Ahh, long weekends. The perfect opportunity to escape Honiara and get some Pacific beach time. Having left arrangements to the last minute, Manyoni and I decided to head to the nearby island of Savo on Central Islands Province. Getting there involved an hour car ride west of Honiara, followed by a 30 minute boat ride.
This journey, in itself, was enough to get me excited – Jurassic-park like jungley volcanic peaks, crystal clear water, the odd flying fish skimming across the sea and, naturally, a pod of about 50 dolphins splashing around. At Savo’s Sunset Lodge, we were greeted with a coconut to sip while we considered the small selection of activities.
First activity we chose was a trip to the small volcano. It was back in the boat for a 20 minute ride to another part of the island. Where we landed was something like a cliché postcard. Palms fringed the glassy, blue water, where a dozen naked children were splashing about, with their trademark frizzy blonde Melanesian hair forming afro-halos around their giggling faces.
We got off the boats and headed on a short, 20 minute walk through the jungle, until the smell of steamy sulphur filled our lungs. When they called this a small volcano tour, they weren’t wrong. The end point of the walk was a tiny vent from which water and steam spluttered out. Still, the locals were not afraid to take advantage of this inherent heat for their daily cook-up.
Back at the lodge, the afternoon was left activity-less. This basically means that it was spent in hammock reading, snorkelling, reading, snorkelling, drinking warm beer while watching canoes float past the multi-coloured sunset, and eating.
Given the amount of traffic around the lodge, I didn’t expect much from the snorkelling right out front. I was extremely surprised. The visibility was astonishing, and just a couple of metres off the beach was an array of coral, giant blue starfish, parrot fish, huge angelfish, iridescent blue fish, pink, orange, translucent, stripey, spotty fish of all shapes and sizes. I even saw an eel and something that reminded me of a miniature wobbegong digging himself into the sand (now’s probably the time to dig out the “What’s that fish” book).
The next morning we woke “early” for the second of our chosen activities – a trip to see the famous Megapodes. These big-footed chicken-like birds dig metre-deep holes in the sand every morning in which to rest their egg. Then the people from the village promptly come and dig up those eggs for their breakfast. If you’re lucky, you can spot the megapodes before they fly off for the day. If you’re unlucky, the dogs get there before you do, which is what happened to us. With no megapodes in sight, we proceeded for a short walk through the village, before rounding up the hungover boat crew to take us back to the lodge.
After breakfast, it was off to the next activity – swimming with dolphins. I discovered that it is not uncommon to see a pod of 50-odd dolphins playing in one small area near Savo, thanks to an underground breeding cave just off the coast. For a small fee, one can swim with these crazy critters, which sounds far more glamorous than it actually is.
The dolphin swim goes something like this: jump in the water, hold on to a rope with one hand, place the other hand on the side of the boat to stop you knocking your head on it or getting dragged under. As the boat starts doing doughnuts around the pod of dolphins, hold on for your life, cross your legs to stop your pants coming off in the drag, try not to inhale a bunch of water that has made its way into your snorkel, and do your best to spot some dolphins through all the bubbles and chop.
For the 15-odd minutes that I was in the water, I saw 14:30 minutes of bubbles and empty blue. For the other 30 seconds, I got a fantastic underwater view of a family of four dolphins playing beneath me, and a couple of dolphins surfing the wake in front of me. Was it worth it? Sure, why not.
Our remaining afternoon activities were all cancelled (for reasons that we could not entirely ascertain) so, instead, we resorted back to activity-less-ness. Yep, hammock, snorkel, hammock, snorkel, Uno, hammock, snorkel, beer, Uno, dinner, Bananagrams. Tough stuff.
The following morning, after a night of constant rain, it was time to head back to the big (diesel-generated) lights of Honiara. Savo may not have been the most astounding place I’ve ever been, but it wasn’t a bad spot to while away a couple of days.