The Solomons are a world class diving destination but seldom visited. They are not on the South Pacific tourist route like Tahiti or Fiji and don't have the infrastructure. This is a place for 'ecotourists' - you need to be able to enjoy basic accomodation and simple transport. For shore diving you can dive from Honiara, Tualagi, or the Marovo Lagoon in Western Province. With a boat like the Bilikiki you are free to go anywhere are we explore some fabulous sites, largely in the Russell Islands, Marovo lagoon and the Florida Islands. At each inhabited location we clear permission with the local chief and often stop and buy fruit and vegatables and local carvings.
Elephant Reef is one of our first dives in the Russell Islands which we sail to overnight from Honiara and is typical of many of the walls that we dive in the Solomons. This wall has giant elephant ear sponges and fan corals. Out in the blue we see yellowfin tuna while on the wall we find nudibranchs, pipefish and lots of reef fish.
Many of the island walls are cut with canyons. Leru Cut has a deep, narrow ravine (above) leading to a pool in the jungle. We swim along this and surface in the forest before returning out and along the wall for the rest of the dive. Mirror Pool is another dive in the Russells where you can swim through a cut to a pool in the forest before following the wall and slope as the dive continues. Most of the dives had gentle if any current making exploring easier.
Out in the sea between the Russells and Western Province is a tiny island called Mborokua - also known as Mary Island to the boat. We did a number of great dives here. One good example is Barracuda Point. We drop onto a broken bottom and then swim to a point in about 20m of water to watch big schools of jacks (above), barracuda, grouper, orange and white butterfly fish and the odd grey shark. After watching the schools for 20 minutes we drift across to coral gardens where there are a huge variety of reef fish as well as more balls of jacks.
As well as big schools of silver fish we see some great small stuff. The dragonet above left was on a wall dive called Toatolava in Moravo lagoon while the pigmy seahorse was on a muck dive (Wickham Bay) off the back of our boat. In a number of locations we moored overnight in quiet bays and divers could go in the water when they wanted to - for example a dusk dive or night dive. The dusk dives and night dives were a great chance to see octopus, bobtail squid, cowries, crabs, eels and cuttlefish. The boat offered up to five dives per day although I don't think that any divers did that many: 7:30, 10:45, 13:45, 16:45 and 19:45 (night). Given that many of us were falling asleep by 8.30 there was a distinct preference for dusk rather than night diving although you do see more stuff if you wait later.
The hard and soft coral in the Solomons is stunning and we dived some great coral gardens. A good example is Mbulo Canyons on Mbulo Island (above). This shallow dive (10m) had fantastic hard corals as well as some swim throughs and canyons, great reef fish and a resident turtle.
Another stunning coral garden was Rainbow Reef, a submerged reef in the Russell Islands with the top at around 18-22m. Here you get the double benefit of sharks and schools of barracuda criss-crossing the reef and fabulous coral and reef fish around the reef's edges. Because of its exposed location you can only dive here in lighter currents and gentle seas. The Solomons are so remote and there are no rescue services nearby so you really have to be careful - we carry large SMBs on all dives and are careful about where we surface.
The Solomons are famous for their wrecks after all the WW2 naval battles but most are too deep to dive unless you have a submersible (check out "The Lost Fleet of Guadacanal" documentary). We dived three wrecks and one amazing WW2 underwater scrapyard. The Hirokawe Maru (above) and Kinugowa Maru (also known as Bonegi 1 and 2) are two Japanese supply ships sunk by US planes in November 1942 and lying just off the Guadacanal coast west of Honiara. The former is the more impressive with the shore end in about 8m of water and the other at 50m. They both now have a large amount of coral growth creating a home for huge numbers of reef fish as well as larger groupers, sweetlips and snapper.
The Maru II is a Japanese freighter that was torpedoed in the Marovo lagoon in December 1942 and now sits in 26m of water. This is also covered in coral, sea fans and sponges and is home to many reef fish. White Beach on Mbanika island was a US supply dump in WW2 and when the Americans left they dumped what they could not take into the sea. There are trucks, jeeps, a pontoon, ammunition, shells and much else.
Finally an unusual dive on the north side of Iron Bottom Sound is Two Tunnels. This sea mount, with its top at between 12-16m has two wide volcanic vents that converge at 33m and then come horizontally out the side of the reef wall. Big schools of fusiliers circle in the top of the vents. When we come out the bottom two sharks are cruising along the wall. There is plenty to look at on the top of the reef although much of the coral is smashed. A real contrast to the many wall dives that we did in our two week visit. See the "about" page link for details on how to get there and the gallery for more photos.