A unique blend of sharks, whales, turtles, macro life, caves, tunnels, and WWII wrecks, this is what Solomon Islands are like under the water. Marine life infatuates offering the best world’s diving and snorkeling sites. The Archipelago can be explored on a liveaboard or during daily trips while staying at one of the paradisiacal islands with tropical surroundings and deep blue water around.
Settled between Papua New Guinea and several smaller neighboring Oceanian countries like New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Fiji, Solomon Islands is an archipelago of 6 big islands and more than 900 small islands. The distance between the most western point and the most eastern part of the country is 1800km (1118mi). This is a sovereign country but 2 islands, Bougainville, and Buka, are under Papua New Guinea political regime.
The territory of Solomon Islands is subdivided into nine provinces: Temotu, Makira-Ulawa, Rennell and Bellona, Guadalcanal, Central, Malaita, Isabel, Western, and Choiseul.
The international airport is located on Guadalcanal Island 11km (6.8mi) to the east from Honiara, which is the capital of the country. This is the main air gateway to the Islands accepting flights from Australia, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea. Honiara is also the main hub for local flights serviced by Solomon Airlines to about 20 local airports. The main routes visit the most popular touristic destinations like Gizo, Seghe, and Munda. The length of a flight to all of these destinations is about 1 hour from Honiara.
It is possible to travel between the Islands by sea. However, ferries can be crowded and it is highly recommended to check if the safety regulations are followed by the operator, like personal lifejacket availability, a number of people allowed aboard, etc. The main ports are located in Honiara, Noro, and Yandina. There are also cruise ships like Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises which stop at Solomon Islands.
Each international traveler needs to pay the departure tax of SBD40 (~5USD) at the airport. Most of the businesses on the Islands accept cards; however, it is advised to have some cash with you as well.
There are 2 options to explore the underwater secrets of Solomon Islands: on a liveaboard or during daily diving tours when staying at one of the resorts. Otherwise, you can combine both options to enjoy one of the most diversified ecosystems in Indo-Pacific.
Solomon Islands are located in the eastern part of the Coral Triangle which means that you can expect a minimum of 500 species of corals and the richest marine life in this region. You can do reef, wall, and wreck diving here.
The Islands are famous for the largest number of World War II wrecks around Pacific. Among the wrecks, you can see a countless number of barges, airplanes, several submarines, and different vessels.
It should be noted that the coastal waters of Solomon Islands host Salt Water Crocodiles, Bull Shark, Tiger Shark, and Hammerhead Shark. So diving should be done with the local guides who know the area and local inhabitants.
There is one hyperbaric chamber at the In-the-Zone Medical Centre in Honiara. But it is operated by volunteers. The nearest official decompression chamber is either in New Zealand or Australia. That is why it is highly recommended to look after your depth and surface interval as well as to have a reliable diving insurance.
Best Dive Sites Overview
The most popular areas for diving are located around Central and Western Provinces. The area around Munda features coral gardens, walls, and wrecks. Florida Islands, also known as Nggela Islands, are famous for lava tubes. Russell Islands feature caves while Gizo is famous for wrecks and reefs. Marovo Lagoon and dive sites around New Georgia Island are popular due to the largest number of sharks and other marine life.
Iron Bottom Sound
The Island of Guadalcanal has witnessed many bloody battles and campaigns during the World War II. One of the most famous battles happened in 1942 when US Navy discovered the Japanese airfield being built on Guadalcanal. Upon the detection of the air base, US troops started “Operation Watchtower” in order to put an end to Japanese expansion into Pacific region. That campaign resulted in a large number of victims and wrecks.
Now the area near Guadalcanal and Florida Islands is referred to as Iron Bottom Sound. More than 600 aircraft and 200 ships are buried here. Most of the wrecks lie very deep, at 600m (1968ft.), nevertheless, there are some of them where recreational and technical diving is possible. Reefs are very nice as well so you can combine wreck and reef diving.
