Kate who? The island retreat where the royals were anonymous (almost)

Mary Raboul-Manu has never read a gossip magazine or watched television, so it wasn't surprising that when Prince William and Kate Middleton visited the resort where she works; others had to explain who they were before she served them their meals.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Tavanipupu Private Island Resort in the Solomon Islands as part of their last Asia-Pacific tour. But a royal title is not a prerequisite for guests looking to stay at the only luxury resort in the country.

The Solomons may only be a three-hour flight from mainland Australia, the country feels like a world away from the everyday life most of us know.

From the private jetty that juts out a short distance from the bungalow where the royals stayed, guests can relax and enjoy island life in "Solomon time", sometimes also referred to as "Pacific time". In simple terms, this means being so laid back that measuring time by the ticking of a clock doesn't mean a lot anymore.

Tavanipupu is situated in amongst a collection of small islands with so much tropical foliage they look as if they are bubbling over with greenery.

The island is in Marau Sound in the east of Guadalcanal Province surrounded by turquoise waters, so crystal-clear that the surface looks like the base of a glass bottom boat.

While we didn't quite get the bow that Mary said she greeted her royal guests with, we still felt pretty special when welcomed with floral garlands and chilled coconuts.

Mary is just one of the locals from surrounding islands who are employed at Tavanipupu, arriving for work each morning on wooden canoes.

It may be a resort, but travellers should forget any preconceptions about this style of accommodation.


At any one time there is a maximum of 18 guests on the island, with a total of just seven bungalows.

There is nothing cookie-cutter about this place.

Each of the bungalows is decorated with kastom carvings, clamshells from the surrounding reefs, brightly coloured tropical flowers and original island themed artworks.

The deluxe and executive bungalows all have king size four-poster beds with gorgeous views out to the water.

To live it up in regal style, guests can book the supreme bungalow where Will and Kate stayed.

This bungalow has its own private garden and jetty, not to mention an amazing private outside shower.

The island, which was a coconut plantation in a former life, provided a welcome retreat from the eyes of the world's media during the Duke and Duchess' time here.

The prince and his wife's security team told staff at Tavanipupu that the island was one of the most relaxed environments that the VIPs had ever stayed.

This is easy to believe as the Solomon Islands is a country of almost 1000 islands, with a population of only about 500,000 people, many who live in leaf huts and rely on their hand carved wooden canoes as their main mode of transport.

Being privately owned, Tavanipupu Island provides a relaxing place to experience the country and take a peek into the Melanesian culture.

The island may have been a camera free-zone as part of the royal visit, but I had difficulty putting my camera down. In every direction, the vivid greens of the land against the shimmering blues of the water looked like postcard images waiting to be captured.

The clear, calm waters make it almost irresistible not to put on fins and a mask, like Will and Kate did, and explore the life below its surface.

The island is surrounded by reefs of corals in all variety of shapes and brightly coloured fish decorated in countless patterns.

I swam past parrot fish; took a closer look at clown fish hiding in amongst anemone; almost missed the near translucent looking, cylindrical, long-toms; and was challenged by a territorial pink and grey fish the size of my fist, when it tried swimming directly towards my mask twice.

On Tavanipupu Island the sound of a wooden drum beaten in a rhythmic pattern signals what Mary, who speaks mainly in Pidgin, calls 'kaikai' which is food.

Lunch and dinner are generally served in the open-air dining pavilion. It is undoubtedly, the best place to eat in the country.

While a special menu was created for the royal visit, many of the dishes made available for them are part of the ever-changing variety of meals served up for guests.

It was a surprise to see the food that came out of a kitchen so isolated from the world of modern cuisine.

The two-course lunches and three-course meals are created from the finest local and imported delicacies, with a focus on seafood that comes from the waters that surround the island.

My favourite dishes were the lobster mornay served in the shell and the banana rum desert, which I still have cravings for.

While it's not quite breakfast in bed, the first meal of the day is served on the verandah of each bungalow at a time that suit guests' holiday body clocks.

Just like William and Kate, we were treated like royalty, with breakfast one morning served out on the private jetty and a romantic candle-lit dinner on the main jetty.

Mary delivered meals to the royals who she described as "friendly".

She said the pair kept to themselves, but did tell her they were happy to be visiting the Solomon Islands.

In order to really feel like VIPs, we took up the option of going to a deserted island where we were the only two people for as far as the eye could see.

The sanbis (sand beach) island, as it is referred to in Solomon Islands pidgin was a round island without any trees, just sand, and with a diameter of less than 100 metres.

After a 15-minute boat ride past islands rimmed by sandy beaches, so white they looked like a Colgate smile, we were dropped off like castaways - castaways with a ready-made gourmet lunch to eat.

We ate our lunch under the shade of a thatched structure before heading into the water.

We snorkelled and swam in the untouched waters that surrounded the beach knowing that once we left, our footprints would be washed away with any sign that we were ever there.

Back on Tavanipupu Island, guests can do as much or as little as they like.

The usually calm conditions are ideal for stand-up paddle boarding, but if that sounds a bit too strenuous a holiday activity then there are always hammocks to laze around in.

Kayaks are available for guests to take around the island or explore further afield if so motivated.

The more relaxed option is to chill out on one of the jetties and just watch the locals paddle effortlessly by in their wooden canoes.

Guests can also choose to take a cruise around the surrounding islands, try their hand at catching a sailfish or get a massage in the over-water massage cabin.

The hardest part of staying at Tavanipupu is leaving...

The picture perfect views of the Solomons landscape, the scrumptious seafood fare specially prepared and the luxurious surrounds can easily make one feel as if they are in line to the crown.



Solomon Airlines and Virgin Australia fly between Brisbane and Honiara, the main hub of the Solomon Islands, multiple times each week. Marau Sound is a 25-minute flight from Honiara on a small aircraft, otherwise the resort can organise their boat to pick up guests from the capital.


Bookings for Tavanipupu Private Island Resort can be made online


The Solomon Islands Visitor Bureau can provide more information about what to expect when visiting the Solomons.