Where to go in 2013: Solomon Islands
Sunday 21 October 2012
Why go in 2013? Because, eventually, the outside world will wake up to these islands
Travelling the Pacific may not be what it used to be, but around the Solomon Islands it's still that way. These laid back, friendly islands are surprisingly untouched. What you will find is engaging rustic resorts, village homestays and some of the best scuba diving anywhere.
The fighting of the Second World War was never more fierce than here and wartime place names such as The Slot and Iron Bottom Sound have endured as has the rusting wreckage in the jungle around the battlefields of Guadalcanal. At Fatboys Resort, just outside Gizo, you can take a kayak out to Kennedy Island: where John F once swam to safety after his patrol boat was hit by a Japanese destroyer.
You need scuba gear for the real excitement with everything from ditched US fighter aircraft to sunken Japanese cargo ships for divers to explore, and the water's so warm you don't need a wetsuit. "I'm a Solomons boy," one divemaster said. "When it drops below 30C, I shiver."
Even flying in to Honiara, the capital, is a reminder that the Solomons are well back in the development rankings. You fly over an awful lot of untouched jungle and towering mountains as you cross the island from the southern Weathercoast. This is a great destination if jungle trekking, volcano climbing, ocean kayaking or surfing are on your must-do list. Birdwatching is right up there as well; the bird list is long and colourful and some islands are so remote that new species still turn up. Don't miss the local crafts either – the islanders turn out some of the Pacific's most beautiful wooden bowls.
Limited flights, poor internal transport and infrastructure, a nasty local civil war, and some particularly exotic strains of malaria have all put travellers off in the past. Today, travel is easier, even the mosquitos aren't so threatening, although you still need insect repellent and anti-malarials.
With almost a thousand islands scattered over nearly 1,000km, the old line that "getting there is half the fun" comes into play. Flights touch down on grass airstrips, the terminal is a hut and you do your own bag handling. Meanwhile, the vessels at Honiara's dock clearly put the tramp into "tramp steamer". Safety may not be their top feature, but they make travel an adventure. At some point, you may even find yourself in a smaller boat, out at sea with water splashing over you and a trusty outboard motor buzzing in the background.
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