourself though and I don't know for sure this is possible). I met Mary who is in charge of the accommodation, - she´s a wonderful lady and was very interested in the possibility to open up for diving here. Sites I would recommend for possible future diving are the "Drop of" - lots of action here around 15 meters, and of course the "fish channel".
We were transported to Sege (2.5 hours, - 2000 sol dollar per boat) where we were picked up by Solomon Dive Adventures, situated on an island outside Chea village about 30 minutes boatride from Sege. Great little guesthouse and Lisa is a wonderful person with so much knowledge about the diving and marinelife in this region. She has even made a dive briefing on each divesite which has pictures of all species you´re likely to see - and she´ll explain what the fish is doing! She is a fish behaviourist, and I learned so much new and interesting things from her. From now on I won´t only look at the fish, - I´ll try and figure out what they are doing and why.
In conclusion we absolutely loved our journey here, although I would say The Solomon islands have about a lightyear to go in terms of tourism facilities and the organization of it all - something a lot of people will appreciate but it is not for everyone. Instead of working together; there´s a lot of land disputes and gossip and jealousy going around - and if you travel from place to place you´ll hear plenty of it. This is just my personal opinion and impression. Would I go back? To Tetepare if I could do scubadiving? In a heartbeat. Onboard Chemistry? Yes, for at least two weeks next time - a boat is obviously THE best way to get around this place in my opinion.Edited: 3 years ago