Earth : Oceania : Melanesia : Solomon Islands
Blessed with sun-soaked, coconut palm-fringed beaches and crystalline waters, the remote and unspoiled archipelago of nearly a thousand islands and atolls of the Solomon Islands is becoming an increasingly popular eco-tourism destination, offering world-class snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing and surfing. Much of the country's economy is still based on subsistence fishing, and although the Solomon Islands deserves to be a world beater of a tourist destination, an unfortunate lack of infrastructure and amenities has kept the growth of the country's tourism sector in check. This is great news for those seeking a beach holiday in a tropical paradise, but who don't want to go anywhere where the effects of mass tourism are already widespread. Visitors of this ilk should act fast, however, as the island has recently been used as the location for the hit American TV show Survivor: All Stars 2, a bit of publicity that is sure to bring thousands of eager visitors to the unspoilt archipelago.
Sprinkled across the South Pacific, these Melanesian islands have seen a lot of history. It is believed that Papuan-speaking settlers arrived around 30,000 BC, while the first European to discover these gems was Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, a Spanish navigator who set out from Peru in 1893. During WWII the Solomon Islands saw some fierce battles between the Japanese and the Allied forces, including the Battle of Guadalcanal, and the shipwreck graveyards beneath the turquoise waters bear testament to this.
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 v 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 the following nationalities can get visitor's visas on arrival: American Samoa, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bonaire, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, Cook Islands, Curaçao, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Finland, France, French Polynesia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guam, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Martinique, Federated States of Micronesia, Monaco, Montserrat, Nauru, Netherlands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Norfolk Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Norway, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Pitcairn Islands, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Saba, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna.
Everyone else will need a visa in advance.
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.
The International Airport, Henderson, is 7 miles east of the capital, Honiara. Scheduled flights depart from Brisbane, Australia about three times a week. There are also flights departing from Vanuatu, Fiji and a handful of other South Pacific neighbours.
Cruise ships occasionally visit Honiara.
It is also possible to travel from southern Bougainville in Papua New Guinea by boat into the Solomon Islands western province, as locals routinely travel between the Solomons' Shortland Islands and Bougainville.
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.
The islands are home to more than 120 indigenous Melanesian languages, with most citizens speaking the local Melanesian pigin 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.
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.