The Solomon Islands are home to lush rainforests and over 200 varieties of orchids and tropical flowers. The coconut tree lined beaches and the thickly rain-forested interiors of this stunning archipelago create an amazing ocean paradise. Despite its remote location, throughout history the Solomon Islands have managed to capture the hearts of many travelers.
Multicultural Destination: Ancient Roots
The original inhabitants are thought to be descendants of Neolithic people who migrated from Southeast Asia. The earliest evidence of human habitation of this string of emerald islands was around 1000 B.C.E. Since then, an enormous diversity of regional peoples and world travelers have made their homes among the six major and numerous smaller islands.
While the majority of the current population is Melanesian, there is a sizable portion of Polynesian and Micronesian residents with a small number of Chinese and European residents. The local populations vary distinctly in culture from village to village. These varied roots in a population of one half million people has contributed to a setting of rich cultures and customs where over 120 vernacular languages are spoken. (Fortunately for travelers, English is widely spoken.)
Tumultuous Past: Modern History
The Solomon Island's first contact with European society came during the times of Spanish dominance of the seas. Alvaro de Mendana Y Neyra discovered the islands in 1567 after setting out from Peru on an expedition. For the next several centuries, explorers and missionaries became frequent visitors.
During the 1800s these visits took a darker turn as slave traders sought to abduct the native peoples for sugar plantations in Fiji and Queensland. In 1893, the United Kingdom declared the southern islands a protectorate in response to the cruelties perpetrated by the slave traders. Soon, the entire archipelago was under British jurisdiction.
The peaceful islands were once again embroiled in foreign affairs with the onset of World War II. U.S. forces landed on the island in May of 1942 prompting a bloody conflict for the island chain's airstrip, Henderson Field. Battle raged in and around Guadalcanal for months. 28,000 American and Japanese lives were lost along with untold native peoples by the time the Japanese withdrew in February of 1943.
After World War II, the Solomon Islands returned to British colonial status and the capital was moved from Tulagi to Honiara. By 1974 the native peoples established a parliamentary democracy. Formal Independence was celebrated on July 7, 1978.
Gems in the Ocean
This stunning archipelago stretches roughly 900 square miles (1450 kilometers) across the azure waters of the Coral Sea. It is situated just southeast of Papua New Guinea and 1200 miles (1900 kilometers) northeast of the coast of Australia. Its smaller islands consist of raised corral atolls while the larger islands rise into verdant, rocky, volcanic peaks.
The larger interior islands of Santa Isabel, Choiseul, New Georgia, Guadalcanal, Maltia and Makira make up the bulk of the populated regions. The capital city of Honiara on Guadalcanal is home to roughly ten percent of the population. Among these islands the volcanic activity has created a breathtaking terrain of deep valleys, mysterious caves and phenomenal waterfalls.
The volcanic activity that formed these islands has molded a unique landscape and also enriched the soil in many places. Strident groves of coconut trees and mangroves cover vast stretches near the beaches while abundant rainforest blankets the interior valleys of the larger islands.
The Savo volcano, which last erupted in 1847, is one of several active volcanoes in the region. Just north of Guadalcanal, tours are offered to
Savo where overnight stays in traditional villages are available. For a more extensive tour, trips to the Tinakula volcano among the eastern Solomon islands can also be found.
The Solomon Islands boast a variety of unique species among its animal population. Among the leafy vegetation of the rainforest you can find sixty-nine bird species which are entirely unique to the island chain. These unique species round out the total of the 199 bird species inhabiting the islands. Birdwatchers will also want to keep an eye out for the fifteen species of fantastically hued parrots.
The introduction of cats to the island has had a serious impact on the native mammal population. However, the island is still home to a variety of nocturnal bats and endangered rodents. Several species of sea turtle are also known to nest among the beaches of the islands from November to February.
The most incredible wildlife, however, can be found beneath the crystal clear waters surrounding the islands. Scuba divers come from around the globe to partake in the breathtaking underwater majesty of this region. The brightly colored natural coral reefs are home to Manta rays, Eagle Rays and Hammerhead sharks. Large numbers of school fish such as the Barracuda and Trevally frequent the waters. Many animals also make their home among the numerous wrecks in the region which are favorite spots for divers.
The dining experience in the Solomon Islands can be as diverse as the population. Chinese, Polynesian and western food is available at local restaurants. (In the Solomon Islands, it is taboo to tip so thank your waiter with a smile and some kind words.) Native populations live a life of subsistence and the foods at the local markets are varied. Eggplant, cucumber, coconuts, pineapples, bananas, star fruit and papaya are commonly available. Appropriately, crab and fresh fish are also staples of the local diet.
Climate: Blissful Moderation
This tropical oasis offers a steady climate year round. The annual mean temperature is roughly 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 Celsius) and cooled by trade winds throughout April to November. The rainy season lasts from December to March when hotter weather and wet winds moisten the air. Humidity in the area averages 80% while the islands see 120 inches (305 cm) of rain each year.
Currently the political scene can be turbulent in the region. With government corruption still at issue and many areas still recovering from the devastating Tsunami in the region, travelers should consult their own government's travel advisories before planning a trip. The area is however entering into a new phase of co-operation with its neighbors and increased concentration on good governance.
Political stability strained since the declaration of Independence in 1978. Corruption began to flourish among the government in the years after Independence. At the request of the government of the Solomon Islands, a regional effort was mounted to help solve the problem. A multinational force arrived to assist in July of 2003 as rebellious indigenous populations conflicted with the government.
The country's leaders continue to work with the Regional Assistance Mission on the Solomon Islands. The multi-national police force and local law enforcement efforts have made great strides in increasing the stability of the government and gaining control of criminal elements. Major crimes against tourists are uncommon and consist mostly of theft and other petty crime.
Following the April 2007 tsunami, the international community came to the aid of the battered country. Since then, the often rocky relations with local western powers have continued to improve and increased co-operation between the Australian government and the Solomon Islands has emerged.