Friday 23 October 2015

Trekking the volcano on Savo Island in the Solomons

The Solomon Islands are one of the true adventure destinations of the South Pacific with great diving, fascinating cultural experiences and lots of WWII history.

Before joining my Heritage Expeditions 'Secrets of Melanesia' expedition, I had time to venture out to Savo Island, a mysterious dot on the map a tantalising distance from Honiara.

Dramatic Savo Island is located just a short distance from the capital Honiara, but is a whole other world, even for somewhere as remote as the Solomon Islands themselves.

A resident pod of dolphins play offshore (R Eime)
You can only access the island by private boat transfer (less than one hour), as there are no ferries or air links to the rugged volcanic island and the 1000 or so inhabitants live a traditional life with few modern conveniences. There are no roads, only pathways, and the only vehicles are canoes and local 'banana' boats.

The island juts out of the ocean imperiously at the northern end of Iron Bottom Sound, halfway between Guadalcanal and the Florida group, and was a centrepiece of the famous naval battle that signalled the start of the ferocious military campaign in August 1942.

Local Savo Island taxi (R Eime)
Staying at the island is at either the backpackers' eco-lodge or the slightly more upmarket, beachfront Savo Sunset Lodge. The latter offers beds and rudimentary private rooms with a modest restaurant and cool drinks. Sitting on one of the benches out front, watching the resident dolphins play in the surf is as away-from-it-all as it gets.

The key activity on the island is either of the two volcano treks. The shorter, I'm told, is about a half hour return, but the second is a more challenging hike takes up four hours there and back for leisurely strollers. A cross-island option is possible too, taking in the dormant caldera. Allow at least three hours for that one.

The trek begins along this sometimes dry river bed (R Eime)
Before attempting the second hike, some preparation is required.
  • An early morning departure, even at dawn, is highly recommended as temperatures can get crippling under the midday sun. Dry weather is preferred, as parts of the track has virtually no pathway and you are scrambling over rocks, fallen logs and hopping the creek along the way. Attempting the track after heavy rain is not a good idea. 
Some of the steeper sections can be tricky, especially when wet (R Eime)
  • Take a guide. Local knowledge is important and you'll appreciate a helping hand along the way. Don't go alone. 
  • Sturdy, closed hiking boots are a must, preferably with at least gaiter protection. Toward the top, the ground gets hot and brittle with little steam vents ready to scorch your ankles. The water in the stream gets hotter as you get closer to the boiling source.
  • Take drinking water with you as the water in the stream is sulfuric. And a sun hat of course. 
  • Take your time, don't rush. There are many hazards along the way and making a race of it invites injury. 

This steamy valley is the turnaround point unless you
want to continue to the crater and the other side of the island. (R Eime)

Accommodation & Transfer bookings
• Savo Sunset Lodge +677 21213 or +677 7489401
• Solomon Island Tourism Bureau +677 22442.

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