The Solomon Islands is made up of 992 Islands and is the seventh least travelled country in the world according to CCN, and in August I was lucky enough to travel there,to find out exactly why people aren’t visiting these islands and what I found was shocking…. I was shocked to find out just how amazing the Solomon Islands are!
Welcome to the the Hapi Isles!
I’ve created the below guide with everything you need to know about the Solomon Islands.
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Where are the Solomon Islands?
The Solomon Islands are located in the Oceanic Region to the east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu, taking up 900 miles of ocean real estate!
Which Island should you visit?
Out of the 992 islands in the Solomons, there are six major islands. Most travellers visit the main island Guadalcanal, which is home to the country’s capital city Honiara, and the staging place for the Guadalcanal campaign (also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal) during World War II.
Tourists also visit New Georgia Island, for the cities of Seghe, Munda (the largest settlement), and Gizo (The capital of the Western Province). As to which island you should visit, it highly depends on what you are looking for.Be it history, fishing, diving, surfing, birdwatching or relaxation, below are a few of my suggestions.
Located on Guadalcanal island, Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands is usually the first stop for most visitors before they venture out to the smaller islands. Besides being home to the majority of the major government buildings and institutions,Honiara has some cool activities and must do’s..
A few things to do in Honiara:
- Tenaru Waterfall – Located not too far out of the city, it takes approximately two hours (4km round trip) to trek to the waterfall and back. However, keep in mind that it’s not an easy trek at all and a guide is highly highly recommended, one can be arranged through your hotel or the visitors centre. I would also recommend that you take a change of clothes and some food for the trek, as well as sturdy hiking boots that you don’t mind getting wet.
- Vilu War Museum – A must stop for all the history buffs. This open air museum located to the west of Honiara, has on display many relics from the Battle of Guadalcanal – including weaponry, vehicles and planes. Unfortunately the relics are fairly decayed due to being out in the weather, but they still provide an amazing insight into history.
- Honiara Central Market- Open every day and located on the main strip in the city of Honiara, the Central Market offers plenty of produce – including fruit, vegetables,fresh fish, clothing, and shell jewellery. All prices are displayed and are at a very reasonable price, so no need to haggle.
Munda is one of several small villages on the island of New Georgia, it’s a great place to base yourself if you enjoy diving and the Anges Getaway Hotel has a dive centre located within the resort grounds. Munda also now receives international flights directly from Brisbane every Saturday, making it easier to get to. For a small village, Munda has quite a few fun activities to do.
A few things to do in Munda:
- Hopei island – Just a short 15-20 minute boat ride from Munda, Hopei Island is one of the many island day trips you can take. You can organise a ride from the Anges Getaway Hotel and enjoy a day of sunbathing, snorkelling at the reef, and feasting on a delicious BBQ fish, salad and rice lunch.
- Peter Joseph WWII Museum – For a great little adventure in Munda, take a taxi 20 minutes through the jungle and arrive at the Peter Joseph WWII Museum. The museum is dedicated to the many artifacts found around the island from World War II left behind by the Americans and the Japanese soldiers. If you like a good history lesson and chat, Barney, the local that runs the museum is extremely passionate and thoroughly enjoys showing off his collection and sharing stories.
- Sunset cruise – Offered as one of the many tours from the Anges Getaway Hotel, you go out on one of their boats with some snacky foods and a bottle of wine, where you can head to a secluded island or sit in the water and enjoy the sunset. The guides generally head back before full sunset for safety reasons but it’s still a great way to see the sunset.
- Diving – One of the reasons that people come to Munda, is to visit the Anges Getaway Hotel resort dive shop, Dive Munda, which is one of the best in the country. You can head out to popular dive spots such as Shark Point (where yes you will see a number of different sharks), the Kasi Maru wreck and Douglas Dauntless Bomber, just to name a few!
- Skull island – For what is a popular tourist attraction for those doing the boat ride from Munda to Gizo. Skull Island was once home to headhunting cannibals, and human heads can be found scattered around the island, trophies of headhunters, who returned with them after raids on neighbouring islands. Don’t worry there are no headhunters around these days, but the history of the island is very interesting and it also makes for a nice spot to dive or snorkel.
