If I was to recommend a relaxing holiday in the South Pacific to someone who wanted to get off the beaten track a bit and experience Melanesian culture (as it is, not how it’s dressed up to be for tourists, he adds), I’d head for the Western Province of The Solomon Islands where you could expect some superb snorkelling and diving, postcard-perfect islands to explore, more fresh lobster than you could possibly eat, and the opportunity to enjoy the friendly, simple life of a Melanesian village.
To start your journey, I’d see what Solomon Airlines – the national carrier – is offering in airfares as they are likely to be competitive. Bare in mind, you’ll probably have to overnight in the capital, Honiara, and pay around $500 extra to fly onto Gizo and back. But, let me tell you, on a good day, the lagoons you’ll fly over are spectacular – emerald green and dark blue waters, sprinkled with hundreds off stunning islands (in fact, more than 900 of them). And the prospect of getting down there just gets more exciting the further you fly.
Once at Gizo, I’d head straight to either Sanbis Resort or Fatboys (pictures follow). Both will pick you up in their boat if you pre-book; it’s a 10 minute trip.
Sanbis (pidgin for sand beach) is a rustic, boutique-style eco-lodge – seven bungalows I think, including a private honeymoon suite at the end of the island.
The main communal area is tastefully decked out in warm, weathered timber sprinkled with maritime, war and cultural memorabilia, which opens directly onto the picturesque lagoon. If you get bored playing in the surrounding water, there’s a massage or spa to be had or a pool-table by the bar to gaze out over between shots and daydream as the local banana boats trail their plumes of water in the distance.
The resort has the reputation for doing the best wood-fired pizzas in the province. That, with an ice cold beer at sunset after a day of swimming and laying around, has always sounded pretty well perfect to me (setting aside the calories of course).
Fatboys (a reference to a Charles Dickens character of idleness and indulgence) is more family orientated which it does well, but for those seeking a bit more privacy, its owners are just finishing off a new waterside bungalow and a two storey bungalow on a tiny, drop-dead gorgeous atoll a short distance away. If you want to do the Robinson Crusoe thing with your partner on a patch of paradise in comfort (it has fans and air conditioning), this is where I’d be hanging my pandanus-leaf hat (though you’ll have to wait a few months for both to be finished).
For me though, the best part of pulling in to Fatboys is that it has these groovy little motorised boats (I’ve forgotten what they’re called) with a 15 horsepower outboard engine that you can hire for around $100 a day. Loaded with snorkel and mask and an esky of food and cold drinks supplied by the resort, you can venture off in the shade of its canopy and explore the nearby islands and sandbars which you’re likely to have entirely to yourself.
This – the boat, the scenery, the refreshments and the sense of adventure (soft adventure at least) as you motor-off to find your own tropical island – is, in this humble traveller’s opinion, as good as it gets.
Beyond that, there’s a dive operator in Gizo if you want to get your diving ticket while you’re there, fresh food markets to stroll, some war relics if you’re interested in all things history, and plenty of friendly villages where the people will be happy to introduce you the intricacies of chewing the local Betelnut (when in Rome and all that),
Altogether, a great week off if you’re looking for somewhere less known in the South Pacific to have a holiday. Highly recommended.
For more details and prices, surf the net and visit the tourism authority’s web site at www.visitsolomons.com.sb or have a chat with your local agent.