"We don't wear make-up."
Solomon Islanders make this thinly-veiled jab at other Pacific nations to suggest the Solomons is still an authentic destination, rather than a westernised adaptation. They say it politely and with a bright Melanesian smile but the "make-up" line is not without foundation, if you'll pardon the pun. The Solomon Islands au naturel is diamond-in-the-rough beautiful - physically, culturally and spiritually. They are determined to retain their customs and practices, known as 'kastom', as they tread the fraught fine line between development and traditional islander life. One important aspect of kastom is respect for elders - which also extends to visitors - but there are more reasons why the Solomons is suited to mature travellers seeking experiential travel in this relatively undiscovered part of the world.
Disconnect from the grid and reconnect with your partner. The Solomon Islands offer get-away-from-it-all isolation, ideal for a honeymoon or amorous retreat. Tavanipupu is the nation's most luxurious romantic resort. Set on a small island in Marau Sound in Guadalcanal Province, this pristine, lagoon-side resort has 10 free-standing bungalows with vaulted ceilings, thatched rooves, king beds, modern bathrooms and traditional decor. And no Wi-Fi or TV. After a day of snorkelling, fishing, kayaking, wake boarding, spa treatments or visiting the traditional village on nearby Marapa Island, you can dine on fresh-caught seafood at a private table for two at the end of the jetty overlooking the lagoon at sunset. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spent a night here in 2012 and the locals claim Prince George was most-likely conceived in the Royal bungalow. Other romantic getaway destinations include Sanbis (no kids under 12) and Fatboys, both in the Western Province and Uepi Island Resort in the Marovo Lagoon, which is ideal for couples who dive. See tavanipupu.com; sanbisresort.com; fatboys.com.au; uepi.com
As part of the Coral Triangle of the western Pacific, the Solomon Islands boast some of the most exciting and distinctive diving and snorkelling sites in the world. Professional scuba operations – including Tulagi Dive and Bilikiki Cruises in Honiara, and Dive Gizo in the Western Province – run day-trips and extended tours showcasing the coral gardens, wall diving, drift diving and numerous WWII wrecks. (So many sunken ships and aircraft lie on the seabed between Honiara and the Florida Islands, it is known as Iron Bottom Sound.) The water is warm and the visibility excellent and you can expect to encounter eels, sharks, turtles, dolphins and dugongs, as well as neon sea slugs, colourful fans and countless reef fish. See tulagidive.com;bilikiki.com; divegizo.com
See also: Twenty reasons to visit Solomon Islands
Surfing tourism is booming here too and there are plenty of unhassled spots throughout the islands. Almost all are reef breaks and many offer long, clean left- and right-handers, especially between October and April when the direction of the trade winds make conditions ideal. Don't expect to see lifeguards patrolling safe swimming areas between flags or ice cream vendors. Check out Santa Isabel Island, Pailongge near Gizo and Skull Island. (And yes, there are real skulls on Skull Island but this is a sacred place and you should go with a guide and pay a few dollars in 'kastom' fees.) See surfsolomons.com
World War II Sites
The Solomons was the scene of bloody naval, air and land battles during the war in the Pacific in 1942-43. History buffs and the families of veterans come to see the memorials, museums and rusting military hardware, mainly on Guadalcanal Island but also in the Western Province. You can still see jeeps, tanks and amphibious vehicles in the jungle, as well as foxholes and caves where the Japanese were dug in. Marble plaques at the US War Memorial on Skyline Ridge overlooking Honiara tell the horrific story in some detail, while the Japanese Peace Memorial is a simple, poignant stone monument. The Vilu War Museum displays aircraft, artillery and other equipment in a (now) peaceful field. Other sites of notes include Bloody Ridge near Henderson Airfield and The Gifu, where a collection of wartime relics have been assembled by local villagers. John F Kennedy's Patrol Torpedo boat was sunk between Kolombangara and Ghizo Islands and the story of the rescue of the future US President and his crew by two islanders is legendary.
Not for the very young
The Solomons may be problematic for smaller children. Malaria prevention medication is recommended before, during and after your trip and visitors should be able to take pills. There are no kids' clubs or nanny facilities of the type you find in many hotels and resorts throughout the Pacific, especially in Fiji where kid care is an art form. Swimming pools and kids' menus are rare – especially beyond Honiara - and many attractions involve at least moderate hiking and small boat transfers.
Solomon Airlines flies from Brisbane to Honiara four days a week and from Sydney every Tuesday from November to the end of January. They also operate all internal connections. See flysolomons.com; Phone 1300 894 311.
Tavanipupu: Rates from ~AU$200 (Island bungalow) - ~$300 (Royal bungalow) per night. Transfers to and from the local airfield are included. Meal packages – full breakfast, two-course lunch and three-course dinner - ~AU$85 per person per day. tavanipupu.com
The writer travelled as a guest of Solomon Islands Visitor Bureau and Solomon Airlines.
See also: The South Pacific's best kept secret