Just a short 15-20 minute boat ride from Munda, Hopei Island is one of the many island day trips you can take
Gizo is the second largest city in the Solomons and is the capital of the Western Province.Gizo was hit by a tsunami in 2007 and since then has had to rebuild. Recently the Gizo Market centre was opened to the public, giving Gizo a better space to show off it’s local produce.
A fun way of getting to Gizo is by plane, as the Nusa Tupe Airstrip is on its own island and the only way to get there is via boat. It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush as you come in to land, watching the water get closer and closer, thinking you are going to land on the water, next minute land appears and you can let go of your seat as the plane touches down safe and sound on dry land.. Being the second largest city in the Solomons, you will find there are quite a lot of activities. But here are just a few!
A few things to do in Gizo:
- Bird watching -Surprisingly very popular in the Solomon Islands, possible sightings of rare birds include the bright yellow Gizo White-eye (which is only found on this island), the Steel-blue Flycatcher and White-capped Monarch within the local forests.
- Island hopping – Another great option for things to do around Gizo, with plenty of small uninhabited islands such as Njari Island and Kennedy Island, where you can take a picnic along and spend the day snorkelling, sunbathing and eating delicious local dishes.
- Surfing – Also very big in the Solomon Islands and in particular in Palonggi, a short boat trip from Gizo. You do need to beware of the reef below to avoid “Palonggi tattoo” aka coral cuts but there are plenty of local surfers who can show you the best spots.
Rendova is an island in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, best accessed by boat from Munda. Rendova is home to Titiru Eco Lodge where Kilpo (the owner) and his staff are happy to show you around the eco lodge and through to the local village where you can learn more about the traditional ways of living in the Solomons.
Titiru Eco Lodge offers plenty of things to do in Rendova such as kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, snorkelling, mangrove forest walks, cultural demonstrations, village tours, tour to a local cave where you can see bats, birds, carbs and snakes and hiking the Rendova Peak – which is recommended to do over two days, where you camp half way up the peak.
Things to keep in mind when you travel to the Solomon Islands
As the Solomon Islands only receive roughly 30,000 international visitors per year, they are not set up infra-structurally for massive amounts of visitors. The islands are still very untouched by tourism, which makes it perfect for travellers who want an authentic experience. Most tours or experiences need to be organized by private agencies (somewhat hard to find) or your hotel reception.
You won’t find any massive five star hotels, tour agencies hassling you as soon as you get off the plane, huge shopping malls or food centres. The Solomon Islands isn’t a party destination or a destination for travellers looking for full blown luxury experiences.
While the Solomons is fairly underdeveloped, it can be a difficult place to travel on a budget as most things need to be imported into the country or islands. It isn’t a cheap destination, flights are by far the most costly expense you’ll have, next to hotels and food which is on par with the cost of food in Australia. However, I did find that seafood was relatively cheap compared to Australia.
Why do people travel to the Solomon Islands?
People visit the Solomons for their honeymoon, fishing, diving, bird watching, surfing, hiking and of course, just to kick back and relax.
Do you need a visa to visit Solomon Islands?
Most nationalities can visit the Solomons without pre arranging a visa. Tourists can stay in the Solomons for up to 60 days and must have at least six months left on their passport.
How to get to Solomon Islands?
Flights to Honiara from Brisbane (BNE) with Solomon Airlines six times a week. Other airlines such as Fiji Air, Virgin, Qantas and Nauru airlines also fly to Honiara. The Saturday services operate via Munda ex-BNE before flying on to Honiara then back to BNE. Virgin Australia also operates twice a week.
Flights from Brisbane to Munda have recently started, they usually fly in and out once a week, every Saturday. This is a great option if you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of Honiara.
How to get around the Solomon Islands?
There are a few ways to get around the Solomons depending where you are.
In the capital Honiara you can walk or hire a car/driver/taxi. If you hire a car, I would recommend that you have your international driver’s license with you.
