The Solomon Islands are believed to have been inhabited by Melanesian people for thousands of years. It is believed that Papuan speaking settlers began to arrive around 30,000 BC. Austronesian speakers arrived circa 4,000 BC also bringing cultural elements such as the outrigger canoe. It is between 1,200 and 800 BC that the ancestors of the Polynesians, the Lapita people, arrived from the Bismarck Archipelago with their characteristic ceramics.
The first European to visit the islands was the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, coming from Peru in 1568. The people of Solomon Islands were notorious for headhunting and cannibalism before the arrival of the Europeans. Missionaries began visiting the Solomons in the mid-19th century. They made little progress at first, because "blackbirding" (the often brutal recruitment of laborers for the sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji) led to a series of reprisals and massacres. The evils of the labor trade prompted the United Kingdom to declare a protectorate over the southern Solomons in June 1893.
In the Second World War, there was fierce fighting between the Americans and the Japanese in the Solomon Islands campaign of 1942–45, including the Battle of Guadalcanal. Self-government was achieved in 1976 and independence two years later. The Solomon Islands is a constitutional monarchy with the Queen of the Solomon Islands, at present Elizabeth II, as the head of state.
In 1998, ethnic violence, government misconduct, and crime undermined stability and society. In June 2003, an Australian-led multinational force, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), has arrived and restored peace, disarmed ethnic militias and improved civil governance. It has also led to the development of facilities catering to the expatriate workers.
The Solomon Islands is a wide island nation and the distance between the westernmost and easternmost islands is about 1,500km (930 mi). The Santa Cruz Islands (of which Tikopia is part), are situated north of Vanuatu and are especially isolated at more than 200km (120 mi) from the other islands. Bougainville is geographically part of the Solomon Islands, but politically an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea.
The Solomon Islands archipelago is part of two distinct terrestrial ecoregions. Most of the islands are part of the Solomon Islands rain forests ecoregion. These forests have come under great pressure from forestry activities. The Santa Cruz Islands are part of the Vanuatu rain forests ecoregion, together with the neighboring archipelago of Vanuatu. More than 230 varieties of orchids and other tropical flowers brighten the landscape. The islands contain several active and dormant volcanoes with Tinakula and Kavachi being the most active. The highest point is Mount Makarakomburu, at 2,447 meters. Many low lying coral atolls dot the region.
The islands' ocean-equatorial climate is extremely humid throughout the year, with a mean temperature of 27 °C (80 °F) and few extremes of temperature or weather. June through August is the cooler period. Though seasons are not pronounced, the northwesterly winds of November through April bring more frequent rainfall and occasional squalls or cyclones. The annual rainfall is about 3050 mm (120 in).
Everyone needs a passport, onward ticket, and sufficient funds to cover their stay in the Solomon Islands.
Citizens of all European Union member states, plus Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Monaco, Nauru, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Suriname, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay and Vanuatu may obtain a visitor's permit valid for 3 months in a 12-month period on arrival.
Citizens of all other nations, with the exception of Belarus, Burundi, Ghana, Montenegro, Serbia, South Africa, South Sudan, Vatican City and Zimbabwe can obtain a visa on arrival if they have a pre-arranged visa approval.
If you have a visitor's permit, you are not allowed to engage in work, business, religious vocations, or professional research. If you wish to do any of those things, you must get a business permit.
Honiara International Airport is located 8 kilometres east of the capital, Honiara. Solomon Airlines offers flights departing from Brisbane, Australia four times a week, whilst Virgin Australia offers an additional two services to and from Brisbane. There are also flights departing from Port Vila Vanuatu, Nadi Fiji and Port Moresby Papua New Guinea.
Due to a dispute between Solomon Airlines and Fiji Airways, all connections between Fiji and the Solomons were suspended as of September 2014. Service was restored in March 2015, and this route is now served by Fiji Airways and Solomon Airlines.
Cruise ships occasionally visit Honiara and the outer provinces as part of a scheduled tour. It is usually not possible to use these vessels as one way transport to or from the country.
Expedition company Heritage Expeditions (New Zealand based company) explores the Solomon Islands with its 50 passenger expedition ship 'Spirit of Enderby / Professor Kromov' each April and October with expeditions of up to 18 days. They use the ship to relocate, anchor and then zodiacs to navigate waterways and visit out-of-the-way islands and communities in expedition style travel. Main focus of voyage and the daily landings are cultural, wildlife, hiking and underwater snorkeling experiences.
