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Solomon Islands

Photo © Ian Puia

Travel Guide Oceania Melanesia Solomon Islands

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Introduction

Rain over Lughu Bay

Rain over Lughu Bay

© All Rights Reserved dadmin

Until a century back, Solomon Islanders were about as fond of foreigners as cats of dogs. Well-meaning missionaries had a habit of ending up dead, regularly in the stomachs of the islanders. Thankfully, fear of foreigners has subsided and Solomon Islanders are a lot more open and a lot less human-hungry. Granted, ancient traditions still persist, particularly in the form of taboo, so a certain amount of cultural sensitivity is required.

WWII played out in the Solomon Islands in a particularly bloody manner, as Guadalcanal was deemed strategic by both Japanese and Allied forces. WWII wreckages are common, both on land and submerged. This is the primary reason for the Solomon Islands' status as one of the best diving grounds in the world. But for those less aquatically-inclined, local culture and gorgeous scenery are sufficient incentive for enjoying a holiday here.

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Brief History

A wave of early settlers in the Solomons is believed to have started around 30,000 BCE, first with Papuan speaking settlers, then followed by Austronesian speakers around 4,000 BCE and finally the Polynesians somewhere between 1,200 and 800 BCE. The Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, was the first European to discover the islands in 1568. When he found alluvial gold on Guadalcanal, he believed he had found the source of King Solomon's gold and named the country the Solomon Islands.

The United Kingdom declared a protectorate over the islands in 1893, forming the basis of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. Christian missionaries settled in the Solomons under the protectorate and successfully converted most of the population.

World War II saw intense fighting taking place in the Solomon Islands. In 1942, Japanese forces landed in several areas in the Solomons and began construction of several naval and air bases. Allied forces fought major battles in the following months and years, including the strategically significant Battle of Guadalcanal. Dozens of ships were sunk in the stretch of water between Guadalcanal, Savo Island, and Florida Island, an area that became known as Ironbottom Sound.

Following World War II, a series of unsuccessful independence campaigns ensued. Eventually, the Solomons gained independence in 1978 and elected their first government in 1980.

In late 1998, the Isatabu Freedom Movement, a group of militants from Guadalcanal started violently intimidating Malaitan settlers, forcing them to flee to the capital or back to Malaita by the thousands. Malaitans responded in 1999 by setting up the Malaita Eagle Force. Violence continued until 2003, when a regional peacekeeping force led by Australia intervened and renewed relative calm to the country. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) continues to assist in maintaining law and order in the Solomons.

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Geography

A total of 922 islands make up this 27,556 km² archipelago that stretches 1,800 kilometres from the Shortlands in the east to Tikopia in the west and nearly 900 kilometres from Rennell in the south to Ontong Java in the north. Of these 922 islands, there are 6 large ones (Choiseul, Isabel, Guadalcanal, Makira, Malaita and New Georgia), about 20 medium-size ones and numerous smaller ones. 347 of the islands are inhabited.

The Solomon Islands shares sea borders with Papua New Guinea to the north-east and Vanuatu to the south-west. Australia is 1,860 kilometres south-west.

There are several volcanoes on the islands, of which several are active. The volcanoes of Tinakula, 40 kilometres off Santa Cruz island and Kavachi, off Vangunu Island are most active.

Many of the islands in the Solomon Islands have rugged mountains in their interior. The tallest is Mount Popomanaseu, on the island of Guadalcanal, which peaks at 2,332 metres.

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Provinces

  • Central Province incorporates the Russell and Florida Islands.
  • Choiseul Province includes the islands of Choiseul, Taro and Vaghena.
  • Guadalcanal Province covers most of the island of Guadalcanal, except for the capital Honiara, which is administered by the Honiara Town Council.
  • Isabel Province includes the islands of Santa Isabel and San Jorge.
  • Makira-Ulawa Province includes the island of Makira (San Cristobal), the Olu Malau Islands (Three Sisters Islands) and the islands of Ulawa, Uki Ni Masi, Owaraha (Santa Ana) and Owariki.
  • Malaita Province includes Malaita, South Malaita, Sikaiana and Ontong Java Atoll and is located in the southeast.
  • Rennell and Bellona Province incorporating the islands of Rennell and Bellona.
  • Temotu Province includes the Santa Cruz Islands, Reef Islands, Duff Islands (Pileni Taumako) and the islands of Tikopia, Anuta (Anua) and Fatutaka..
  • Western Province consists of the Shortland Islands, the Treasury Islands and the New Georgia Group. It is the Solomon Islands' tourism hotspot, popular for its excellent diving and scenic islands.