Getting around the smaller islands is usually by car or by boat, boat seems to be the main way to get around as it is quicker. If travelling by boat, I would recommend you bring large plastic bags to wrap your luggage in as it can get wet either from ocean spray or rain. If this is not possible or you don’t mind a bit of water, then I would recommend purchasing a “dry bag” for your electronic goodies. Boats can be chartered fairly easy, hotels and hostel hosts will be happy to help you arrange this or point you in the right direction.
You can easily get from resort to resort via a boat, even if it’s on a different island, for example: Agnes Gateway hotel to Fatboys Resort/Gizo is approx SBD2000.00 one-way, which isn’t bad if you are travelling with a group of people or if can find other travellers to share the ride. This trip takes approx 1.5 to 2 hours and the scenery is incredible.
Domestic flights can be caught from Honiara to the main Islands such as Munda and Gizo. However keep in might that domestic flights can often be cancelled or rescheduled at short notice and I would highly recommend calling or visiting the airline a day or two prior to your flight to double and triple check flight times. I would also recommend getting a window seat so you can enjoy views of the Solomons from above – the seating is a free for all, even if you have an assigned seat on your ticket.
Internal flights can be costly so ensure you budget for this. Something else to keep in mind when flying domestic is that they only allow a max of 16kg per passenger as flights are operated by Dash 8’s and Twin Otters (small “putt putt” planes). Most flights also require you to be weighed as well as they have to ensure that the plane is not overweight.
If you would like to take the scenic and slow route from Honiara to Gizo, you can opt for the local “slow boat” which takes roughly 24 hours, with a lot of stops along the way as this is a cargo ship. Keep in mind that the boat trip can be a little uncomfortable as it is a cargo boat. You can book a cabin on this boat however it can be the same cost or more than a flight, or you can do as the locals do and roll out a sleeping bag on the deck.
Another options is the MV Taka via Solomon Islands discovery cruises, which is a 7nights/8days expedition cruise that leaves once a month – starting and ending in Honiara.
Where to stay in the Solomon Islands
The really unique thing about the Solomon Islands is that there are no major “big brand” named hotels, anywhere in the islands! You can experience 4-5 star hotels in Honiara or homestays and Eco lodges when you go out into the small villages and islands around the Solomons.
Some of my favourite hotels are:
Qua Roviana Accommodation (budget hotel in Munda)
Agnes Gateway Hotel (mid range hotel in Munda)
Titiru Eco Lodge (budget/mid range on Rendova Island)
Fatboys Resort (mid range to luxe near Gizo)
Saeraghi Beach (homestay in the local village)
Oravae Cottage (homestay near Gizo)
Heritage Park Hotel (luxe hotel in Honiara)
Here is a full guide on where to stay in the Solomon Islands, if you want to take a look at some other options.
Weather in the Solomon Islands
The Solomon islands is a tropical destination, so unlike most countries, there is no summer or winter, spring or autumn, instead there is just the dry and wet seasons.
The dry season is from February to November and the wet season is from November to late January.
Although when speaking the locals, it looks like there is a season change coming as they are experiencing more wet weather during the dry season. I can attest to this as out of our seven day trip, we only experienced one sunny/non rainy day. With that said, it’s still very warm all year round, sitting between 22°C and 32°C.
The high tourist season is usually June/July – school holidays for Australians, so this time can be busier and hotels and flights might be a little more expensive.
Please ensure that well before your trip you consult your GP for the latest advice on what precautions you need to take when visiting the Solomon Islands. There are pockets of malaria in the Solomon Islands. Your doctor may recommend that you take daily antimalarials tablets (keeping in mind that you might need to start this before your trip) and also making sure that your typhoid inoculation is always up to date.
This shouldn’t have to be said however I will say it for those who think they know better…. Get travel insurance! Everyone thinks that nothing will happen to them when they travel, please be realistic and get travel insurance no matter where you go, you never know what is going to happen and it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Can I drink the water in the Solomon Islands?
It’s not recommended to drink the tap water in the Solomon Islands, bottled water or boiled water should be used to drink only.
On the topic of water, it might be a little shock for westerners to find that most showers only have one tap – the cold water tap. Only bigger hotels in Honiara or more luxe hotels in the islands have a hot and cold shower. I would recommend showering in the afternoon, when you are hot and sweaty and will enjoy a cold water shower.
