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Solomon Islands Snorkeling by Liveaboard

Venture off the beaten path to discover one of the Coral Triangle's hidden gems on this liveaboard trip combining daily snorkeling with whale watching in the South Pacific nation of the Solomon Islands.

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Overview

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Explore pristine shallow reefs of hard and soft corals, including a location with the 2nd highest reef fish biodiversity in the world (after Raja Ampat, Indonesia).
  • This expedition supports whale and dolphin survey efforts, and we may see the little-known Omura's whale, first discovered in 2004.
  • Visit ultra-remote parts of the Solomon Islands including Tetepare – the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific – and Marovo Lagoon, the world’s largest enclosed reef lagoon.

This itinerary was created in collaboration with Planet Deep and Cheeseman’s Ecological Safaris. Our expedition brings us to the vibrant waters of the Solomon Islands, where we'll explore colorful coral reefs peppered with brilliantly-hued fish, dazzling tropical lagoons, and volcanic jungle-clad islands. Populated by people who maintain a subsistence lifestyle, the region has been unchanged for hundreds of years. We will venture to some of the ultra-remote islands, even by Solomon Islands’ standards, best described as some of the Earth's “last Edens.”

On our two expedition legs, we will explore this unique jewel of the South Pacific, guided by cetacean experts and marine biologists with years of experience in the region. High fish and invertebrate variation allow for diverse wildlife sightings including nudibranchs, pipefish, pygmy seahorses, mantis shrimp, rays, sea turtles, and sharks. You’ll get to enjoy two to three snorkeling excursions a day, complemented by intriguing cultural experiences with village visits and jungle hikes on uninhabited islands.

During afternoon transits between snorkeling sites, you will look for cetaceans. Many tropical cetacean species are present here including spinner dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, shortfin pilot whales, pygmy killer whales, dwarf sperm whales, and sperm whales. There are also reports of unidentified beaked whales. But a particular target of our expedition will be blue whales, which may use these waters as a mating or/and breeding ground, as well as Omura’s whales, tropical baleen whales that were unknown to science before 2004 and were first described from the Solomon Islands. If deemed appropriate, you may also have the opportunity to snorkel with some of the whales — an unforgettable experience

Each night we will anchor in a sheltered location, allowing plenty of time to visit the islands and local villages. There will also be time for snorkeling on the stupendous coral reefs—some of the most under-appreciated and unique in the entire Pacific. Leg one will end in Gizo, and leg two will begin there. The Gizo area has many excellent snorkeling and diving sites, as well as several sites of cultural interest. In 2006, marine experts recorded the second-highest reef fish biodiversity in the world in Gizo.

Read our trip leaders' reports from the 2016 Solomon Islands by Liveaboard program:

Trip Dates & Cost

2021: April 10-20 (Leg 1) | April 21 - May 1 (Leg 2). From $8,930 per person, per trip leg + park fees.* Group limit 17. There is a $600/person discount if both legs are done back-to-back.

* Trip prices do not include international airfare, hotel nights pre- and post trip, or in-country airfare between Honiara and Gizo. Special deposit amounts and payment dates are in effect for this expedition ($2,000/person deposit on registration; $2,000/person second deposit by Jan 1, 2020; balance due by Oct 15, 2020). No single accommodations are available, but we are happy to pair solo travelers with a roommate. This expedition has special terms and conditions, please call for details.

** A cetacean identification and conservation workshop will be offered on May 2-4 in Honiara - please ask for details.

Photos
Naturalist

Dr. Chandra Salgado Kent is a professor at the Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research at Edith Cowan University, studying marine mammal ecology and bio-acoustics. Chandra’s passion for marine ecology was born while scuba diving in a sinkhole in New Mexico, studying mercury bioaccumulation in lakes and rivers. As an international scientific expert, Chandra has advised organizations such as the International Whaling Commission, the Sustainable Development Institute in Australia, and the Brazilian government.

Itinerary

Leg 1 | April 10-20 | Honiara to Gizo

Day 1 | April 10, 2021: Board in Honiara, embark

At 4:00 PM we will board our ship in Honiara, settle in, and have an expedition briefing. Depending on our harbor clearance and time of departure, we will spend daylight hours on-route to the Russells searching for whales and dolphins as well as seabirds while explaining our “Rapid Ecological Assessment” survey techniques to those who like to participate in the sightings.

Overnight, our passage will take us near to the historic WW II naval battleground of the “Iron Bottom Sound”, so named in remembrance of the dozens of US and Japanese warships and planes that sank there during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942–43.

Days 2-3 | April 11-12, 2021: West Russell Islands

The Russell Islands are made up of two very scenic volcanic islands, Pavuvu and Mbanika, with rugged terrain and amazing beaches. The Russel’s numerous deep yet sheltered bays are perfect for coral reef growth and offer exceptional snorkeling. These waters also inhabit numerous whales and dolphins including a resident pod of short-finned pilot whales as well as spinner, spotted, Fraser’s, and Risso’s dolphins. A perfect start our exploration of the remote waters of the Solomon Islands.

