If you are looking to splash out and get a long long way from civilisation then the Solomon Islands is the choice for you! I spent a week over new years 2013/14 at the beautiful Uepi Island Resort and really couldn’t complain about anything, except maybe that they only offered 2 dives a day 🙂
Getting there (and a bit of admin)
From Australia you need to get yourself to Brisbane for a flight to Honiaria with Solomon Air or Virgin, then another flight to Segge. From here the resort will pick you up by boat from the airports jetty for a scenic 30m minute trip across Malbrovo Lagoon where Jill and Grant (the owners) will be waiting for you at the jetty. The first thing you notice about this place is how green the jungle is, like a scene out of Jurassic Park, a swooping teradactal wouldn’t look out of place. Then you look down, crystal clear water and dozens of reef sharks just cruising. You know from that point you are in for some very special diving.
Jill sits you down and you fill in the obligatory paperwork, get the down low on meal and dive times and general house rules. Make sure you have adequate dive insurance, if you were unlucky enough to have an accident you are a long way from civilisation so emergency evacuation cover is a must. Also if you are a smoker, the resort does not sell cigarettes. I learnt this the hard way and after some begging one of the staff took a boat to the next island to get me some, I was lucky. The diving can be quite deep too, and due to consecutive dives over multiple days a back up computer is also recommended.
My stay was blessed to coincide with a couple of families of manta rays who were frequenting the shallows of the lagoon every morning to be cleaned by the small fish over small coral formations. The staff were running a boat out to them early before breakfast for an hours snorkelling. It was too shallow to warrant having a tank on your back and they don’t seem to like the bubbles anyhow. They would only take a max of four people out on the morning boat so as not to scare them off. I went out twice, they first time I only saw two mantas, but the second time I saw 6! They were dancing around me for an hour, one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen! I was so happy there could well have been tears in my mask and I had to be dragged out of the water with yells of ‘Come on Kristy, you’re going to miss breakfast!’ though I couldn’t have cared much..
In general the diving is fantastic! 30 degree water, 25 meters visibility and more sharks than you can look at without breaking your neck. Besides the regular reef and silky sharks, I also saw leopard sharks, dusky nurse sharks and on one dive 3 hammerheads! They were very deep though and that dive resulted in my deepest ever venture into the blue at 46 meters and they were still below us. Naughty!! Turtles are a regular sighting too. I saw the green and hawksbill variety, but they get leatherback turtles as well from time to time. Schooling barracouta and trevally are common and I also saw a giant Queensland grouper that was hug.
The great thing about diving here is that all the dive sites are very close. A few of the sites are so close that you dive your way back to the jetty. The area around the jetty is possible one of the best parts and the DM’s are happy to have you just hang out and run your air down in 5 – 8 m of water off the end of the jetty where they can see you. Here you find huge schools of tropical fish, batfish, ion fish and reef sharks. It really is brilliant. I also recommend the day trip though the trip out can be a little bumpy if the swell is up. They take you to see a wreck, caved and an amazing sinkhole with giant flashing neon clams. I have never seen anything like it.
And a bit more of the lowdown
The food is superb, you surely won’t go hungry. Breakfast and dinner are served in the restaurant and lunch is brought to your bungalow. Drinks at the bar are charged to your room and you pay your bar bill on checkout along with your dives, gear hire and any merchandise you might like. I met some great people there that I continue to be in touch with. Both people on holiday and Australians that were volunteering in Honiara and Gizo with Oz Aid. The bungalows are very nice. I was just in a basic one, but it has everything I needed. The plug sockets are Australian (handy) and there is no hot water, but it was so hot that this wasn’t an issue. As long as you don’t have an issue with the occasional lizard friend wandering in you will be fine! And remember your aerogard, the mozzies are vicious.