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Trip Reports

Not your average Solomon Islands dive trip!

2016: Solomon Islands

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Solomon's Trip Report - Peter Wheeler

..Wednesday 3rd of August and we slowly congregate at Auckland International Airport. Singles,couples , checking in and getting sorted, the usual banter that you have while waiting to board international flights to exciting places. Our flight to Brisbane was pleasant and uneventful, however at Brisbane airport some of us came under the scrutiny of a female Russian ex- weightlifter, fortunately I missed the cavity search but had to explain my necklace wasn’t a pacemaker, so I posed no in- flight threat….!

A quick drinky and we are being summoned to Gate 75 for the flight to Honiara (momentary panic, where is passport..? so many pockets in new bag, can’t find it for a bit.. ) a 3 hour flight with no entertainment, ah well…do a crossword then. Landing at Honiara is interesting….think, back to the dark ages…! Yes there’s a luggage carousel…one.. and the nice man gets our bags, and any others he can find even if they don’t belong to us.. and we transfer to domestic…in air con taxis, all of 400m away ,3 abreast on a single lane road..! Domestic is a “tin shed” with the most pot holed concourse you’ve ever seen, and signs saying “maximum weight 15kg per passenger “ err ..I don’t think so… Anyway after an amusing short wait we pile into a plane with propellers! 32 seater and soon taxi down the runway and lift off for the 1 hr 15 flight to Munda first and then 15 mins on to Gizo, our destination. Cabin service was a biscuit and water, must’ve been the convict flight…! Anyway, looking out the window (yes, it did have some…) the sea below was dotted with small green islets and incredible blue waters, and you just feel the excitement building. Upon disembarking at Gizo, we grabbed our bags and were whisked to nearby banana boats for the magical boat trip to Fatboys resort. Magical it is indeed with tepid water splashing your face and sheets of small silver fish leaping everywhere, you just know it doesn’t get any better as a start to  10 days of mind blowing diving. Disembarking at Fatboys, we get lei’d, and a cool drink and walk the jetty

over an aquarium like seashore, teeming with life, to our comfortable shared bungalows. It had taken the best part of a day to get here, but it’s only 1 hour behind NZ, so no jet lag. Unpack ,chill and get ready for dinner. Dinner is served a la carte style, slowly, but there is plenty to discuss and you can always check out the Black tip reef sharks cruising around, won’t be snorkelling tonight sorry…Most of us had the Beer battered crayfish I think, but there was a good selection on offer on the daily menu which revolves around seafood, bananas, coconuts and curries. Nobody stayed up too long ,we retired to respective quarters and wrestled with mosquito nets and lay listening to geckos in the rafters. Very comfortable digs really, all mod cons , fridge, fans, power points etc, all powered by generator. Sunrise 6.30 …up and at’em, check out the scenery. Kolombangarra Island across the sea, shrouded in mist, scene of the King Kong movie. Buffet breakfast, gorgeous tropical bananas and let’s go DIVING…yay. The boats x 2 arrive from nearby Gizo and we split into 2 groups, buddy up , gear check and get in the water. An easy first dive, shake out the cobwebs. Set the scene for the coming week, a drift dive in minor current along a wall ,max 26 metres, so much to see, so warm and comfortable. Mobulas, some small sharks, lion fish, I’m in paradise…sigh. Get back in the boat, with the usual assistance and motor to an island for a light lunch, fruit etc. A decent surface interval and off we go to the next dive site. A shallower wall, this time with all the camera gear…nuff said.  This was the pattern for the next few days. 2 dives with an interval, all at different sites with different depths and conditions, but all warm ,(and wet ). Back to Fatboys for a lat ish lunch and the afternoon to relax, explore, or snorkel around the resort set over the water, with an amazing array of life including pipefish and feisty Maroon clowns. Island life was quiet, laid back and just a big enough island to have exploring room. On day 2 we did a short first dive, surfaced with a 100 bar because our 2nd of 3 dives was a plane wreck, a Grumman hellcat  sitting in 8 metres, crashed in 1944. As with all the plane wrecks we were to see ,there was a resident pair of Maroon clowns and plenty of other life, sharp nosed puffers, nudis… only lacking a mermaid really. 3rd dive after surface int was a walk in off the beach, straight into 25 m, and drift along for about 600m over 45 mins of comfortable exploring surrounded by banner fish,damsels, ,surgeons, parrot fish…you name it . Our friendly dive boat operators are knowledgeable and helpful, pointing out things of interest and helping load and unload gear. Their betel stained teeth look like a bad case of gingivitis. Day 3 and we are off to Gizo proper, not a salubrious tropical island town, but the dive centre is all efficiency and bustle, into the boats and off north to the Toa Maru, a 140m long cargo ship sunk in 1942. Lying on its side at a depth of between 7 and 37 metres at the stern, it’s a stunning wreck to dive because it’s just covered in amazing plate corals and hordes of life. Having been submerged for nigh on 75 years ,the wreck is slowly collapsing and only limited internal access is permitted, but there is so much to see and only one tank to see it all with…surfacing was strange with torrential rain hitting your head for a  brief shower. Lunch was an excellent repast of whole fish baked over coals…simple and soooo good. A short 100m away was dive 2 at Grand Central, again come back up with 90 bar because we have a couple of shallow plane wrecks to check out in Gizo harbour. Motor back to Gizo Harbour ,and I’m not kidding..20 m from the bustling market in 9m of soup is a Jap Zero, intact, surrounded by beer cans and glass bottles and…sand. On this wreck we found a guardian Lionfish, just hangin’ out, as you do, I finned up the sandy bottom to 5 m depth and encountered a lone anemone with resident family of Saddleback clowns, while Mum and Dad “viciously” attacked my strobe I snapped the “juniors” playing . As I surfaced I could hear the bustle from the nearby market . Back in the boat for the trip back to the resort, another afternoon of relaxing ( I could get used to this holiday stuff…) and off for dinner… crayfish again…boring…not…!