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Towns

  • Honiara, the country's capital and the hub of all activity. It is by far the largest town in the Solomons with a population of just over 50,000.
  • Gizo is the second largest town in the Solomons (population ~6,000) and the provincial capital of the Western Province. There are quite a few resorts and diving operations in the Western Province, making this a popular tourism destination.
  • Noro is a town in the Western Province.
  • Auki is the largest town on Malaita and the regional capital.
  • Tulagi, in Central Province, was the capital until after World War II.

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Sights and Activities

Diving

A combination of beautiful coral reefs and numerous World War II wrecks, make the Solomon Islands a great place for diving. The Kinugawa Maru at Bonegi Beach is partially above water and can also easily be swum around by snorkellers. The appropriately named Ironbottom Sound has over a dozen wrecks to explore.

National Museum & Cultural Centre

The National Museum & Cultural Centre in Honiara is a good place to go and learn about the local culture. There are also several traditional houses constructed behind the museum, each in the style of a different province. Location: Mendana Ave, Honiara. Ph: (677) 22098. Open Mon-Fri 8:00am-4:30pm, Sat 8:00am-12:00pm.

Mataniko and Tenaru Falls

The Mataniko and Tenaru Falls are both spectacular waterfalls on Guadalcanal. Mataniko's cave was a hideout for the Japanese during WWII. Both falls require a decent walk to access them.

Lake Te'Nggano

Te'Nggano is South Pacific’s largest freshwater lake and occupies a large portion of the Rennell Island. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations of the Solomon Islands and has been declared as a world heritage site. The lake is surrounded by the old reefs. It comprises of coral islets and swamps on the western side and thrilling Octopus Cave on the northern side. You can see boobies, the Rennell white spoonbill, cormorants and a wide variety of other wildlife animals.

Riba Cave

The breathtaking Riba Cave can be reached by covering the distance of an hour to the east of Auki. You will need to walk on a slippery path inside the haunting cave and therefore, it is suggested to carry a flashlight and wear a pair of sturdy shoes. Further, you will be welcomed by an underground river, stalagmites and numerous subterranean chambers.

Bird Island

If you are a keen bird watcher or wildlife lover, then Bird Island is a must visit place for you where you can spot a wide variety of colorful birds in their natural habitat. You can also see hundreds of frigates, cormorants and boobies.

Kwaibala Waterfall

Revitalize yourself by taking a bathe in the cool water of the Kwaibala Waterfall, about 3 kilometres from Auki. You can find some small pools to take a dip and have an ultimate experience of swimming and relax yourself from the daily hassles.

Aola Bay

Aola Bay is one of the main ports and a gateway to the Solomon Islands. It is a popular destination that can be explored before venturing to the other regions and cities.

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Events and Festivals

National public holidays in the Solomon Islands are as follows:

  • New Year's Day, January 1
  • Good Friday to Easter Monday
  • Queen's Birthday, June 10
  • Independence Day, July 7
  • Christmas Day, December 25
  • National Day of Thanksgiving, December 26

Each province also celebrates its own Province Day. Those dates are as follows:

  • Choiseul Province, Feb 25
  • Isabel Province, Jun 2
  • Temotu Province, Jun 8
  • Central Province, Jun 29
  • Rennell and Bellona Province, Jul 20
  • Guadalcanal Province, Aug 1
  • Makira-Ulawa Province, Aug 3
  • Malaita Province, Aug 15
  • Western Province, Dec 7

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Weather

The Solomon Islands have a tropical climate with temperatures averaging 28 °C in coastal areas. May to November tends to be the drier time of the year with June to August being the coolest months of the year. The northwest monsoon season is from November to March, bringing with it warmer and wetter weather and occasional cyclones. The annual average amount of precipitation is around 3,000 mm, though locally places can get much wetter.

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Getting There

By Plane

Honiara International Airport (HIR), formerly known as Henderson Field, is located 10 kilometres out of the capital Honiara and is the main point of entry into the country. Solomon Airlines provides international connecting flights to Brisbane, Nadi (Fiji) and Port Moresby.
Air Niugini flies to Nadi and Port Moresby, Fiji Airways to Nadi and Port Vila (Vanuatu), Air Vanuatu to Port Vila and Virgin Australia to Brisbane.