Day 4 | April 13, 2021: Mborokua (Mary Island)

Overnight we will head to one of the most remote and isolated islands of the Western Solomons, Mborokua or Mary Island. Mborokua’s position is a halfway point between the Russels and Marovo Lagoon. On sunrise, we will approach this volcanic island while surveying for sperm whales and other oceanic cetaceans that frequent these deep waters. Mborokua itself offers fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities including spectacular reef drop-offs and very large schools of barracuda and trevally (jacks) as some of the highlights.

Days 5-6 | April 14-15, 2021: Marovo Lagoon (Kicha/Mbulo/Peava - Mbili/Wickham)

Marovo Lagoon is the world’s largest enclosed reef lagoon and it’s turquoise-blue waters are dotted with 100’s of small islands, making for an idyllic and pristine tropical paradise. Marovo is definitely one of the Expedition’s priority areas to explore. Numerous outstanding snorkel and dive sites can be found here, and we will explore this amazing lagoon for two full days.

Cetaceans are also frequently sighting in Marovo waters including resident spinner, spotted and bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales (in the deeper passages of the lagoon) and occasionally orca’s, as well as dugong.

Several local communities in the Marovo can be visited (only with amply notice given to the village elders). We will schedule for several landings to visit remote local villages that specialize in exquisite woodcarvings (often you can meet the expert carvers in person) and to sample the day-to-day life in the village. An experience not to be missed.

Days 7-8 | April 16-17, 2021: North New Georgia/Kolombangara - North New Georgia

Kolombangara is a spectacular island, the top of an extinct strato-volcano. It is almost perfectly round in shape, approximately 14 km across. Its peak reaches 1,770 meters (5,807 ft) high.The name is from a local language, a rough translation of its meaning is "Water Lord" with approximately 80 rivers and streams running down its flanks.

Kolombangara is one of the best examples of a mountain cloud forest in the Pacific region.Its pristine forests include very high biodiversity, including 16 endemic species of birds.

Snorkeling and diving is spectacular along the many drop-offs, and the island also includes several so-called black sand sites that are a real treasure trove for weird and wonderful marine critters (so beloved by macro photographers).

The island is bordered by deep marine habitats as well as the Vella Strait, separating it from North New Georgia. Thus, while not well surveyed, we can expect a high bio-diversity of oceanic whales and dolphins nearby Kolombangara.

Days 9-10 | April 18-19, 2021: Around Gizo

Gizo (located on Ghizo Island) is the capital of the Western Provinces. With approximately 6,000 inhabitants it is also the second-largest town in the Solomon Islands. The Gizo area has many excellent snorkeling and diving sites, as well as several sites of cultural interest. In 2006, marine experts recorded the second-highest reef fish biodiversity in the world in Gizo (after Kofiau in Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia). During WW II, Gizo was an important base for the Japanese and later on, once conquered, for the USA. Gizo was the operating base for National Geographic TV species “The Search for Kennedy’s PT109."

Large pods of resident spinner and spotted dolphins are often sighted in the waters off Gizo, frequently bow-riding and spinning alongside the vessel. Frazer’s dolphin and melon-headed whales are also commonly sighted.

Day 11 | April 20, 2021: Disembark Gizo

After breakfast depart for flights back to Honiara and International connections for those going onward

Leg 2 | April 21 - May 1, 2021 | Gizo to Honiara

Guests will need to overnight in Honiara or Gizo on April 20. Those overnighting in Honiara will depart to Gizo on the morning of the April 21 by air.

Day 1 | April 21, 2021: Board in Gizo, embark

2 PM Boarding, settling in on-board and Expedition briefing.

Depending on our harbor clearance and time of departure, we will spend daylight hours searching for whales and dolphins as well as seabirds while explaining our “Rapid Ecological Assessment” survey techniques to those who like to participate in the sightings. If time allows we will have a check-out snorkel.

Day 2 | April 22, 2021: Around Gizo

Gizo (located on Ghizo Isl) is the capital of the Western Provinces. With approximately 6000 inhabitants it is also the second-largest town in the Solomon Islands.

The Gizo area has many excellent snorkeling and diving sites, as well as several sites of cultural interest. In 2006, marine experts recorded the second-highest reef fish biodiversity in the world in Ghizo (after Kofiau, Raja Ampat, Papua).

During WW II Gizo was an important base for the Japanese and later on, once conquered, for the USA. Gizo was the operating base for National Geographic TV species “The Search for Kennedy’s PT109.

Large pods of resident spinner and spotted dolphins are often sighted in the waters off Ghizo, frequently bow-riding and spinning alongside the vessel. Frazer’s dolphin and melon-headed whales are also commonly sighted.