Tipping in the Solomon Islands
Tipping isn’t a part of the culture in the Solomon Islands. The locals certainly don’t expect it and when someone does give a tip, they are often very surprised. Some resorts around the Solomons have a staff Christmas box, which if people feel so inclined they can contribute too, but this is definitely not expected.
What’s the WIFI like in the Solomon Islands
Generally speaking, the wifi or internet connection in the Solomon Islands isn’t the best. Some hotels offer free wifi or wifi for a charge. However, the free wifi is usually 500MB to 1GB, and the paid wifi can be fairly expensive.
Another option for Internet access is “Our Telekom”, the local mobile network. You can get a free sim card from the airport as you come out of arrivals (if available) and then activate and top up via local agencies. Please note, you are not able to top up via phone call or online – it is a little old school. You can check out the pricing for data/voice plans here, keeping in mind this is in SBD.
Clothing – What should you pack?
I’m sure you have been on a trip before, or know that standard things to pack for a trip, but just in case you haven’t, ill make a few suggestions below:
- Underwear (plenty of clean pairs ladies and gents)
- T-shirts (when visiting the village, please cover your shoulders)
- Insect repellent
- Toiletries – Toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, shampoo and conditioner.
- Shoes – A sturdy sandel if you are planning to do any hiking or village visits, otherwise thongs/jangles/flip flops or sneakers/trainers are fine.
- Light rain jacket – it can get a little chilly when it rains and you are on a boat.
Festivals in the Solomon Islands:
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to festivals in the Solomon Islands with a festival or celebration on almost every month!
Tuna Festival is a two day festival which celebrates the significance of the tuna industry and the role it plays in Solomon Islands. Which includes Tuna Marketplace where you can try and buy fresh tuna, tuna parade, tuna cooking challenge and an opportunity for local musicians to compose songs related to tuna and its importance for the people.
Wagosia Festival is a festival that celebrates the remnant of ancient culture originated and practiced by the people of East Makira. This festival celebrates the traditional Spear fighting and yam harvesting.
MACFest Arts festival is a cultural festival that takes place in the Solomons for ten days during July, it features performing arts, traditional and contemporary arts, visual arts, and literary arts as well as workshops, symposiums, and forums.
Shell Money Festival takes place in Malaita over three days, with cultural displays, demonstrations and entertainment performed by the people of Langalanga Lagoon. It is a cultural celebration of the traditional uses of Shell Money as once a Solomon Islands traditional currency.
Shell money is an old school currency used by the islanders before banknotes came into existence. It is made by handcrafting shells into strings of differently colored shell-beads, which are used in all manners of ways (which you can read more in the culture section).
Makira Banana Festival celebrates over 120+ varieties of bananas on Makira over three days. Bananas are a staple diet of the islanders. The festival features activities that include both traditional and modern cooking methods of bananas with an opportunity to share recipes.
Craftsmen also demonstrate weaving with banana fibers, into baskets and other designs and uses. You can also check out the banana chips and medicine derived from banana to cure various sickness and diseases within the Solomon Islands.
Lagoon Festival is a cultural festival of the people living in the Roviana Lagoon, located in Munda. Featuring floats both on water and land as well as water based activities and competitions. The signature activity is the Alec Wickham Swim, which falls on the last day. Alick Wickham was a Solomon Islander (now in the hall of fame) who is one of the first to demonstrate the ‘crawl stroke’ to Australia aka the freestyle stroke.
The annual Solomons Dive Festival is a celebration of the local and international Dive Community, located in Honiara. It features a week of dive activities, cultural experiences, seminars and competitions to win return drive trips.
Annual stunned mullet fishing competition which is held at the Zipolo Habu Resort in the Vonavona lagoon. It’s a great weekend of fishing, fun and festivities. Highly recommended to any fishing enthusiasts!
Surfing competition which takes place in the Western Solomon Islands surfing hot spots – Paelonge and Titiana, Gizo. The competition will involve local surfers as well as international surfers.
