A Brief History of Solomon Islands

  • The area that is now Solomon Islands has been settled since for over 30,000 years, latterly by the Lapita peoples.
  • For some reason, when Spaniard, Álvaro de Mendaña y Neira 'discovered' these islands, he thought he had found the legendary King Solomons' Mines - hence the name.
  • From the 1840s, 'blackbirding' took place. Islanders were 'recruited' ( kidnapped) as labourers for the colonies in Australia, Fiji and Samoa. Unsurprisingly Europeans from then on got a hostile reception.
  • The southern archipelago was declared a British protectorate in June 1893. After negotiation with the Germans and ceding them Samoa (which the British later 'retrieved'), Germany handed the Northern Solomons to Britain, in 1900, minus Buka and Bougainville islands. The latter became part of German New Guinea, despite geographically belonging to the Solomons archipelago.
  • During the second World War, Guadalcanal was the site of a major Allied offensive against the Japanese, who were constructing an air base on the island. Warships and smaller boats were sunk around the island.
  • Independence for the Solomon Islands was achieved in 1978. The country then dropped the definite article from its name.

Facts and Factoids

  • Solomon Islands is about 992 islands and islets with six major islands: Choisuel, Guadacanal, Malaita, Makira, New Georgia and Santa Isabel. (Surely it makes a thousand if you look hard enough?) The main island is Guadalcanal (of World War II battle fame), where the capital, Honiara, is found.
  • There's even an island named after John Kennedy who was marooned here during World War II.
  • English is the official language, a colonial legacy, but 98% of the population don't use it and speak pidgin instead.
  • The economy is based on farming, logging, and fishing. Coconuts, sweet potatoes, taro, yams, palm oil, cocoa and fruit are grown. They raise pigs, cattle, and chickens.
  • Solomon Islands has no army, but there is still ongoing internal conflict between different local tribes.

What to See in Solomon Islands?

  • Thanks to its off-beat location, much of the Solomon Islands’ marine life is still in pristine condition. (East Rennell Island here is the largest raised coral atoll in the world.) There's also plenty of wreck diving following the Battle of Guadalcanal.
  • Most of the islands are covered in dense rainforest which offers a great habitat for unusual plants, animals (there are giant rats) and birds. This, and the view from the air, are the main reasons to visit Solomon Islands.
  • I love the Solomon Islands - it's on my favourites list. I've been to:

Ghizo, Solomon Islands

I've arrived in Honiara from Papua New Guinea. After that I have to wait for a message to tell me when my flight will leave. It's a moveable feast. The creaky Twin Otter taking me to Giizo skims over myriad teeny coral islands and reefs. The view is nothing short of stunning.

I arrive on an airstrip that is an island on its own. And nothing else. The bigger island (relatively speaking) is Ghizo, the main town there is Gizo. I'm met by a little motor boat and whisked off to another coral island abode - Mbangbanga. I have my own bungalow, with a sundeck over the water and all I can see are the blue of the lagoon and the specks of little islands stretching into the distance. I'm lying in bed, listening to the waves lapping below me.

The locals here in the Solomon Islands are all very dark, mainly Gilbertese, and friendly. I get on the Internet. The girls here said they would send the boat to get me a data card from town but I don't have any cash. And they can't lend me any, as the owner has pinched it all to go out drinking....

Kennedy Island and Too Many Adventures

I have an idyllic bungalow, one of only six, with an idyllic view, so what’s the problem? It’s raining that’s what. So I decide to have a quiet day reading. But my Aussie neighbours have other ideas. We will kayak to Kennedy Island, which is a pinprick on the horizon. It's where JFK was marooned during World War II. The craft he commanded, as a naval lieutenant, was rammed and sunk by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. and the crew had to swim to land. Two of them died.

I've only been in a kayak once before and that was a punt out to a reef in Belize. Well the wind is against us and the island doesn’t get any closer, but I keep on paddling across all the coral, reasoning that the return crossing will be easy. The waves get bigger, the ocean floor further away and I'm shipping water. And suddenly I'm out of the boat, which has turned over. Can’t get back in - it just keeps sinking. So, I'm in a fairly rough sea, five hundred yards off land, hanging onto the boat. All my snorkel gear has gone overboard (well apart from one fin and that’s about as much good as half a contact lens) and then I'm stung by jellyfish. Every holiday has to have an adventure I tell myself, but this one ain't much fun.

Eventually, I am rescued by a local in a canoe, who is very reluctant to leave the beach. It turns out the bung has been removed from the nose of the kayak and it has been taking on water the whole journey. We stop it up with a bit of wood off the beach. And I'm back safe and sound though aching, bruised and stung. (The reef at Kennedy was actually quite pretty.)

Ghizo Bliss

The sun is out; the lagoon is a myriad of swirling blue. A lorikeet is chattering above and every so often a kingfisher flashes past and takes a fish with a quick plop. A snorkel safari along the reef right outside my door. I decline a kayak trip. Lobster for supper, I think. That will be the third day running. And I've taught the barman to make margaritas.

Blissful day. The evening's quite good fun too, as a group of yachties are imbibing in the bar out over the water. Everyone swaps nautical stories and Hans, the Swiss owner, regales me with his life story. Hans has been quaffing bottles of beer continuously since lunchtime and he suggests I might like a tour of his house - he's very proud of it. He designed it based on an upturned palm tree and it's called The Shack. He also designed the very upmarket establishment 'The Lodge ' at the end of the island.

Everyone is preparing for Kate and Wills to visit The Solomon Islands next month and Hans reckons he told Buckingham Palace he was full when they inquired about the royals staying there. Too much hassle and lost business he says. Anyway, I decline his inviting offer. He assures me that nothing will happen - maybe just a hug or two. He is right there, as he is too drunk to be capable of anything. As always I go to bed on my own!

A Wreck on the Reef

A final snorkel across the reef. There's a hundred foot wreck out there that the dive captain says contains a monster fish and no-one knows what it is. I don't stay too long in the vicinity. Vibrant giant clams and some sort of parrot fish that look as if they are wearing pale pink stripy pyjamas. They try to play chicken, swimming up close with their mouths wide open and then shying away at the last moment.

I was due to fly back to the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara, late this afternoon, but I've checked and the flight is leaving two hours early. When the little prop planes drone over the island the two dogs here leap up and howl mournfully till they are gone.

Hans appears, looking very sheepish.

No live chickens on the flight this time. Abandoned at the airport when I arrive - again. My 'local agent', Garedd doesn't answer his phone. So I get a taxi to my hotel and coerce them into paying the bill.  They say Garedd isn't known to them. And he hasn't paid the bill for my stay in Ghizo either.

Vanuatu next.

Or read more about Solomon Islands here.

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