Less than 2,000 divers visit the Solomon Islands each year, putting it on the very edge of the diving map. Yet getting there was surprisingly simple. Just two flights to Fiji, an overnight hotel and a short hop to the capital, Honiara.
My host for the 10 day trip was the excellent MV Bilikiki liveaboard.
We sailed from Honiara and quickly made our way to some of the most remote islands imaginable. Uninhabited and impenetrable rocks gave way to truly stunning reefs, the likes I have never seen before. I was hooked from the moment I slipped beneath those magical and warm waters. I have been diving 25 years and confess I have never seen anything quite like it. From mobula rays and schools of bump head parrotfish to pygmy seahorses and orange mantis shrimp, the list goes on. The infamous Leru Cut was mesmerising as the midday sun shone a spotlight on a narrow channel of water, enticing us from the ocean into the heart of the island and back. To top it all, I snorkelled alongside more than 20 pilot whales.
From my extensive time spent diving Truk and Palau, I knew the legacy that the US Pacific campaign against Japan in WW II had left on the region’s seas. Guadalcanal was of major strategic importance, with the Japanese using the island as a base to threaten allied shipping with the intention of isolating Australia from the US and its allies. The US was determined to stop them before this became reality and the battle that followed was a turning point in the war against Japan. The resulting casualties were staggering. The loss of over 26,000 men, 67 ships and about 1,400 aircraft destroyed in just six months. Though most are lost to the depths, the wrecks of Iron Bottom Sound provide exceptional dives.
The hard and soft corals in the Solomon Islands covered everything. The gorgonian sea fans were super-sized. Some dives were mini-sinkholes, allowing me to surface into the sweaty jungle, the home of salt water crocodiles. Surface intervals were spent with the local villagers, witnessing their culture and buying their beautiful wood carvings. This is island life without electricity, motorised transport or a sense of time. It perhaps defines purity and nature.