There is a departure tax at the airport of SI$40. Duty free limits are 250 grams of tobacco, 200 cigarettes, two litres of spirits and any other dutiable goods not exceeding SI$500.

By Boat

Cruise ships sometimes include the Solomon Islands on tours of the South Pacific. At the time of writing (June 09), Paradise Adventures is listing a trip including the Solomon Islands on its itinerary.

If you are coming from Papua New Guinea, it is also possible to make your way by boat from the Bougainville province into the Solomon's Western Province. Also check with the authorities if it's legal to cross into any of the countries this way, as there have been reports of people that have been send back.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Solomon Airlines has flights to over 20 airports throughout the islands. Destinations include Afutara, Arona, Atoifi, Auki, Avuavu, Ballalae, Batuna, Bellona, Choiseul Bay, Fera, Gatokae, Gizo, Jajao, Kagau, Kirakira, Marau, Mono, Munda, Ramata, Rennell, Santa Ana, Santa Cruz, Seghe, Suavanao and Yandina.

The aircraft in use are De Havilland Twin Otters and a Brit Norman Islander. Restrictive baggage limits apply. Planes fly at a fairly low altitude of about 2,000 metres, offering passengers great views of the islands on the way. Refer to the Solomon Airlines website for details on their domestic rates.

Heli Solomons/Air Transport Limited can also take you to otherwise inaccessible destinations by helicopter from Henderson Airport.

By Car

There is a network of roads throughout the Solomons, mostly unpaved. In and around Honiara however, there are some paved roads. Car hire is possible in Honiara, albeit with fairly hefty price tags attached. Hiring a taxi when you need it will usually satisfy your needs. A taxi ride from the airport to anywhere in town costs about S$50.

By Bus

Public buses are an economical way of getting around Guadalcanal. A flat fare of S$3 currently applies, although this may be rising due to fuel costs. [1]

By Boat

There are boats travelling throughout the Solomons, servicing remote locations that sometimes aren't possible to reach by aircraft. Timetables are rare however and the quality of the boats often leaves much to be desired. You can opt for a cabin or a cheaper spot sleeping on deck. There are however a few noteworthy options to travel around by boat in the Solomon Islands. These include:

  • The MV Pelican Express (elite@solomon.com.sb) is one of the best services and travels between Honiara, the Western Province and Malaita.
  • In the Western Province Go West Tours offers a regular shuttle service between Munda and Gizo.
  • Wings Shipping travel to the Western Province and Malaita from Honiara
  • Trans West Shipping travels from Honiara and Gizo to the Western Province and Choiseul
  • The Isabel Development Corporation travel from Honiara to Santa Isabel.

By Bicycle

Getting a hold of a bicycle can provide a good way of getting around Honiara at least. The town is not large and consequently many locations can easily be reached with a quick bike ride.

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Red Tape

American, British, Commonwealth and EEC visitors are granted entry visas for a month on arrival. No fees apply. For a list of nationalities that require a visa for entry, consult this list, provided by the Division of Immigration.

If entering as a visitor, your passport will need to be valid for at least six months after your date of entry, you should have enough money to support your stay and you will need to have a return or onward ticket.

Further enquiries can be made at the Division of Immigration, PO Box G26, Honiara, Solomon Islands. Email: immigration@commerce.gov.sb, Ph:(+677) 22243, Fax: (+677) 22 964 or the nearest consulate.

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Money

See also Money Matters

The Solomon Islands Dollar is the national currency and coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, $1 (and rarely used 1 and 2 cent coins). Notes are in denominations 2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100. The currency has been floated since 1979 and its value has been hurt by inflation. Current rates (February 2012) are 9.38 Solomon dollar for €1, 7.01 for US$1 and 11.05 for one British Pound. Check Yahoo Finance for current rates, also in Australian Dollar: AUD, USD, EUR

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Work

If you are visiting the Solomons for more than 30 days and want to do work while you are there, you will need to obtain a work permit from the Commissioner of Labour and supply it to the Director of Immigration. Visitors wanting to do research will need a research permit from the Education Minister or Department in order to get an appropriate visitor’s permit. [2]

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Language

Dozens of different languages are spoken throughout the Solomon Islands. To communicate, Solomon Islanders speak Pijin. English is used as an official language.