USS Aaron Ward
USS Aaron Ward is now one of the most spectacular wrecks; she was a 106m (348ft.) long destroyer. She sank in April 1943 after the Japanese air raid. This dive site can be accessed only by experienced deep divers and technical divers. She lies at 70m (229ft.) on a sandy bottom, her bow faces east. Aaron Ward is very impressive. Thanks to the average visibility of 20-30m (65-98ft.) you can explore in detail the wreck which is still in good condition featuring 7 cannons and 5 torpedoes.
Kinugawa Maru was a 135m (442ft.) long transport ship belonging to Japanese Navy. She sank in November 1942 near the beach next to Bonegi Creek. This is a great wreck site available for all levels of divers because her aft section of the engine room is located at 8m (26ft.) and the stern can be found at the depth of 30m (98ft.). The wreck is easily located as her engine block juts out of the water. She has become a beautiful artificial reef covered with hard and soft corals including Gorgonians and Anemones. You can see many Clownfish, Bluespotted Stingrays, Batfish, and Lionfish here.
B17 Flying Fortress
If you wish to get acquainted with one of the plane wrecks then B17 Flying Fortress which used to be a US bomber is worth visiting. The wreck is located near Vilu. She lies at the depth of 10m (32ft.). Even though some of the elements have been destroyed because of the erosion and earthquakes, B17 can still be recognized. She used to have 31m (101ft.) wingspan and 22m (72ft.) length. Now you can explore the skeleton of the fuselage, wings and the remaining parts of a cockpit with a gun turret. The wreck is surrounded by dozens of Glassfish and Sweetlips.
I-1 Japanese Submarine
If submarines are what you are interested in, then it might be worth visiting 100m (328ft.) long I-1 Japanese Submarine wreck in the northern part of Guadalcanal near the Tambea Village. The top of the submarine can be found at 10m (32ft.) while the stern is located at 25m (82ft.). It is possible to swim through the wreck as it is stable and open. The area around I-1 features beautiful corals, including magnificent Sea Fans, and plenty of fish.
Leru Cut is one of the most famous dive sites at Solomon Islands because of the stunning pictures made at this dive spot. It is located on a small island of Leru being part of Russell Islands. The depth here is 15-21m (50-70ft.). You can explore the cut itself which is 5m (16ft.) deep and 3m (9ft.) wide crevice in the reef wall. Besides the cut, this is also a critters paradise where you can encounter Mushroom Coral Shrimp, Anemone Shrimp, Orangutan Crab, Disco Clam, Nudibranchs, Anemones, and Gorgonians.
Mary Island (Mborokua)
This island is nestled between New Georgia and Russell Islands. It is surrounded by very strong currents attracting the largest pelagic and predators. You can be delighted at the number of Jacks, huge Bumphead Parrotfish, and Barracuda which stay in this area. Manta Rays as well Whitetip Reef Shark, Blacktip Reef Shark, and Grey Reef Shark are very common here. The shallow reefs might attract you by Leaffish, Ghost Pipefish, and Shrimp Gobies. Do not be startled in case you hear some noise while diving: this is the underwater volcano which roars from time to time near the dive site.
This dive spot can be found in the coastal waters of Mane Island and it has been rated as one of the best shallow water dive sites of the world. The coral gardens full of critters and corals lead through the tunnel to an inner lagoon. The reflection of the overhanging jungle above the surface impresses with its beauty. There used to be a Saltwater Crocodile in this area, but he seems to disappear lately.
Bottom of the Channel (BOTCH)
This dive site is located at Uepi Island in the area of New Georgia. It has been voted to be one of the best shore diving spots of the world. The dive begins from the jetty when you go down to 30m (98ft.) along the wall. It is followed by the passage with a sand dune. The sandy bottom hosts such creatures as Bluespotted Stingray, Bull Ray, Garden Eel, and Sea Pens. You can spot Whitetip Reef Sharks sleeping on the sand or patrolling the area together with Blacktip Reef Sharks. At the end of the passage, you can find a coral pinnacle known as Shark Bommie. It is common to see 20-30 sharks at the same time and many Eagle Rays as well as large schools of Snappers, Perch, and Mackerel here. The visibility is usually very good here, in average it is 30m (100ft.).
