Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Cruise Weekly: Slowly in the Solomons

[read full issue]

Location: Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands
8 deg 26.3'S, 157 deg 56.9'E
Vessel: True North, 50m, 36 pax

True North viewed from their onboard helicopter
Here at anchor in one of the world's largest saltwater lagoons, the Solomon Islands offers one of the few remaining unexploited adventure cruise locations on the planet. Luxury expedition ship, True North, rocks gently in the middle of this vast body of water, ringed by mysterious, mist-enshrouded mountains and low, densely wooded islands. A couple of yachts snoozing nearby and some canoes beached on a tiny strip of sand are the only reminder of human habitation in this remote archipelago.

Warriors on Tetepare Island
make a traditional greeting
Just this morning dozens of local artisans set-up an ad-hoc market for us on nearby Uepi Island, lining the ground with an array of intricately carved bowls, ornaments and totems representing both the real and mystical life abundant in this area. Hammerhead sharks, angel fish, turtles and warrior faces superbly inlaid with mother-of-pearl shell are just a few of the subjects elegantly depicted in local rosewood and ebony. Scuba divers arrive from their morning foray into the brilliant submarine world of vivid hard and soft corals, fans, anemones and their brightly coloured resident fish of all shapes. At the jetty, a dozen or more reef sharks form greedy scrums as chunks of fish scraps are dropped into the water.

This perfect vista is a world away from the hectic scenes of 1942 and '43 when Japanese destroyers ran nightly fast convoys from Rabaul to Guadalcanal in a desperate attempt to resupply their struggling campaign against the entrenched US Marines. One of these destroyers collided with the future US President, John F Kennedy, aboard the famous PT-109 in the straits just to the north. Many of these islands bore witness to some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific theatre of WWII and the waters around the islands are littered with the wrecks of both Japanese and US warships and aircraft.

Passengers disembark True North
by tender for day excursion
Small ship cruising, broader eco-tourism and battlefield tours are injecting valuable funds into the tiny Solomon Islands economy, hopefully reducing the reliance on unsustainable logging and fishing that is currently damaging the environmental balance in some areas. Secluded island resorts like Uepi, Tetepare and Tavanipupu, dot the region but offer less sophisticated amenities than similar resorts in, say, Fiji and Vanuatu, instead relying on their undeveloped “back to nature” appeal. These factors and a more involved land title system, means the Solomon Islands will develop more slowly and resist the wholesale tourism development that can sometimes tarnish an otherwise authentic tropical island experience.

For now at least, exclusive, well-managed adventure cruise itineraries like that offered by North Star Cruises can cover a dozen or more locations throughout the archipelago in a self-contained, low impact style that perfectly suits this delicate cultural and ecological environment.

At time of writing, a repeat of the 7-night Solomons Sojourn for 2011 is unconfirmed, but stay tuned to www.northstarcruises.com.au for updates.

For further information on travel to the Solomon Islands, see www.visitsolomons.com.sb

For flight information, see Solomon Airlines