Jane Rutledge was volunteering as a Communications Specialist with the UNDP Solomon Islands Country Office in Honiara as part of the VSA Partnerships Programme. She will completed her assignment in March 2017.
Published on 15th February 2017
Jane Rutledge gets a rare chance to explore the tropical delights of the Western Province.
The jewel in the tourism crown for Solomon Islands is the Western Province. With impressive diving and dive operations, it’s also known for its fishing and water-based resorts and local bungalows, mainly out of the Gizo and Munda townships.
The Marovo lagoon, a natural saltwater lagoon with a double barrier reef, (the largest in the world), sits to its south. It stretches hundreds of kilometres as far as the eye can see.
Uepi Island resort was our first stop. A classic raised barrier reef island, covered in impressive rainforest, outlined by fringing reef and sandy beach; flanked by the warm lagoon waters on one side, and the oceanic depths (6000ft/2000m) of a marine abyss on the other. Uepi Island is approximately 2.5 km long and 300 metres wide and the whole area, aside from the resort's cultivated tropical gardens, is covered with tropical rainforest, interspersed with walking tracks.
We crossed the lagoon to spend an afternoon with a village celebrating Boxing Day. Some dancing and games were to follow. Craftsmen brought their wooden wares for us to marvel over and purchase a few precious pieces.
Arriving here across this magical stretch of water, with inky blue landscape surrounding us, was mesmerising. It felt tropical, surrounded by forest, beautiful orchids, flowers and water and it was our home for six days. Three sensational meals a day consisted of fish, sashimi, lobster, curries, greens and fruit. We spent our time snorkelling, coral and fish viewing, swimming and relaxing. Uepi is known as a diver’s paradise and we watched videos of returning divers and the wonderland of its depths. One lucky day we even spent time swimming with the manta rays.
Our journey then continued, with a three hour boat ride across a pond-like lagoon and sea to Tetepare Island Eco Lodge. This island is managed by the original descendants and is a conservation area. The original population became victim to head-hunters and so the remaining community fled to neighbouring islands and to a new life. Dolphins, flying fish and sail fish entertained us along the way. Once again, we marvelled at the turtles, clown fish (yes just like Finding Nemo) and some of the most splendid coral gardens I have ever seen.
A walk to an inland lake in search of crocodiles was quiet… thank goodness. An evening hunt for sightings of the huge blue tinged coconut crabs was successful. Local cooking lessons in cassava and banana pudding, along with ngali nuts (like almonds) and slippery cabbage (spinach) created many laughs. Turtle rodeo as it is known locally, showed the speed and care by which turtles are caught by boat for tagging and weighing. Over 2,000 turtles are being followed since the programme began in 2,000.
A short boat ride took us for a New Year’s Eve village stay and the walk to midnight church service was special. Our time was short there but the experiences and hospitality shown by locals will provide memories for a long time to come.