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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

     Any sea journey is as much an ultimate art, as it is an ultimate adventure. The canvas you’re given is an endless live organism thousands of miles wide and there’s no better expression of freedom than the white line that the boat leaves behind while riding the wildest of the waves

     Travelling around Solomon Islands doesn’t necessarily feel like a holiday, and why should it. With Gizo and Gatokae airstrips (the two main airports in the Western Province) now closed, your next holiday in the Solomon Islands will likely end up as a major sea adventure. And depending on the ocean's mood, travelling for 3 hours in a small motor boat while crossing an open sea can only be rough or scaringly rough, and certainly always fun. You'll get very wet and your bags thoroughly soaked in unforgiving salt water. However if you're lucky enough not to have too many people in the boat, you may not drown when a breaking wave floods the boat after the driver (for whatever reason) decides to stop on the edge of a coral reef. (more about this little adventure in our Tetepare Island post).

How To Get There

By plane 

     The main point of entry into the country is Honiara International Airport located 10 km out of the town. The following destinations offer direct international connection to Honiara: (a) Brisbane, Australia (Solomon Airlines & Virgin Australia); (b) Port Moresby, PNG (Solomon Airlines & Air Niugini); (c)  Nadi, Fiji (Solomon Airlines, Fiji Airways & Air Niugini); (d) Port Vila, Vanuatu (Fiji Airways & Air Vanuatu).

  1. Solomon Airlines provides international connections to Brisbane (Australia), Nadi (Fiji) and Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea)
  2. Virgin Australia  provides international connection to Brisbane (Australia)
  3. Fiji Airways provides international connections to Nadi (Fiji) and Port Vila (Vanuatu)
  4. Air Niugini provides international connections to Nadi (Fiji) and Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea)
  5. Air Vanuatu provides international connection to Port Vila (Vanuatu)

By Boat

     It is also possible to enter the Western Province of the Solomon Islands from Papua New Guinea by boat from the Bougainville province. Although, you would need to check with the authorities in advance if it’s legal to arrive into the country this way.

How to Get Around 

By Plane

   Solomon Airlines provide domestic flights to over 20 airports throughout the Solomon Islands. In June 2013 Gatokae airport has been shut down, while Gizo has been closed due to runway repairs and Munda was undergoing its transformation to an international airport (although it won't be receiving international flights any time soon and it will be used mainly for cargo and as an emergency airport if planes can't land in Honiara). Domestic flights are operated by small unpressurized De Havilland Twin Otters and Brit Norman Islander aircrafts which fly at low altitude and offer great views of the islands. Although according to their website restrictive baggage limits should apply (check-in baggage allowance is 15kg and cabin 5kg) we never encountered any problems or additional fees and with our diving and camera gear we were way over these limits. Although not very cheap, the whole flying experience was much quicker and felt safer and more pleasant than the boat or ferry transfer. Even though we were not notified about the closure of the Gatokae airport, they provided free boat transfer to Seghe airstrip and there was no delay during our arrival to Honiara.

By Boat

     Getting around the Islands by plane is not cheap and the only other way to reach the remote locations is by local boats and ferries. The schedules used to be pretty unpredictable and their quality a little bit desperate, however in the last few years there have been some significant changes:

The following ferry services offer transport between Honiara and the Western Province:
  1. MV Pelican Express (ph: 28104 in Honiara) is the quickest and the most reliable ferry to travel around Honiara, Malaita  and the Western Province. It departs the main Honiara wharf early on Sunday mornings, arriving in the port of Noro by late afternoon (SBD$480). You will have to get transport from Noro to get to Munda which normally is around SBD $300- 450. The ferry returns to Honiara every Monday.
  2. MV Solomon Express (ph: 28064 in Honiara) leaves Honiara on Friday and returns on Sunday.
  3. MV Phoenix departs Honiara on Sunday and arrives in Munda on Monday morning.
  4. Kosco departs Honiara on Saturday at 9pm (SBD$400.00).
  5. Trans West Shipping and Wings Shipping also travel to Western Province.

With Gizo airport now closed (re-opening is planned in early 2014), you will have to fly to Munda and take a ferry to Gizo. The following ferries provide transport between Munda and Gizo
  1. Go West Tours (ph: 62180; Agnes Lodge, Munda) runs a shuttle boat connecting Gizo to Munda via Noro (SBD $140, two hours, three weekly).
  2. The Pelena Express provides transport between Munda and Gizo daily stopping at numerous ports and villages.
  3. The Rava departs Munda for Gizo (and return) every Monday and Friday (and some Wednesdays subject to enough interest). 
  4. Aqua Explorer is the new boat transfer and charter service servicing the Munda-Noro-Ringgi-Gizo (return) route. You can also charter this boat to explore the Western Province as well as for various activities such as island hoping, beachcombing or fishing. The transfer operates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Departs Munda 7:30am and returns 2:00pm from Gizo. One-way transfer costs SBD $220 and return SBD $400. For reservations contact Freda on +677 768 8635 or via email aquaexplorer@ghizo.net.

The following ferry operates between Honiara and Malaita:
  1. Silentworld/Discovery: Silentworld operates a daily high speed ferry between Honiara and Auki (Malaita), carrying up to 150 passengers. Discovery passenger ferry departs Honiara at 8am for Auki and return on a daily basis, adults from SBD $240 one way and SBD $460 return. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, & Sunday the service goes via Tulagi and through the Mboli passage with stops at Taroniara and Boromoli, adults from SBD $160 one way and SBD $300 return.


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