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Surfing gold in the Solomon Islands

While the Solomon Islands has a reputation for world class diving, from the months of November to April when the northern Pacific swells sweep in having done their dash with Hawaii, the destination’s extensive reefs and north-western facing islands come alive with some of the most perfect – and best of all uncrowded – waves to be found anywhere on the planet.

While the two best-known regions are currently Gizo in the Western Province and Santa Isabel Province,  and to a lesser extent, the Florida Islands and North Malaita – there are still literally dozens of secret spots throughout this archipelago of 992 islands, the locations of which are closely guarded by a handful of hard travelling board riders.

Perhaps the most easily reached region is Gizo with daily Solomon Airlines’ Dash-8 and Twin Otter flights from Honiara to the Nusa Tupe airstrip. The area offers surfers a good choice of accommodation from village homestays to eco-lodges, hotels and resorts. The Hotel Gizo is also a popular hang for surfers.

Across the water from Gizo lie Fatboys and Sanbis Resort, perfect for those seeking a touch of real comfort complete with hot water, ensuites, a gourmet kitchen, a fantastic bar – even Wi-Fi.

As for the waves, a few minutes by boat from Gizo township is Palonggi, a long, shallow right that’s well exposed to swell. It works best on bigger swells when the wave’s sections join up and it can get hollow. Palonggi breaks in front of a village where a handful of friendly local surfers reside and have helped set up a beachside home stay.

But surfers beware of the reef – many an unwary surfer has come a cropper at Palonggi with many departing the country wearing what the locals laughingly call a ‘Palonggi tattoo’ aka nasty coral cuts.

For those who like to go left, nearby Titiana’s is a goofy’s paradise, again a long shallow ride which when showing a bit of size allows surfers to loop through section after section with an easy paddle back. Truth be told Gizo is not the best place for beginners –  you need to know what you are doing.

One of the best kept secret ‘no name’ breaks lies just behind the idyllic Oravei Cottages, a 20-minute boat ride from Gizo and the only people who ever seem to surf it are the cottage’s owners and their guests.

While Gizo area offers some great breaks – and when the swell is running breaks pop up all over the area – a great place to visit, stay and surf is Zipolo Habu on remote Lola Island in the heart of the Vono Vono Lagoon. The name means ‘good luck fishing’.

Nearby Skull Island, which living up to its name is the resting place for ancient warrior chiefs’ skulls and those of their vanquished foes, has the Solomon Islands’ longest right hander. ‘Desperates’, a very shallow but fickle, hollow right hander is also here. Ask Kelly Slater and he’ll tell you how good it was.

Lola Island is a 40-minute boat ride from Munda Station which Solomon Airlines services twice every day with its Dash 8 aircraft, so plenty of room for boards but packing a Mal can pose a few problems.

The great thing about surfing in the West is that many of the waves just waiting to be ridden have no name – and with reefs abounding all it takes is a slightly different wind direction, a shift in tide and suddenly a world class break will begin to pump.

But sometimes you just have to be there on the day.  Or as surfers are renowned for saying “you should have been here yesterday.”

To Malaita and the Solwata surf camp located in the heart of spectacular Lau lagoon and home to a dozen world class reef set ups offering opportunity for all surfing levels and styles.

Maravagi, in the Florida islands and an hour’s boat ride from Honiara, is home to an isolated small and very clean A-frame, the original name of which has been lost in time and is now known simply as ‘Spikey’s’ after the last ‘Manepura’ (white man) to surf this area two years ago – yes, the Solomon Islands is actually one of the few places on the planet where you still have naming rights.

To the jewel in the crown, Santa Isabel and Papatura Island Retreat, one of the best surfing set-ups to be found anywhere in the South Pacific.

Managed by Australian expats Pete and Margie Blanche, Papatura sits on a beautiful sandy beach facing the main island of Santa Isabel, and is protected from the ocean winds. On the seaward side of the island sit several good surf breaks including Anchovies, PT’s, Kumma’s, Zoli’s, Donuts and Tarzan’s, the latter offering a perfect A-frame with barrels going in both directions. There are several more breaks around the reef directly outside Papatura and each one will have its day depending on winds, swell direction and tides.

The journey to Papatura is worth the effort – Twin Otter flights to the grass strip at Suavanao and a five-minute boat ride to Papatura Faa Island and the retreat.

Mal riders be advised getting anything over 7’ on a twin Otter is difficult but don’t worry, the retreat offers its guests a huge range of surfboards from stubby nosed fish and a good selection of standard boards through to rhino chasers and a selection of Mals.

Best of all, Papatura Island retreat limits the number of boardriders to a max of 14 at any one time – so with more than 20 different breaks to choose from, you’re guaranteed an uncrowded surf.

With just 25,000 international visitors a year, and literally only a couple of hundred of that number being surfers, the Solomon Islands is a very long way from being discovered by the crowds – inevitably as the word slowly gets out, things will change but so far they haven’t.

So now is definitely the time to go.