Fish In The Sea

There's plenty of fish in the sea, allegedly, but this week I'm going to find out for sure as I leave Sydney's winter to find summer in the tropical Solomon Islands. For once my travels haven't started with an early morning, but instead a lazy afternoon flight from Sydney to Brisbane before flying Brisbane -> Honiara, Honiara -> Munda -> Gizo tomorrow and I couldn't be more excited for such a relaxing holiday.

Anyone who has travelled with me knows that this is very unlike me, usually preferring the fast-paced adventure-packed style of travel, but this time, after a particularly busy period of work and life, I'm in need of something a bit slower. Enter Solomon Islands.

Although this trip is predominantly a scuba diving trip with a bunch of my diving friends from Prodive, it's definitely not fast-paced as no one moves fast in the Solomon Islands. After nothing more onerous than dinner and a game of cards in Brisbane, we arrive in Honiara, and slowly filter through immigration and customs only to then wait again as airport security has not yet opened for our next flight even though it's less than an hour away. Our flight to Gizo is late to take off, and unpacked at a very relaxed pace once we arrive. The boat is waiting to take us straight to our resort on a different island, but we quickly realize that everything here runs on Island Time, which is at least an hour behind reality, often more.

Despite the weather forecast of rain all week, we are super excited to be here where even the occasional rain shower can't dampen our spirits as we all look forward to getting in the water for our first dive tomorrow. The staff arrive at some point in the morning where they bring tanks right to our resort to gear up and head straight to the dive site from here. This will be the only time I assemble gear this week as the Dive Gizo staff do everything for us from here on in.

Our first dive is a reef just off Naru island called Insade Naru, where we get used to our new (much thinner than Sydney diving) wetsuits and finesse our weight setup to match the different gear and conditions. The coral and anemone fish are the first highlight here and with 29degC water they can exist a lot deeper than any reef I've seen in Australia.

My buddy Jo and I both realise about 15 minutes in that we are approaching our NDLs (the limit we can stay at a certain depth before having to go shallower) and at 3 minutes remaining we start riding it up to shallower depths sooner than our guide. Not sure exactly what dive profile he was following, but it was certainly different to our dive computers! Having spent so long at depth and messing with weights and NDLs, I was quicker to go through my air than usual so at 50 bar we headed up to 5m to start the safety stop a little earlier than the rest of the group, but they weren't far behind.

The second dive was at a site called “The Pinnacle”, which of course is the name of a dive site just about anywhere in the world where a bomme raises up out of the depths to a shallower level. We descend about 18m onto that bomme and follow it around to the left down to 32m where the current brings us around the other side as we slowly ascend back to the surface.

After some well deserved beers we get restless of all the lying around relaxing and decide to jump in a kayak or three for a quick trip up to the tip of the island, but then call it and head back for 3 main reasons:

  • the wind is picking up
  • our kayak is missing a plug and gradually filling with water
  • there are tropical cocktails at the bar with our name on them

The next day's dives are even more spectacular starting with Joe's wall, a deep wall (70m+) which we follow at the 30m mark, and The Gap In which is a drift dive through a deep channel where we see some larger reef sharks and spotted eagle rays.

However the real highlight of day 2 was the Hellcat plane wreck, which we did with leftover air on the way back from the first dive. In only 10m of water, and very much intact, this plane wreck was one of the most unique dives I’ve ever done.

After another day in the water we decided to hit the beach and explore some of Mbambanga Island including inland where there is a village between the 2 resorts on this island. I then make friends with Friday, the local resort cat, who is mostly blind and a little scruffy looking, but after one pat he followed me straight back to my chair, climbed onto my lap and promptly fell asleep.

We wake up the next morning to beautiful weather and excitement in the air, as today's dive is on the Toa Maru shipwreck. Ranging between 7m and 37m deep, this wreck lies on its side and is fantastic for diving both around the outside and carefully exploring some of the more open interior sections.

After a delicious traditional barbeque lunch on the beach of Ngari Island (a protected wildlife preserve) we dive just offshore at a site called Grand Central Station due to the large number of species of fish which live here.

The next day takes us back to The Gap Out which is the same gap we dived 2 days ago but traveling the opposite direction from the starting point. Before heading to another reef site called One Tree, named after a pile of rocks just sticking out of the water which (used to have) one tree growing from them. Finally we end the day with a night dive just out from the resort which takes us to 30m where we accidentally find a wreck of a small boat, not dissimilar to those we’ve been taking to and from the resort all week.

The remainder of the week is spent between the ocean floor and the bar (floor) as I gradually relax, unwind, and let the recent stresses of my life wash away. By the time we leave the resort, I’m so relaxed that I don’t even set an alarm to wake up in the morning (!?), now that’s what I call Island Time!

Our last night is spent on the main island of Gizo, with the last day a day trip to Imagination Island just out behind the airport. It’s a no dive day, as we fly in less than 24 hours, but we snorkel instead and stumble upon another shipwreck. This one is clearly visible from the surface, but would still be a great scuba dive if I’m ever in Gizo again. Meanwhile a few of my friends are also freedivers, so they take their one breath and head down to look inside the wreck. Freediving is definitely not my sport as I could barely hold my breath 15 seconds to get 5m down to briefly visit some clownfish, whereas Hugo takes my watch and descends to the wreck, measuring the mast at 12m and the ships bow at 7m before coming back to the surface after a full minute underwater with nothing more than fins and a mask.

All in all a fantastic holiday, possibly the first where I’ve ever been truly relaxed, and after 10 days on an island, 11 hours underwater, 12 new friends, and over 1000 photos, I can confirm that there are, in fact, plenty of fish in the sea.