To celebrate the magnificent diving the Solomon Islands offers the international dive community, the second annual Solomon Dive Fest 2017 will take place in the country’s Western Province from October 2-7, 2017.
This year will mark the 75th anniversary of the battle for Guadalcanal and the event will hold even greater significance for the people of the ‘Hapi Isles,’ who take immense pride in the knowledge their home is the place where freedom for the Pacific was hard fought for and ultimately won.
Hosted locally by Dive Gizo, SIDE Dive Munda and SIDE MV Taka, dive excursions, cultural activities, photographic competitions, and workshops all combine into one very special event with focus on two of the Solomon Islands’ best dive locales — Munda and Gizo. Divers can also enter DivePlanit.com’s dive competition for a chance to win a free spot and a $300 Dive Fest Travel Voucher.
Diving in the Solomon Islands
Suspended like a string of deep-green pearls from Papua New Guinea to Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands is the epitome of a hidden South Pacific paradise, a true living culture, rich with art, dance and the iconic sound of the panpipe music synonymous with the ‘Hapi Isles’ as they are so aptly named.
This scattered archipelago of 992-odd richly forested mountainous islands and low-lying coral atolls has been attracting international tourism since 1568 when Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana first sailed into this tucked away corner of the South Pacific.
Mendana’s legacy can still be found in the Solomon Islands today with many of the islands still bearing the Spanish names he gave them – Santa Isabel, San Cristóbal and perhaps the best known of all, Guadalcanal, the name synonymous with the infamous and bloody World War II campaign in 1942 and the catalyst for the Allies’ ultimate victory over the Japanese Imperial Forces.
Since then and for the most part the Solomon Islands and their quiet, reserved people — a mix of Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian cultures — have been largely off the radar.
But in recent years an invasion of a different kind has slowly and taken place, – this time by steadily increasing numbers of international dive enthusiasts who are discovering just what makes these ‘Hapi Isles’ such a mecca for lovers of the underwater world. For these islands their coral reefs teem with huge numbers and varieties of marine life.
Add to this the hundreds of shipwrecks and downed aircraft that litter the seabed such that one area just a short journey from the country’s bustling capital of Honiara has been renamed “Iron Bottom Sound.”
The amazing mix of WWII wrecks, technicolor coral pastures, steep walls, shallow reefs, tunnels, drop-offs, and a veritable potpourri of demersal, reef and pelagic fish make the Solomon Islands’ dive potential nearly limitless.
Most of the known accessible diving in the Solomon Islands is on Guadalcanal and the Western Province, however, the region to the northwest of the archipelago. So where to go? While the destination abounds with amazing dive sites — some of which are yet undiscovered — the following are some of the most popular, accessible dive locations.
Honiara is the perfect location from which to start a Solomon Islands dive experience. Dives on the famed Bonegi 1 and Bonegi 2 wrecks are easily arranged and a short boat ride away lies Tulagi, location of the well-known dive site ‘Twin Tunnels’ and the many wrecks lying in Ghuvatu Harbor.
Of course, if you are there for some serious wreck diving, Iron Bottom Sound is literally littered with wrecks, including a recently discovered submarine.
Located north west of Honiara, from a diver’s perspective, Munda on the Vona Vona Lagoon has it all. Swim-through caves, reefs, plane and boat wrecks are all a short boat ride away from the Agnes Gateway Hotel. Water flow and currents create the perfect conditions for barracuda and jacks feeding frenzies as well. Barry’s Breakfast is just one such dive where you can hang in mid-water, surrounded by swarming pelagics while Titan triggers patrol the reefs below.
Offering a huge variety of spectacular dive sites, divers visiting Gizo can splash in at Grand Central Station, which boasts the highest fish count in the world with more than 275 species recorded in its teeming waters. Wreck enthusiasts are more than catered for with a 440-foot Japanese freighter, the Toa Maru and an almost fully-intact U.S. Hellcat fighter aircraft lying in very shallow waters a short boat ride away from Gizo Town.
The Marovo Lagoon
World Heritage Area Marovo Lagoon is known as one of the best locations for diving in the Solomon Islands. Mantas and hammerheads abound along with barracuda, eagle rays and swarms of jacks. The water flow through this area brings nutrients into the water which, in turn, brings in the whole food chain to feast at certain tidal times.
The Dive Fest Package
The package includes:
Return flights on Solomon Airlines from Brisbane to Gizo and Munda via Honiara, plus all transfers.
Two nights of twin accommodation at Rekona Lodge or Gizo Hotel, breakfast and dinner; attendance at the festival’s opening ceremony; dinner at PT109 restaurant with a cultural show; three-tank dive day with Dive Gizo with tanks, weights, dive guide and BBQ lunch; DAN seminar.
Liveaboard dive boat SIDE MV Taka
One night twin standard cabin (shared bathrooms) on board with all meals and sailing from Gizo to Munda; up to four dives with tanks, weights, dive guide and kastom fees; photography workshop
(Upgrades to a twin deluxe cabin with private bathroom are available for an extra $50 per person)
Two nights of twin accommodation at Agnes Gateway Lodge; two-tank dive day with SIDE Dive Munda with tanks, weights and dive guide; Kastom lunch at Hopei Island and WWII museum visit; marine biology focused seminar; BBQ dinner with dance performance; one-tank dive day with tank, weights, dive guide plus Skull Island visit; cocktails and winner of photo competition announcement; closing ceremony and dinner; one extra night twin accommodation at Agnes Gateway Lodge (no meals included)
The dive package is priced from $1,355 USD per person. For more information about the Solomons Dive Fest 2017 visit www.visitsolomons.com.sb or e-mail [email protected].