We just did two trips in the Solomons and have started our third and last trip. This trip only had 7 guests, which was quite nice. It means you get a lot more time on a subject. There were two video shooters named Steve and Marc, Allison and Matt a young couple from California going old-school with film, and Doug who unfortunately didn't get his luggage on the first day.
Day 1. The trip started in the Florida Islands, at a site called Tanavula. This is where the Bilikiki normally does the first dive because it's pretty and easy. On the previous two trips Michelle, one of the managers, had shown some bargibanti pygmy sea horses to people, but I had not photographed any because I kept thinking I could do it later. Well, later was now so I took a few shots of this sea horse. As they always do, it kept turning away and found the most impossible spot to hang out in. I got one semi-decent shot before I gave up. Next up were two dives we had not done in years, Nemblau Rock and Kovohika. When we reached the bottom I did actually remember both sites. We found some really cooperative freckle face blennies.
Day 2 We started out on a site called Coral Garden. It's actually right around the corner from Tanavula, which we did on day one. I took my macro lens but it was of no use as the current was ripping. Near the end of the dive I came to a wall area and the currents were going every which way. It was like being in a washing machine. I found a little crevice to hide in and did my safety stop and surfaced in a maelstrom of eddies. Next we went to Velvia Reef, which turned out to be a good site for the video guys as several octopusses were out hunting and mating. For photography this site used to be really good but during the last trips I haven't really found anything outstanding. It's still a very pretty dive site.
The rest of the day was governed by picking up Doug's luggage which had finally arrived. We had to go back to Honiara to pick it up but that gave us the opportunity to dive at a small wreck we'd never seen before called the ... right off the coast of Quadalcanal. It was a really nice night dive, and we found lots of nudibranchs, some pinkish robust ghost pipefish and tons of other little critters and fish. The wreck was covered in soft coral, which would make this a really good dive during the day was well.
Day 3. Overnight we headed to the Russell Islands and went to Rainbow Reef, a pinnacle that comes to about 70 feet. The visibility wasn't that great, but the site was still very nice with lots of sea fans and soft corals. Julie found a large stonefish that we'd seen before here on previous trips. After that we went to the natural rock formations of Leru Cut and Custom Cave. At Leru Cut I did a bit of a different photo with reflections. It turned out quite nice. Julie found some dragonets so at dusk she sat there and waited for them to mate. She got some good photos of it.
Day 4. Mary Islands, a small island between the Russell Islands and Morovo Lagoon was our next dive site. The boat ties up here and you do open deck diving. I did the first three dives, with the last one on macro. I wasn't that interested in doing wide angle, even though this can be an amazing wide angle site. Julie found some leopard blennies, which must be some of the prettiest blennies around, so we spent almost a whole dive photographing them.
That evening as people were getting ready for the dusk dive a sudden storm came up and we had to abandon the site. We had a terrible down pour and the swells came up really high. The captain decided to pull the anchor, and head for Morovo Lagoon.
Day 5. Our first day in Morovo Lagoon started at Anemone Point. Common sense says to never name a dive site after something you find there, but here there are at least anemones. This site is at its best with a bit of current, and you have to go really deep for the prettiest part of it. I found some nice fans and soft corals around 120 feet, which was a bit deep on nitrox. I waited a long time for a school of fish to come through, but I didn't quite get the right image.
Next we did both sides of Kokoana passage, which connects the lagoon to the open ocean. This is a really nice wide angle dive with rows upon rows of sea fans, but I put on macro instead. I found some nice xeno crabs on a whip coral at 110 feet. After these two dives we headed to Peavu village, but I skipped on the late afternoon dive. Julie did the dive as she was after mating mandarinfish that she knew were there. Unfortunately after all that waiting they didn't perform.
Day 6. That morning we did our first village visit at Peavu Village. Julie bought some more stuff (what else is new!) but we didn't stay long. After 30 minutes everyone was shopped out. A western lady has settled into this village and is really inflating the prices. At some point no one is going to buy anything anymore due to the insane prices. Plenty of other villages around. Our first dive was at a site called Lagoon point. I never really appreciated this site for what it was because I never made it to the actual Lagoon entry. There is a very shallow lagoon, and right where this lagoon starts there is a cool spot with trees and schools of fish. I had a blast trying to get some photos of the school with the trees. Some turned out ok.
Next we did Kichai, then The Passage and Roger's Reef. Julie and I skipped Roger's Reef because we were getting water logged. Julie did the night dive and found a cool nudibranch.
Day 7. Only two more days of diving left, in what is probably going to be our last time in the Solomon Islands for a few years. We started the day at Karanjou, which is one of my favorite dive sites. There are two really pretty points, and a nice area for macro. I went to the second point which is the prettiest one, and decided to go really deep because that's where the most growth is at. At 130 feet I found a fan that was covered in soft corals. I had never seen this fan before, so I took quite a few pictures of it. I unfortunately couldn't stay long because I didn't want to go into deco this close to flying, and I also was going crazy listening to my two computers beeping in stereo telling me i was too deep for nitrox.
After Karanjou we went to Totalave, which was a bit of a bust as there was a lot of current. I didn't take a single photo. The video guys saw some dolphins though, which not even the managers had even seen under water! That afternoon we decided to skip the 4th dive, so we could do a long 20 hour steam back to Honiara so we could dive the wrecks called Boneghi.
Day 8. We were really excited this morning. We were going to dive the whole day on the Boneghi wrecks, which we had never done before. They are right next to Honiara, at quadalcanal. It's actually two wrecks right next to eachother. They are both massive japanese troop transports, and the only war wrecks you can do at recreational depth. They are so big, you can not see from one end to the next on a clear day, and it reminded me a bit if the Liberty in Bali. We entered the water, and I immediately knew this was going to be one of the best dives I had ever done in the Solomon Islands. The visibility was incredible, and because of a slight current the wreck was stunningly beautiful, covered from top to bottom in soft corals. Not these tiny softcorals, but human sized softcorals. All across the wreck schools of fish were buzzing around, and the sun was pouring beams all the way to the bottom. We were all elated, and I almost forgot to take pictures. I thought this wreck was much better than the Liberty, and ended up with several really nice wreck images. When we got out of the water, Monty and Michelle told us this was one of the best dives they had ever done on this wreck. A fitting end to three incredible trips.
After three trips, or a total of 30 days of diving, we were actually glad to be done. We did over 100 dives and had a great time with the wonderful crew of the Bilikiki. Not only that, we had three great groups of guests, with ofcourse the Wetpixel group being the icing on the cake. Julie and I have decided though that we are going to give the Solomon Islands a bit of a rest, and explore other areas in asia. We'll definately be coming back here one day though, as this diverse group of islands, and the amazing crew, has a very warm place in our hearts.