As of 2012, there are 74 officially recognised languages within the Solomon Islands. 70 of these are still spoken today, whilst 4 languages are considered extinct. The overall number of languages spoken in the Solomons is on the rise. [3]

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Sleep

Accommodation choices in the Solomons range from mid-size resorts in Guadalcanal and the Western Province to small bush lodges where you stand every chance of being the only guest at the time.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Solomon Islands. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Solomon Islands) where that disease is widely prevalent. Visitors who have passed through epidemic or disease-infected countries require immunisation.

Malaria is the most serious problem to be aware of when visiting the Solomon Islands. Anti-malarial medication is highly recommended, as well as regular use of insect repellents (50% DEET) and sleeping under a mosquito net. Also try to wear long sleeves after dark. It is also advisable to have up-to-date immunisations against DTP (Dyphtheria, Tetanus and Polio), Hepatitis A (no matter how long you travel), typhoid (2 weeks or longer), Hepatitis B and tuberculosis (both 3 months or longer). Consult your doctor a few weeks before leaving. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination though.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

While there are local clinics scattered throughout the islands, services are limited in remote areas of the Solomons and transport back to Honiara can be time-consuming. Be aware of this if you have any pre-existing conditions that may require immediate specialist attention.

The National Referral Hospital (also known as NRH, Number Nine or Central Hospital) in Honiara is the largest in the country with 300-400 beds.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

In 1998 ethnic violence erupted in the Solomon Islands, causing the country to descend into chaos.

The Solomon Islands' government requested outside assistance to resolve the situation. The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) arrived in July 2003 and has helped enforce law and order since then. In 2006, political tensions led to riots in the city centre.

Currently, the country enjoys relative stability and has returned to a degree of normalcy. It is however advisable to avoid any large public demonstrations, which have the potential of turning violent.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Getting on the internet in the Solomons is starting to become more easily achieved, in particular in Honiara. Outlying areas still have limited access due to their remote locations, but this is changing quickly through a growing wifi network and solar powered internet stations.

There is an internet café called PFnet in Honiara on the 2nd floor of the NPF Plaza.

You can also purchase a prepaid wifi or dial-up service through Our Telekom's Bumblebee service. Access is granted by buying a scratch-card which will give you a username and password.

To access the dial-up service, the number is number to dial is 141, nationwide. One card will give you 120 minutes of dial-up access and is valid for 30 days. The cards can be purchased from any Telekom office.

The "Always-on" service allows you to connect by wifi from one of the hotspots around the country (currently in Honiara, Western Province and in Auki). There are two access types, either a 2-hour card or a 7-day card. Look for a "Bumblebee Broadband" logo. The cards can be purchased from any Telekom office in Honiara and from the offices in Gizo, Ringgi, Noro and Munda.

Both the prepaid dialup and "Always On" cards can also be purchased from several retailers around Honiara, including the major hotels.

If you are in the Solomons for an extended period of time, you can also sign up for post-paid plan on a minimum 12 month contract.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The calling code for the Solomon Islands is +677. No area code is required to reach Honiara. To call out of the Solomon Islands, use the exit code 00, followed by the destination country's calling code.

There is a growing GSM network (900MHz) in the Solomons operated by Our Telekom. You can get prepaid SIM cards to access the service at SB$50 including $20 credit. [4] Base stations are spreading throughout the islands, even in some fairly remote areas.

Our Telekom has international roaming agreements with Australian networks Telstra and Optus as well as Papua New Guinea's Telikom PNG Limited.

Emergency numbers to know are:

  • 911 – Ambulance
  • 977 – Search & Rescue
  • 988 – Fire
  • 999 – Police Crime Stop

Post

The main post office is off Mendana Ave in the capital Honiara, open 8:00am to noon, and 1:00pm to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, as well as Saturday mornings. There is only postal delivery to post office boxes or poste restante.

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References

  1. 1 Source: Solomon Times, Fairness on Public Bus Operators Needed, Sep 03, 2008
  2. 2 Sourced Jun 09 Department of Commerce, Industries and Employment
  3. 3 Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau
  4. 4 Prices Sourced May 2013: Our Telekom

Quick Facts

Solomon Islands flag

Map of Solomon Islands

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Capital
Honiara
Government
Parliamentary Democracy
Nationality
Solomon Islander
Population
509,000
Languages
Pijin, English
Religions
Christianity (Protestant, Catholic)
Currency
Solomon Islands Dollar (SBD)
Calling Code
+677
Time Zone
UTC+11

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This is version 62. Last edited at 22:39 on Jan 20, 14 by agencym. 28 articles link to this page.

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