Recreational yachts regularly visit the Solomon Islands, many staying for extended periods to enjoy and explore the many islands, coral atolls and beautiful lagoons.
Whilst it is possible to travel from southern Bougainville in Papua New Guinea by boat/motor canoe into the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, there are currently no commercial operators running this service. Some more intrepid visitors have been successful in securing passage on motor canoes heading between the two regions on supply trips. It should be noted that in most cases these boats do not carry life jackets, marine radios or any further form of safety equipment so caution should be exercised. There is no fixed ticket price and the journey price would need to be negotiated directly with the boat operator. In most cases, boats may reach as far as Gizo in the Western Province which has regular domestic air and sea connections with Honiara.
Solomon Airlines is currently the only airline offering domestic flights within the Solomon Islands. They have a fleet of 5 planes for domestic services which include a 'Dash 8', two 'Twin Otters' and two 'Islander' aircraft. All aircraft are based at the Honiara Domestic Airport which is located five minutes walk from the international airport at Henderson. The Airport is accessible from the city centre for a capped rate of $100.00 for a taxi. There is also a shuttle bus service which services all the main accommodation for $75.00 per person.
Flights depart for Munda and Gizo in the Western Province daily, whilst other locations are generally serviced less frequently.
Tickets can be booked online at flysolomons.com or there are ticketing offices at Point Cruz and Panatina Plaza in Honiara or at each regional airport.
Due to the layout of the country, Solomon Islanders are very used to travelling by sea and in most cases this is seemingly the preferred method of travel. While this may not be the fastest way to get to your destination, voyages by sea can be scenic and take you through lesser-travelled areas. As most offer quite basic amenities, they are also considerably cheaper than travelling by air.
While the vast majority of ships are incredibly basic by western standards, all have toilets and usually a basic canteen selling snacks and drinks. Safety equipment is mandatory for all commercial vessels in the Solomon Islands so each vessel should be equipped with appropriate materials and abide by loading requirements. Although there may be some seating available, most passengers will find a space on the floor and roll out a mat to claim an area to sleep during the journey. Due to their mixed role as passenger and freight carriers, most ships may spend a while at various ports during a journey to load and offload. While this can create delays, it also invites the opportunity to take a walk around the area and perhaps buy some fresh fruit or BBQ fish from a market.
Cargo ships run to virtually every province from Honiara and the price is sometimes just a fraction of the price of flying. To most places ships will run every week but to more remote provinces (Temotu) every two weeks or so. As opposed to passenger ships, cargo ships are slower, stopping at more ports, picking up cargo, which allows time for wandering, socializing and enjoying the views. Schedules are virtually non-existent, but Honiara's port is a good place to start asking. Information seems to be spread by word of mouth. Ask for telephone number and reconfirm again and again.
An exception to the rule, there are a small number of ships which provide a superior service, aimed primarily at higher quality passenger only transport. These ships include:
360 Discovery A former Auckland Harbour ferry which provides an almost daily fast ferry service to Auki in Malaita, often via Tulagi in Ngella (Central Province). There is a canteen onboard, toilets and flat screen tv with movies. Tickets can be purchased from either the ship or their office in Point Cruz near the Lime Lounge Cafe. In 2012 the fare as S$300 one way or S$580 return. Boarding is at 7:30am for an 8am departure, reaching Auki at around 12:30pm.
Pelican Express which provides a regular fast ferry service to Auki and the only weekly day trip service to the Western Province including ports of Batuna, Seghe, Noro and Gizo (no more as of October 2014). There is indoor and outdoor seating, toilets, canteen, and flat screen tv with movies. Ticket options include first or second class, first class seating is on the top level and is a little less crowded. Bring some warm clothes as the air conditioning works a little too well. Tickets can be purchased from the ship or their office in Point Cruz near the Lime Lounge Cafe. The Pelican usually departs Honiara for Gizo on Sunday mornings, arriving in Gizo just before dark on the same day. It then returns to Honiara on Monday mornings. Note that this service is subject to calm seas and weather conditions and can be cancelled (sometimes even when the journey has already commenced) if conditions are not favourable.
