After the rain

It’s now been three weeks since the devastating floods in Honiara and life is starting to get back to some semblance of normality. There is plenty of work still to be done, and assistance still needed, but things are slowly improving.

As I mentioned in my last post I have not been involved much in the recovery efforts. The extent of my involvement has been getting out in a banana boat before Easter with ministry colleagues to assess the extent of erosion, sedimentation and debris caused by the heavy rains across northern Guadalcanal.

Travelling by banana boat to assess the damage caused by Cyclone Ita

Travelling by banana boat to assess the damage caused by Cyclone Ita

I was surprised to find that the damage was not all that bad, particularly in the west. I was expecting much more debris after the tidal surges and rains, but it was relatively limited.

Erosion has caused land slips and trees to be uprooted, north-western Guadalcanal

Erosion has caused land slips and trees to be uprooted, north-western Guadalcanal

Some areas have a lot of timber debris following the storms, north-western Guadalcanal

Some areas have a lot of timber debris following the storms, north-western Guadalcanal

Close to town there were much greater impacts – a lot of logs, trees and other timber debris in front of the Heritage Hotel and Kokonut Cafe; a huge plume of dirty water from the Mataniko River and more serious erosion east of the river mouth at Renandi.

The sea at the mouth of the Mananiko River is still pretty dirty

The sea at the mouth of the Mataniko River is still pretty dirty

I know many of my fellow volunteers are working extremely hard, and are doing some great work here with the clean-up efforts, but for me it is back to business as usual. To that end, and to lighten the mood a bit from my previous post, I am going to focus the rest of this update on my Easter dive trip to the Russell Islands and Mary Island (aka gloating).

Bilikiki trip report

Thanks to my mate Cath, I had booked my berth within weeks of arriving in country and it was really lovely to get out of town and be spoiled for a change. We vollies don’t often get to experience the finer things the Solomons has to offer, so I enjoyed every minute and it was worth every penny.

Sunrise in the Russell Islands

Sunrise in the Russell Islands

The MV Bilikiki (named after a local sea bird) is a dive boat out of Honiara that offers luxury 7-14 day live-aboard trips exploring the Floridas, Russells, Mary Island and Marovo Lagoon. They also offer occasional highly sought-after weekend trips to Honiara locals. For our Easter long weekend we left Honiara on Good Friday evening and returned on the evening of Easter Monday, and were offered five dives a day for the first two days and three dives on the final day. The Bilikiki comes with all the trimmings – hot freshwater showers on the dive deck, air-conditioned rooms with comfy beds and blankies as well as en suite bathrooms with hot water showers, great food, fantastic staff and the diving isn’t bad either.

Our diving schedule for the day

Our first day was spent in the Russell Islands diving at Kovilok Bay, Leru Cut, Custom Cave and Mirror Pond during the day as well as a night dive (which I didn’t do). I took the opportunity to experiment with my new(ish) underwater camera and strobe – bought last year for my trip to Komodo and only used twice before – so I finally have some photos to share. I forgot my red filter though, so the wide angle shots are a bit blue…

Pink anemone fish hiding in its host anemone, Russell Islands

The highlight of Day 1 for me was Leru Cut, a volcanic passage with a sandy bottom terminating in a cavern. My strobe wasn’t much use in the dark, so my photos aren’t great but you get the idea.

Diving the Leru Cut, Russell Islands

Diving the Leru Cut, Russell Islands

Outside the cut was a different story – a new species of anemone fish (check out the bonnet) and some beautiful gorgonian fans, complete with pygmy sea horse. Wonderful healthy reef with staka fish as well.

Bonnet anemone fish, Russell Islands

Bonnet anemone fish, Russell Islands

Gorgonian fan with feather star, Russell Islands

Gorgonian fan with feather star, Russell Islands

After a great day of diving (and in between dives as well), the crew fed us fabulous food – starting with sunset canapés on the upper deck and ending with divine chocolate tart. I don’t even like chocolate, but I forced it down to be polite. There’s nothing worse than a sobbing chef, so I sacrificed myself for the greater good. I would have taken a photo of it, but it didn’t last long enough. Sorry.

Sunset canapés on the top deck of the Bilikiki

Sunset canapés on the top deck of the Bilikiki

After dinner we weighed anchor and steamed to Mborokua (Mary) Island , an uninhabited (and virtually inaccessible) volcanic island covered in jungle located just west of the Russells.

The wild and beautiful Mborokua (Mary) Island

The wild and beautiful Mborokua (Mary) Island

On Day 2 we dived Barracuda Point, Jackfish Point, Mary Bommies and back to Barracuda Point, with a night dive just under the boat (again, not done by me!). This was my first experience of diving in close proximity to an active volcano. I was super excited to be back in the water – so at first I thought I was having heart palpitations – but it turned out to just be a bit of seismic activity. There were some pretty loud rumbles and strong vibrations! As well as the excitement of the volcano, the reefs at Mary Island are packed full of spectacularly healthy hard corals.

Mary Island has fantastically healthy hard coral gardens

Mary Island has fantastically healthy hard coral gardens

I’m told there are usually a lot more pelagics than we saw, but perhaps they were on holiday. The best I could do was some trevally and barracuda.

School of barracuda at the aptly named Barracuda Point, Mary Island

School of barracuda at the aptly named Barracuda Point, Mary Island

That night we headed back east and woke up in the Russells again. Our last three dives were at Rainbow Reef, Fonagho Island and Lolaghan Island, and I was in love. Rainbow Reef was spectacular. Komodo-esque even. It is a sea mount, just like Castle Rock in the Komodo National Park, and was our first dive of the day so still a bit dark, but wow – it was pumping. Beautiful healthy reef, a bit of wall (I love a wall), heaps of fish feeding in the current and staka small stuff as well.

Fishes and plankton aplenty at Rainbow Reef, Russell Islands

Fishes and plankton aplenty at Rainbow Reef, Russell Islands

Even the safety stop was interesting – we saw (and felt, not so much fun) some big plankton near the surface, along with a school of teeny tiny cuttlefish. Totally awesome.

Baby cuttlefish at the surface, Russell Islands. Cute huh?

Baby cuttlefish at the surface, Russell Islands. Cute huh?

But it wasn’t all about the diving. In between dives we didn’t just stuff our faces, we also met some of the locals.

Local villagers tie up in their canoes to sell us fresh fruit and veges, Russell Islands

Local villagers tie up in their canoes to sell us fresh fruit and veges, Russell Islands

And enjoyed the view from the upper deck.

Above the water the Russell Islands are equally attractive

Above the water the Russell Islands are equally attractive

Sunset over Guadalcanal

Sunset over Guadalcanal

We also stuffed our faces 😉

Thanks for reading!

Lxx

Bilikiki Cruises is supporting Red Cross Relief & Recovery efforts in the Solomon Islands. For every donation over AUD50 you can go into the draw to win a 7 night live-aboard dive trip

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