Day 4 include a very interesting drift dive , plenty of current and more stuff to see. Dive 2 was a rocky pinnacle called One Tree…go figure. Not so much to see, but still warm and relaxing. Back at the resort and it’s time for a nap to the sounds of swallows twittering and terns squeeking as they dive for small fish. The sandy beaches are covered in hermit crabs of every size and shape, and at night the coconut crabs and mud crabs come out in the beams of my head lamp.

Day 5  was a repeat experience , 2 interesting dives, the weather a bit windier and wetter for the last 12 hours but still warm …only thing is,  tropical rain on the face at speed feels like a demented acupuncturist on a bad day….

Some points to note here, everything is shipped in here, including diesel, so is a bit dearer than the mainland. There is 2 types of bread…sliced or unsliced, potatoes aren’t seen ,it’s yams and plantains. If you want gourmet service and hot and cold running maids, then go elsewhere. The beauty here ( and there is plenty…) is the chance to relax , leave the noise behind, experience nature AND get looked after while doing it, albeit on island time.

Dinner today was cuttlefish in pepper sauce ..with banana fritters

Day 6 and we transfer to Lola Island and Zippolo resort, 2 dives on the way. My diving came to halt at this stage because of a back problem, same the next day, BUT, this place is cool… seriously good bungalows, looking over a lagoon, great land based facilities, so I made up for it with some terrestrial photography. The island is covered in beautiful orchids and frangipane and at night rings to the sound of little tree frogs, that obligingly switch off at around 11 pm. The rest of the gang had another ship dive and more excellent walls and drift dives.

Day 8 and you aren’t going to keep me out of the water any more…Dive 1  Dream Island…and stunning it was too..spectacular corals, stunning dark lionfish, cool nudibranchs, all  reached by a great boat trip winding through a myriad of tiny green islands. Our dive guides are from Munda and very professional,  safety being very important at all stages. Second dive…Lighthouse Point, quite different to our first dive, quite rocky with strange sponges and soft corals, great vis and plenty of nudis… I’m happy.

Our hosts here at Lola Is provide lovely dinners served buffet style with plenty for all, a bit of night spotting and it’s sleep time, the days are disappearing too fast. I have a family of geckos living behind my bedside light…

Day 9   Off to Hai-pe reef for another wall dive. Lunch on Kinukinu Is and our afternoon is 2 plane dives. The first a Bell Aircobra P39 with a whole family of resident Lionfish and then a quick second dive on a Douglas Dauntless dive bomber which our guides find with uncanny accuracy with little or no visible landmarks. We had a nice interlude of a walk to Bernies Backyard War Museum, where hundreds of salvaged  WW2 items were on display in a large shed in Bernies umm backyard…!  Day 10 and it’s our last dive day…sad.. but the weather was improving all the time and it was a nice trip out to Shark Point, drop in over a deep culvert and straight down to 25 m, turn right and keep finning, eventually getting to a point with the big blue out there, but no sharks…! Some school Barracuda and plenty of other life, but the guides are at a loss as to where the sharks are, oh well ..next time, second dive at a site called Sasso hite` Is, we walked in off the beach for a sand based dive, max 20 m and the prize siting of a Pinnatus Batfish….exxxxxcellent…. It all had to end unfortunately and we all got back in the boats for the last trip back to Lola. Wash all the gear, disassemble the camera gear, start packing, but time for a last trip over to Skull Is to check out some old burial sites, spooky but absorbing… back to the resort for our last dinner, and the Solomons turned on a stunning sunset, lots of photos later and it is with some sadness that we walk back to our respective bunks, up the orchid scented paths for the last time, do the last packing and mentally prepare for tomorrows return trip. The next day dawned bright and warm, but oh…! How that was to change.  Munda was in Sunday mode, church bells ringing as we waited for the plane, local kids with ebony skin and pink soles and palms jumping off the wharf, water drops sparkling in the morning sun. Smooth flight to Honiara and a short wait for the flight to Brisbane, during which the skies got blacker and blacker, and wouldn’t you know it, just as we have to walk across the tarmac to board,it bucketed, I mean it fell out of the sky, so we splash up the stairs and sink into our seats, all a bit soggy but happily chattering.. The air con on the plane is blowing out steam and looks like a sauna on a busy day. Brisbane here we come… customs checks were pretty easy in most places and the 3 hour layover in Brisbane gave us a chance to catch up on photo editing and satisfy longings for a burger..with real beef..!  Back home to 11 degree Auckland and it’s a bit of culture shock.. we had all been in a place where a sack of rice was of more use/value than a handbag or shoes, 2 matching jandals was your best outfit, and yesterdays singlet was washed over night and worn again today, because that’s all there was…

