30 days of diving the Solomons from the Bilikiki is not enough. The variety of diving in the over 900 islands is only made better by the complete solitude. With only one other liveaboard plying the over 28,000 square kilometers the lack of other divers is sublime.
The Bilikiki itself is not just another liveaboard, it is an experience. Originally managed by our fellow group leaders Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock 28 years ago it has become the benchmark by which all others are measured. Although no longer really falling into the category of luxury liveaboard anymore (it has some bunk beds, the cabins are not larger than most New York City apartments, and there’s no infinity pool on the top deck) it is still extremely comfortable and sits way atop the list for operational and service standard. Cruise Directors Daniela and Csaba are some of the finest we have ever encountered and the Solomon Islander staff are among the most genuine and likable anywhere. The food was plentiful and the frequent resupply of fresh veggies from the local villages is a big plus.
Now, the diving. We are not easy to impress. Our internal barometers of what great diving is have been wildly skewed after ten straight years of diving Raja Ampat, Komodo, Lembeh etc. Our conclusion: diving in the Solomons rocks. The sheer diversity in the types of dives available is what stunned us. Sea mounts, WWII wrecks, manta channels, colorful soft coral clad reefs, schooling jacks and barracudas, stunning hard coral gardens and the ubiquitous caverns and cuts. You cannot leave the Solomons without taking some great shots unless you really try.
So here we go. Oh, and did we mention the Orcas? Yeah, we had them too. Kerri even got a photo.
Coral patterns scream at you from every surface. The flat sides of the wrecks are perfect for patterns as the corals stretch themselves out allowing for amazing “coral landscapes” Colorful tunicates, pygmy seahorses, hermit crab villages and nudis round out the revue.
The Solomons boasts nine different species of anemone fish and Kerri made it her goal with to shoot every singe variety including the fast moving and varied bonnet head.
The Sea Mounts of the Russel Islands and the cuts of Marovo Lagoon will leave you reeling from the colors and awesome wide angle setups. From walls to shallow reefs there is no end to the frustrations of not having enough Nitrox left to shoot it all.
The boat departs from Honiara on the main island of Guadalcanal, site of one of the most important land and sea battles of the Second World War. The waters the boat crosses the first night en route to the Florida Islands are known as the Iron Bottom Sound on account of the wrecks that rest thousands of feet below the surface. Closer to shore are ship, plane and materiel wrecks that are well within diving limits.
Mary Island, jutting from the sea between the Russell and Florida island groups is exposed to open ocean and harbors groups of schooling fish like jacks and barracuda.
In Maravagi bay is a channel that churns with a multi-knot current. With proper timing you can drift into the channel, grab a seat on the side of the slope and watch the manta show. Most of our crossings were accompanied by either dolphins, pilot whales and even orcas. Grey, silky, and silver tip sharks were common on the sea mounts.
CAVERNS AND CUTS:
My personal favorite photographic aspect of the Solomons are the caves, caverns and cuts. the light playing through these natural apertures make for some truly stunning natural light shows.
The Solomon Islanders are a handsome people and everywhere the Bilikiki goes she is visited by a flotilla of canoes filled by shy, smiling villagers – often with fresh veggies for sale. Along with some village visits and bargaining for some wood carvings there are endless topside photo ops.