Fair Glory, a large and sturdy passenger vessel providing the only service with private tourist cabin accommodation on board. Fair Glory travels weekly to both Auki and Gizo (via Seghe, Ughele and Noro ports). Trips to the Western Province depart every Sunday morning arriving in Gizo before lunch on Monday. The ship then departs Gizo for Honiara on Tuesday mornings. Prices for tickets vary depending on seating class. Although cabin prices include 2 pax, in early 2013 quoted prices for a cabin for the Honiara-Gizo journey were similar to that of two one way tickets on the Solomon Airlines service to Gizo. As of October 2014 Fair Glory is not operating, being repaired in the Philippines. Until it is away, a cargo ship, Chanella takes passengers too.
Auki Ferry This runs most days from Honiara Wharf to Auki on the island of Malaita across the Slot from Honiara. In 2012 the fare as S$300 one way or S$580 return. The ferry travels through the Florida Islands channel which is worth seeing and there's a high chance you'll see plenty of flying fish if you look off the front or sides of the boat. The catamaran ferry is a former Auckland Harbour ferry so is not designed to be ocean-going. This means that when it's rough, it's rough so be prepared. The ferry has plenty of comfortable seating, air conditioning and a big flat screen which shows films during the journey. You can buy drinks and snacks on the ferry although it's best to buy this on the way out from Honiara as supplies run low once the boat is heading back. There is a toilet.
Boarding is at 7:30am for an 8am departure. Buy your ticket from a vehicle parked outside the jetty gate in the wharf car park. It'll be the one swamped with people getting tickets at 7:30am. Boat stops in [Tulagi] (9:30am) in Florida Islands and leaves ten minutes later for Poromole (arr. 10:30) which has a beautiful beach and water. It reaches Auki at 12:30 and leaves to return to Honiara via the same route at 2pm (boarding from 1:30pm). Return to Poromole is 3:30pm and Tulagi at 4:30pm before arrival in Honiara at sunset or around 6pm.
One of the most popular and scenic routes is between Gizo and Honiara. Most ships will make a stopover in Noro (for Munda which doesn't have a deep sea wharf) and Seghe. As of October 2014 three ferries operate this route: Chanella (substituting Fair Glory), Kosko (a cargo ship making many stops) and LC Phoenix (passengers only). Prices vary between 300 and 500 SBD one way so ask around. Oddly, all boats depart at the same time: Sunday from Honiara, Tuesday morning from Gizo. Cancellations and delays are common.
Bring a mat for sleeping and a jacket for all sea travel.
The islands are home to more than 120 indigenous Melanesian languages, with most citizens speaking the local Melanesian Pidgin as a lingua franca. English is the official language, but spoken by only 1 or 2% of the population.
ATM's are available in Honiara. Australian dollars are accepted at some hotels and resorts.
The bulk of the population depends on agriculture, fishing, and forestry for at least part of their livelihood. Most manufactured goods and petroleum products must be imported. The islands are rich in undeveloped mineral resources such as lead, zinc, nickel, and gold. However, severe ethnic violence, the closing of key business enterprises, and an empty government treasury have led to serious economic disarray, indeed near collapse. Tanker deliveries of crucial fuel supplies (including those for electrical generation) have become sporadic due to the government's inability to pay and attacks against ships. Telecommunications are threatened by the nonpayment of bills and by the lack of technical and maintenance staff, many of whom have left the country.
Although there's no legal purchasing age of alcoholic beverages, the legal drinking age is 21.
While not as bad as neighboring Papua New Guinea, crime rates in the Solomon Islands are high. Travel after dark is dangerous, especially in Honiara, and muggers have been known to target tourists at the Japanese War Memorial on Mt Austin even in broad daylight.
Ethnic tension between Guales (residents of Guadalcanals) and Malaitans, as well as between everybody and the Chinese, continue to simmer. Australian troops have been in place since 2003 to keep things in check, but this did not prevent violent rioting in Honiara in 2006 from destroying large parts of the city.
Malaria is the biggest health issue in the Solomon Islands. Travellers to the area should take anti-malarial pills before, during and after their stay.
Saltwater Crocodiles are relatively common (in comparison to other islands in the South Pacific) in the Solomon Islands and great care should be taken while in or near ANY body of water. Knowledge is the best defense for yourself and for the protection of the crocs themselves. While by no means anywhere even close to crocodile levels in both Northern Australia and New Guinea, the population is still considered relatively healthy on the Solomons in comparison to much of the species' Southeast Asian range. This is especially true of the islands closest to New Guinea, which hold the highest populations in the Solomons.
Unfortunately mobile internet is very slow and expensive. Some places in Honiara will have free wifi (The Bamboo cafe, for example).
Prepaid SIM cards are available from Our Telekom and BeMobile.