  If you go there…and you should… leave your expectations behind, revel in the warmth, freedom, and access to nature that is so prevalent here. You can be a millionaire, without a dollar to your name, rich in experience and “real” things. Thank you Western Solomons, and thank you Dive Centre for the opportunity to experience this magical part of the Pacific. Catch ya next time….

 

Peter 



Galapagos - Once in a lifetime Ultimate Liveaboard in August 2014

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Galapagos Trip Report: Once in a Lifetime Dive Trip!

Text & Images by Malcolm & Barbara Kidd

The two days flying and sitting around airports with barely any sleep are forgotten... 

The earthquake we experienced in the Santiago Airport is but a distant memory…

The 17 hour crossing on our liveaboard dive boat from the main island to get here is not even in my mind...

I’m sitting just 14m underwater on a shelf on the southern side of Wolf Island in the Galapagos looking at something I’ve waited my whole life to see... schooling Hammerheads... not just a few... hundreds!



Another great Tropical Escape in July 2012

coolidgediveA common item on most divers bucket list is to get to dive the "President Coolidge" wreck in Santo, Vanuatu. We went there in July 2012 and did just that!

A sprinkling of 83 tropical islands from volcanic beginnings, Vanuatu lies peacefully in the warm waters of the South Pacific, only 2 hours 45 mins from Auckland.

Santo is a mecca for divers from all over the world because of the diversity of the diving offered, ranging from live coral to spectacular wrecks.

It is the final resting place of the 22,000 ton liner turned troopship "SS President Coolidge" and the destroyer "USS Tucker", both victims of US placed mines.



We're back from Palau, Micronesia, and it is the best tropical diving we've ever done!

21st May to 31st May 2011

We stayed board the Palau Aggressor II, one of the most famous "Liveaboard Dive Vessels" in the world, for seven days of diving and exploring some of the most beautiful reef systems in the world! 



In 2009 we visited Vava'u in the Kingdom of Tonga

Vava'u mother_calfThe highlight for everyone was swimming with Humpback Whales! Until you have been in the water with Humpbacks, you can't really understand the feelings you have being close to these beautiful creatures!

We did two afternoons and one full day Whale Watching, and at one stage had 8 Humpbacks in the same bay with us! We spent 3 hours swimming with a mother and calf, and the baby came within 2 metres of us and even suckled from her mother 2 metres away! INCREDIBLE! :-)



In 2008, we experienced one of the ultimate land based dive destinations in the world!

Manta Ray - 3 Across

We only had one Tropical Holiday planned for 2008, but 'What a Trip!" Layang Layang is in the South China Sea, 300km off the coast of Malaysian Borneo. It is a deep sea atoll rising up out of 2000m deep crystal clear ocean! An 80 room luxury resort, 10 dive boats, 300 dive tanks, and incredible drop offs, pristine reefs and huge palagic fish like Manta's, Whale Sharks, Giant Trevally, Barracuda and occasionally massive schools of Hammerhead sharks! This is a divers dream!



Trip reports from Winter 2007

Vanuatu - June 2007

This trip was fantastic with everyone loving the diving and the deep dives on the President Coolidge, Million Dollar point and the surrounding reefs!

Niue - August 2007

Our second (and third) tropical trip this year was to Niue, where we found some of the clearest tropical waters in the world, rarely below 40m viz, and often up to 60m! We were lucky enough to have three Humpback Whales come through after a dive! A one month old baby, a medium size male and a huge female! It was an incredible experience to be in the water with gigantic creatures like this, and is something all of those with us will never forget.