It is 6:15 in the morning. We are moving through flat seas with small tree-covered islands all around the horizon. Dolphins are playing in our bow wake and off to our right, two men are fishing in dugout canoes. The sun is coming up in a sky of fluffy clouds. We are in the Russell Islands, part of the Solomon Archipelago, on day 11 of our two week diving trip aboard the Bilikiki.
We meet our boat, the Bilikiki, in Honiara, the capital of the Solomons on the island of Guadacanal. Most of our 15 fellow passengers arrived on the flight from Fiji at the same time so we were quickly on board and being briefed by trip leaders, the charming Pado and Fernando. As this is a two week trip we will be visiting quite a bit of the central Solomon Islands, starting in the Russell Islands to the West of Guadacanal and then on to Western Province before returning to the Russells and finally the Florida Islands. Early December is the end of the dry season so we are hoping for decent weather and calm seas.
The Solomons are pretty remote. Honiara, the capital can be reached from Papua New Guinea, Australia or Fiji. There are few tourists on our flight from Brisbane and during our two weeks among the islands we only see one other boat - a small yacht sailed by two Australians and a dog. The islands had a reputation of being warlike and cannibalistic by the sandalwood traders and slavers who visited in the 19thC. The British established a protectorate in 1893 and peace was shattered in 1942 when the Japanese invaded and started to build an airstrip - later known as "Henderson's Field" and now the site of the international airport. The Americans attacked to regain this strategic spot but suffered on of their biggest ever Naval defeats losing five cruisers, three warships as well as the Australian "Canberra" in the battle of Savo. The US Marines eventually captured the airstrip but fighting continued with heavy losses on both sides. The Japanese came out worse losing 40,000 men as well as many ships and aircraft. Today many of these ships lie in "Iron Bottom Sound" in deep water between Guadacanal and the Florida Islands.
The Solomons got their independence in 1978 and still rely largely on fishing, farming and forestry. The villagers are also great carvers and we visited three village carving markets and admired their beautiful craftwork.
The many small islands that we dive off drop steeply into the sea and as a result many of our dives are on walls or steep slopes. The Bilikiki has been operating here for over 20 years and has many favourite dive sites. See the diving page for more details. We also dive submerged reefs, shallow bays and the occasional wreck. The boat respects the fact that only experienced divers are on the trip - one dive guide will do each dive but after the dive briefing buddies are free to do their own thing. The only compulsory action is to check yourself back in on the board when you are back on the boat. The reefs we dived were in very good condition - very little signs of bleaching and loads of fish. The only damage seemed to be caused by storms and the dreaded crown-of-thorns sea star.
We see many of our favourite creatures - from sharks to pigmy seahorses and love the pristine gardens of hard and soft coral. Our fellow divers are a very jolly bunch - mostly old friends from Santa Cruz, California - but also a New York couple and another two singles. Sadly two divers have to go home early and set out in little motor boats for a complicated set of transfers to get back to the US. We get to know our new friends in between dives - but by 8.30 in the evening most people are already turning in for the night. Dive - eat - sleep - dive - eat - sleep is an exciting and relaxing way to spend two weeks on our trip around the world. Select the buttons above on the left for more about the diving, and photos of the trip.