Called after the residential Manta Ray colony, this dive site is located at Florida Islands. The depth here is about 7-12m (22-39ft.). You should be ready for very strong currents bringing plankton, the favorite food for Manta Ray. Divers usually hold on a reef in order not to fly with the current, so gloves are recommended for this dive. If you take a closer look at the reef in shallow water you will most likely find Scorpionfish, Crabs, Cuttlefish and many other reef inhabitants.
Best Dive Season
The period between April and October is usually recommended by local dive clubs as the best time to dive at Solomon Islands.
Manta Rays are typically seen between November and April. Nonetheless, January-March is the rainy season, so it is better to avoid these months when planning a trip to the Islands.
The winds from the north-west usually bring rains and cyclones between November and April which is considered to be the wet season while May-October is usually the dry season.
The water temperature varies between 26-29ºC (78-84ºF) during the year. The average visibility stays about 15m (49ft.), though in some areas it can reach 20-30m (65-98ft.).
Currents can be strong at some dive spots, the strongest one is usually witnessed in the area of Florida Islands.
Solomon Islands benefit from being a part of the Coral Triangle famous for the endemic species and biodiversity. This is an active tectonic zone which results in fascinating seascapes with lava tunnels, crevices and cracks on the reefs. One of the deepest points of the Solomon Sea is the New Britain Trench which goes down to 9km (5.5mi).
The reefs of Solomon Islands feature about 500 species of hard and soft corals and 1000 species of reef fish. Most of the reefs are in a very good condition though some of them experienced the heat wave at the beginning of 2016 and there are some signs of coral bleaching in shallow areas.
The biggest diversity of fish and corals can be found in the western part of the country especially around Gizo, Makira, and New Georgia.
Those who love Nemo might be delighted to know that there are 9 types of Anemonefish which can be found at the Islands: Clownfish, Spinecheek, White-bonnet, Clark’s, Pink Skunk, Red-and-black, Saddleback, Orange-fin, and Orange Skunk Anemonefish.
Molluscs are represented by3 types of Pearl Oysters, 6 species of Giant Clams, and other species of Snails and Nudibranchs. Among other small creatures, you can expect to see various types of Crabs, Shrimps, Pipefish, and Seahorses.
Fish is widely represented by Scorpionfish, Lionfish, Batfish, Triggerfish, Sweetlips, and Parrotfish.
Still it is unknown how many species of sharks inhabit the waters around Solomon Islands due to the lack of information. The most common types of sharks are Whitetip Reef, Blacktip Reef, Silvertip and Grey Reef Sharks. Large numbers of juvenile Grey Reef Sharks can be seen between June and September around Munda.
Hammerhead Shark, Bull Shark, and Tiger Shark are spotted from time to time in different areas around the Islands.
Solomon Islands are also inhabited by Saltwater Crocodile, 5 species of Turtle, Dugong, and 6 species of Dolphins. Bryde’s Whale, Short-fined Pilot Whale, Melon-headed Whale, Killer Whale, Pygmy Beaked Whale, Sperm Whale, and Humpback Whale can be spotted around the Islands. The best season for this is October-November.
If you wish to stay on the land, you can choose one of the islands close to your targeting diving destinations. Solomon Islands offer specialized diving resorts, hotels, cottages, and apartments.