Days 3-4 | April 23-24, 2021: Tetepare - Rendova

Moving along the Blanche Channel and the south coast of New Georgia, we set course to Tetepare and Rendova. These islands are ultra-remote even for Solomon Islands’ standards, and they can be best described as some of the “last Edens”. Our Expedition will explore these unique jewels in the South Pacific.

Tetepare is considered the “largest uninhabited tropical island in the Southern Hemisphere”. Some exceptional snorkeling on brilliant and untouched coral reefs await us here. Walks along tracks in pristine rainforest and early bird watching from our dinghies are other optional activities.

Nearby Rendova has more excellent snorkeling and diving on pristine reefs with stunning island backdrops. Several beaches on Rendova are important nesting sites for the endangered leatherback turtle – the leatherbacks of Rendova actually migrate to/from their feeding grounds in the waters off Washington, USA and British Columbia, Canada. A community-based conservation and monitoring program is working to restore leatherback numbers to these beaches.

Historically, the invasion of Rendova Island (30 June 1943) was the first major step in the US WW II campaign to conquer the crucial New Georgia islands group. Rendova was needed to establish a staging ground for the attack on the Japanese base at Munda.

Tetepare, Rendova and the Blanche Channel (a suspected migratory corridor) are very data-deficient on whale and dolphin diversity and distribution. Hardly any dedicated cetacean surveys have been conducted in these waters since 2006 when Benjamin led the cetacean component of a 6-week marine conservation expedition throughout the Solomons' western provinces. These deep and open waters may include sperm and beaked whales, as well as a myriad of oceanic dolphins.

There are indications that blue whales may use the waters off New Georgia as a mating or/and breeding ground during the southern hemisphere winter months (May-Oct, in a similar pattern to the blue whales migrating to the Banda Sea in east Indonesia). So our survey efforts here will make a major contribution to our understanding – including species lists and local habitat preferences - of cetaceans in these waters.

Days 5-7 | April 25-27, 2021: Marovo Lagoon (Kokoana/Lumalihe Passage - Mbili - Kicha/Mbulo/Peava)

Marovo Lagoon is the world’s largest enclosed reef lagoon and it’s turquoise-blue waters are dotted with 100’s of small islands, making for an idyllic and pristine tropical paradise. Marovo is definitely one of the Expedition’s priority areas to explore. Numerous outstanding snorkel and dive sites can be found here, and we will explore this amazing lagoon for three full days.

Cetaceans are also frequently sighting in Marovo waters including resident spinner, spotted and bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales (in the deeper passages of the lagoon) and occasionally orca’s, as well as dugong.

Several local communities in the Marovo can be visited (only with amply notice given to the village elders). We will schedule for several landings to visit remote local villages that specialize in exquisite woodcarvings (often you can meet the expert carvers in person) and to sample the day-to-day life in the village. An experience not to be missed.

Day 8 | April 28, 2021: Mborokua (Mary Island)

Overnight we will head to one of the most remote and isolated islands of the Western Solomons, Mborokua or Mary Island. Mborokua’s position is a halfway point between the Russels and Marovo Lagoon. On sunrise, we will approach this volcanic island while surveying for sperm whales and other oceanic cetaceans that frequent these deep waters. Mborokua itself offers fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities including spectacular reef drop-offs and very large schools of barracuda and trevally (jacks) as some of the highlights.

Days 9-10: April 29-30, 2021: West Russells / White Beach - Honiara

The Russell Islands are made up of two very scenic volcanic islands, Pavuvu and Mbanika, with rugged terrain and amazing beaches. The Russel’s numerous deep yet sheltered bays are perfect for coral reef growth and offer exceptional snorkeling. These waters also inhabit numerous whales and dolphins including a resident pod of short-finned pilot whales as well as spinner, spotted, Fraser’s, and Risso’s dolphins.

On our final afternoon our passage will take us near to the historic WW II naval battleground of the “Iron Bottom Sound”, so named in remembrance of the dozens of US and Japanese warships and planes that sank there during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942–43.

Day 11: May 1, 2021: Disembark in Honiara

After breakfast transfer to a hotel or the airport for your flight home. These extending on for the Cetacean conservation workshop will be taken to their hotel. The 2-day workshop is set to begin the following day (2 May) in the morning.

Accommodations

The MV Bilikiki.

In 1989 MV Bilikiki sailed as the first full service luxury live aboard dive vessel in the Solomon Islands. She was also one of the first in the world to offer private showers and toilets in every cabin. MV Bilikiki has 10 deluxe cabins, all with a double bed below and single above. Her large size and a hull that was built for South Pacific seas are two main reasons why guests from around the world still say that "the Bilikiki" is one of the most spacious and comfortable vessels that they have travelled on.

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