The Solomon Islands remain largely undiscovered by tourists, offering quiet dive sites with some of the world’s highest fish counts.
Without the limitations of large diving groups and with the support of flexible operators, divers at the Solomon Islands currently have an opportunity to tailor an itinerary to their own experience and desires. Beginner divers often marvel at exquisite landscapes of wall dives, experienced divers investigate wrecks and caves, underwater photographers enjoy both wide angle and macro opportunities, and all divers absorb the rush of getting close to sharks.
Top dive sites
Gizo and Munda in the western region of Solomon Islands offer colourful reefs, corals, fans, large schools of fish and dozens of wrecks.
Gizo is the second largest town in the Solomon Islands and is accessible via a one hour flight from Honiara. The township has basic services and markets and its underwater offering includes the famous Toa Maru II wreck and the deep channel of Hot Spot.
Munda is a 1.5-4 hour boat ride from Gizo or a one hour flight from Honiara. You can enjoy diving Shark Point and Aussie Point, as well as spending surface intervals relaxing on uninhabited islands throughout the region.
Wrecks and history
Dozens of wrecks are scattered across the sea floor throughout Solomon Islands as a result of battles between Japanese and Allied forces during World War II. Divers can explore ships and aircrafts at varying depths, depending on their level of experience.
North of Gizo township, a Japanese freighter around 130 metres long called Toa Maru II lies on its side with the top of the bow less than ten metres from the surface and the bottom of the stern around forty metres deep - positioning that allows Open Water divers and students to explore growth on the top of the ship while experienced divers penetrate the cargo holds below. The Toa Maru II was torpedoed by American planes in the early 1940s. Today divers can discover an army tank inside the wreck, as well as medical supplies, sake bottles, timber and other cargo.
Evidence of the war continues above water, with the famous island that John F. Kennedy was rescued from near Gizo following the sinking of PT-109. Barney’s Museum in Munda also features grenades, bombs, guns, bullets, helmets, medical supplies and other remnants from both the Japanese and Allied forces.
Pilot whales and turtles bobbing on the surface of the water signal the exciting and diverse species living in the depths below.
Arguably the most popular dive site in the country, Grand Central Station has one of the highest fish counts of a single dive in the world. The ornamental wall is covered in brightly coloured fans surrounded by soft coral and batfish, with large numbers of barracuda and trevally frequently appearing from the blue.
Several sharks species are sighted throughout the region, including common whitetip and grey reef sharks. Shark Point at Munda, for example, is a wall dive that can be explored at any depth, with reef sharks in the shallows and silvertip sharks at greater depths. Advanced and adventurous divers often go to Aussie Point at Munda in search of hammerhead sharks. Even if you don’t manage to see a hammerhead, the hypnotising blue water, stunning wall and busy marine life make the dive site a highlight of any diving trip.
It would be a shame to dive the Solomon Islands without a camera as the diverse life, colours and shapes of its sea offer countless macro and wide angle opportunities.
Here are some basic tips to help you maximise your photographs at Solomon Islands:
- The walls, wrecks and outstanding visibility of Solomon Islands create good conditions for wide angle photography. Shea used a Tokina 10-17mm fish eye lense.
- Use dual strobes to properly light landscapes. Shea used dual Inon Z240 strobes.
- Wide angle photo opportunities include walls with fans, large schools of barracuda, eagle rays and reef sharks.
- Macro photo opportunities include ghost pipefish, pygmy sea horses, leaf scorpion and nudibranchs.
- Check your airline’s weight restrictions if you’re planning to carry a lot of photography gear.
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About the Author
Marissa Toohey is an Australian writer who enjoys busting her comfort bubble through travel, adventures and volunteering. She enjoys getting off the beaten track and shares her insights at theBubbleBuster Project blog. Follow her on twitter @theBubbleBuster or Facebook.
About the Photographer
Shea Pletz has been diving since 2004 and enjoys taking photos with a Nikon D7000, Ikelite housing and dual Inon Z240 strobes. Shea grew up in Newcastle and is currently living in Brisbane, regularly diving along the coast of southeast Queensland. In addition to diving around Australia and The Pacific, Shea has been diving in Europe, Asia, The Middle East and Africa. You can view more of Shea’s photos at www.flickr.com/photos/sheapletz
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