Uepi Island Resort
Located in New Georgia province, Uepi Island offers the unique location at the edge of Marovo Lagoon, the largest lagoon in the world surrounded by the double reef system. You need to arrive at Seghe with the following boat transfer to the Resort. It offers 6 Bungalows, 2 Units, and 2 Guest Rooms. Some of the Bungalows have a beachfront location. All Rooms have private bathrooms, fans, and tea/coffee facilities. Diving and snorkeling facilities, as well as some other water sports, are available on site. Uepi Island provides great opportunities to snorkel around the local sites.
Sanbis Island Resort
The Resort is located not far from Gizo. It offers 6 Bungalows with beach location and the Lodge. The latter has 3 split levels and it can accommodate up to 6 persons. There is a dining area, a lounge, BBQ facilities, sun deck and a big SPA bathroom in the Lodge. Each Bungalow features a private beach area, en-suite bathroom, ceiling fans, and a terrace. Beach bar and restaurant are located on site. All types of water activities can be enjoyed by the guests. The Resort welcomes children only above 12 years.
Agnes Gateway Hotel
This Hotel can be found on New Georgia Island in the town of Munda next to Roviana Lagoon. You can stay in one of 28 Rooms featuring Suites and Cottages. Each Room has a private bathroom, a refrigerator, a fan, and an outdoor lounge area. Restaurant, bar, and dive centre are located on site.
If you wish to feel like Robinson Crusoe, then choose to stay in Oravae Cottage. The Resort now offers 3 wooden Bungalows which can accommodate up to 12 people. The Island can be booked only for 1 party at a time. Cottages have a kitchenette, a private bathroom, indoor and outdoor showers. All meals are usually included in the price of accommodation and they are cooked on the territory of the Resort. If you reserve diving, you will be picked up straight from the property.
Iron Bottom Sound Monarch Hotel
This beachfront Hotel is located in Honiara. There are 36 Rooms each featuring a kitchenette/fully-equipped kitchen, A/C, and a patio. The territory of the Hotel offers a bar, 2 restaurants, a garden, BBQ facilities, and evening entertainments with live music. The staff can help to organize any type of water and land activity.
Joining liveaboard is the best way for experienced divers to explore the breathtaking dive sights around Solomon Islands. Currently, there are 2 boats servicing this destination. The typical itinerary usually lasts 10 or 14 nights. 5 dives including a night dive are usually part of the package together with accommodation, all meals, airport pick-up and transfer, weights, belts, and tanks. The dives are performed from tenders. You can go together with a buddy, though it is highly recommended to use a local guide.
A custom-made vessel, Taka has arrived not long ago at Solomon Islands from Australian region and now it offers year-round trips. She has the length of 30m (98ft.) and she can accommodate up to 26 guests. You can stay at one of 11 Cabins: Master Suit, Deluxe, Standard, and Quad Cabins. The latter two have shared bathrooms while Deluxe and Master Suit have private bathrooms. The guests can relax on a sun deck, in a large salon, and dining area. The dive deck is very spacious and there are toilets, a shower, and plenty of storage places there.
This luxury 38m (124ft.) long vessel can accommodate up to 20 guests in 10 Cabins. Each Cabin has a private bathroom and A/C. There is plenty of space to relax aboard including a bar, sundeck, and lounge area. The meals are provided in buffet style. The vessel operates between March and December.
Other Activities For Non-Divers
Solomon Islands offer the most spectacular snorkelling opportunities in the Indo-Pacific. Snorkelling with sharks around Uepi Island and Marovo Lagoon was recognized as one of the world’s best snorkelling spots. Typically you can swim with a mask right next to your resort especially if you are staying at Gizo, Munda or Uepi Island. It is highly recommended to consult local dive operator or resort staff about the place you wish to snorkel at as there are resident Saltwater Crocodiles in the coastal areas and some big species of sharks often pass through the area.
Other Activities and Tours
Besides the large variety of water activities at Solomon Islands, you can also take some trekking tours around the islands, visit World War II museums, rainforests, and waterfalls. There are also specialized wildlife cruises organized for non-divers between the islands to watch Whales, Dolphins, birds, and terrestrial inhabitants.