History in the Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands is a mecca for history buffs! I for one didn’t realise that the Solomons were involved in World War II. The Japanese forces occupied the Solomon Islands in January 1942 and then a counter-attack was led by the United States in August 1942. Some of the most aggressive fighting took place in the islands over a three year period.
There are several places throughout the islands where museums have been set up to feature the horrific events of the war and how the islanders survived and grew from this period in time.
In Munda you can visit the Peter Joseph WWII Museum, run by Barney who is very passionate about the islands war history, has dedicated most of his adult life to finding war relics, including utensils, ammunition, machine guns, shells, helmets and knives, which were all left behind by the Japanese and Americans soldiers. Still to this day, he goes out with his metal detector to find relics to include in his museum, locals are also quick to add to this collection. Barney named his museum “Peter Joseph” after the first dog tag he found.
To the west of Honiara is the Vilu War Museum, which is an open air museum that displays the remains of planes, submarines, tanks and other artifacts of the war. A few planes have been well-preserved from the Battle of Guadalcanal and are some of the pieces you will come across as you wander the grounds, which have been integrated into the jungle setting, taking you back to the time of war.
Celebrating Solomons Culture
Still to this day, the Solomon Islanders celebrate their culture, this is more prevalent outside of the capital Honiara, in the smaller islands. The islanders are fully sufficient, catching their own fish and growing their own vegetables and fruits. Any surplus food is then sold at local markets to make an income to purchase other things needed for the village.
There is a primitive village still in existence located in the Malaita province (in the north), where they build their own houses and boats out of locally sourced wood as well as making clothing out of bark and they still use shell money. Shell money is used in ceremonies, settling disputes, and bridal dowries and land payments. It’s not recommended for tourists to visit this village unless you are with a guide.
If you do want to visit villages that show the traditional way of life, you have two options:
Titiru Eco Lodge takes their guests through a cultural experience that shows their way of life. You can get to Titiru from Munda via boat transfer.
Cultural experiences includes:
- Making clothing out of bark and wood
- Using hot stones from the fire to make a bath out of a large leaf to bath babies and children
- Making bowls and other eating materials out of wood
- Making fishing rods and fishing line out of palm leaves
- Making carry bags by weaving palm leaves
- Cooking foods such as bananas using hot coals
- Making desserts out of coconuts – young and mature coconuts
- Using coconut and spinach to make a traditional dish
- Making children’s toys from palm leaves, coconuts and stones
- Cooking using hot stones from the fire
- Crafting bowls and decorative objects out of wood, engraved with shells to sell at local markets
Expedition to Kwaio is an organised trip, that takes a lot of pre planning and guidance, I would not recommend that you try to do this trip on your own as you may get lost or make a cultural faux pas that could get your seriously injured. Some of the tribes chiefs welcome visitors in order to show them their traditions and customs, they believe that modern life destroys their cultural and heritage. They invite you to stay with them as they show you what their day to day lives are. This trip can be very expensive and is not for the lighthearted as it can be difficult to reach these villages, you need to be flexible with your time and comfortable with being confronted with nudity.
Kwaio translated means “Kill You” as this part of the Solomon Islands was known for its fierce resistance, however the times of violence and cannibalism are long gone. Some “hidden man” living inland still continue to hold on to old ways and visiting these men really is never recommended. Stick with your guides and you will enjoy an authentic and safe experience.
During your time in the Solomon Islands, you’ll see plenty of signs in hotels and restaurants asking patrons to avoid chewing Betel Nut within their establishment. I’m sure like myself, this will peak your interest, or you might get a bit of a scare from the smiling locals that have red teeth or lips, so here is some information on Betel Nut.
Betel Nut are the seeds of the Areca Palm and widely used by the locals throughout the Solomon Islands. It’s considered as a mild stimulant, similar to drinking coffee, it gives the “user” a slight high after chewing it. The locals mix Betel Nut with coral (or cooked sea shells) and the steam of the Betel Nut and chew which is what turns your mouth bright red. You don’t actually eat the nut, you just chew it and spit it out. I was told that the Betel Nut is very bitter and can make some people a little sick in the tummy.
While it’s not really recommended that tourists try Betel Nut, if you do, make sure to brush your teeth thoroughly after as your teeth can become stained red after a few uses.