Pure Solomon simplicity

By Caroline Gladstone

Saeragi Beach is touted as the most beautiful in the Solomon Islands. A hand-made canvas sign flapping from a thatched hut tells me so. It’s hard to argue with that as I crunch across the sand to the shoreline and dive beneath the emerald water, although I dare say there are some pretty gorgeous beaches edging this 990-odd island archipelago.

We arrive by boat and are met by owner Silvia, while eight little children watch on, shyly half-hidden behind palm trees. Silvia, who will also rustle up lunch and book you into one of the two cottages if you wish, says we are welcome to swim and laze about.

The water is deliciously cool and it’s a cue for the kids to discard their shyness and join us for a swim. We snorkel, hand the masks over to the kids and play all sorts of games as the little ones chase us about.

Later when I think of all the experiences I have during a week in the Solomons, from eating lobster on the deck of my resort, to chasing dolphins in a boat and watching sunsets so gorgeous they verge on the spiritual, this is my favourite. When we wave goodbye and the kids resume swinging in a hammock, I kick myself for not having brought anything – some pens, books, a few toys or even lollies – but then realise it’s perfect just the way it is.

The Solomon Islands are like that — simple, unspoiled and just right.

Saeragi is on the island of Gizo in the Western Province, one of the nine provinces of the Solomon Islands and itself made up of innumerable islands, big and small, along with a couple of airstrips. And while this region is the most visited in the country beyond the capital Honiara and the main island of Guadalcanal, I rarely see more than a handful of travellers in any given day. Whizzing about on a boat between islands on the glassy Vono Vono lagoon, we see more dolphins than people.

We’re staying a Fatboys Resort, on Mbabanga Island, one of the more established in the region which takes its name from Dickens’ ‘The Pickwick Papers’, where a character Joe the Fatboy liked to eat, drink and fall asleep. The overwater restaurant and bar contains a pool table and hammocks, and a jetty leads to a clutch of bungalows on the shore. From my balcony I have a perfect view of Kennedy Island (named after President Kennedy who heroically swam there in 1943 after his patrol boat was cut in two by a Japanese destroyer) and to the wonderful Kolombaranga Island, shaped like a sleeping woman, behind it.

Life is similarly lazy at Fatboys — there’s snorkeling off the jetty, cold beers in the fridge and crayfish on the menu. Boats take surfers to nearby reef breaks, while picnic lunches and sundown drinks are set up on tiny sand spits in the middle of nowhere.

Sanbis Resort, also on Mbabanga Island, is equally soporific with the added attraction of a wood-fired pizza oven and a day spa offering treats like a lomi-lomi massage. A few clicks down the lagoon is Oravae Cottage where guests can take the entire three bungalows (including a tree house) and sit on the terrace and watch dugongs swim by. These three upmarket establishments, together with a smattering of mum-and-dad clean-and-tidy homestays and a hotel or two in Gizo town (the second largest town after Honiara) is what passes for tourism in the Solomons.

The experience takes me back to a simpler time; a time of my youth. When holidays were happy, no frills affairs when a beach, a good meal and mucking about in boats was sheer heaven.

My short stay is split between the Gizo region and Guadalcanal, the island which not only contains the capital but is etched in history as the location of one of the bloodiest, and decisive, battles of World War II.

From Honiara we drive west to Vilu Beach, from where we take a boat across Iron Bottom Sound to Savo Island. All three locations played a huge part in the Guadalcanal Battle that raged in this otherwise peaceful patch from August 1942 until February 1943. Today Vilu Beach contains an open air museum littered with the relics of the battle – tanks, aircraft parts and even hundreds of Coca Cola bottles, while Iron Bottom Sound is so named for the dozens of sunken battleships that rest beneath its waves, including the HMAS Canberra.

All is peaceful on Savo Island where our half-day tour includes a concert of harmonious singing and a tasty lunch of the freshest pineapple, chicken and lobster. After lunch a few of us climb into hammocks, others have a swim and stroll along the beach. This is the Solomon Islands and the living is easy.

Photo: Caroline Gladstone