| BNE September/October 2016
’ve never really been a fan of fishing, probably because on the few
occasions I’ve ever been I’ve never caught anything – but clearly I have
been trying in all the wrong places. After an overnight stopover in Honiara it’s
just a one hour plane hop to Munda, on the island of New Georgia, and I’m
about to learn something about fishing from experts. Fishing is a way of life in
the Solomon Islands – there’s a plentiful supply and it’s a staple of the local diet
but when a big catch is required – for a large family or community gathering –
they have a unique way to ensure a big catch.
We’re invited to tag along on just such a fishing expedition and told to wear
swimmers and bring a snorkel! Out in the lagoon on the edge of a shallow
reef we watch from a distance while a canoe drifts out from the island shore,
a huge mass of green vine piled up in the middle. Slowly, the vine is rolled
out from the canoe and a team of fishermen walk in the shallows to hold it in
place in a massive circle, then when it is all out, they slowly draw the circle in,
smaller and smaller. When the circle is quite small we are invited to help hold
the vine and draw it in ever smaller, and a quick dip under the water is like
looking into the Seaworld Aquarium – by now the shallows are teaming with
coloured fish of all shapes and sizes and, surprisingly, they make no attempt to
swim beyond the vine.
The next bit is nothing short of stunning. On the signal from the senior
fisherman, a ‘magic mix’ is thrown into the water – apparently some special
blend of vine leaf and sand – which acts like a natural sedative and the fish are
almost immediately tranquilised. Most float, while others jump and dart in a
frenzy and we, and the fishermen, are catching and scooping as quickly as we
can to get them into a canoe. When we’re finished it’s almost full.
It’s been an hilarious dance in the shallows on our part with lots of
whooping and splashing but it’s been an extraordinary experience – and we’re
rewarded for our efforts with some fish for lunch which we have on a nearby
shore, barbecued over hot coals and washed down with coconut milk, spicy
seaweed, sweet potato, rice and salad. There’s time for a swim before we had
back to Agnes Lodge at Munda.
The next day it’s a rollercoaster ride to Rendova, a large volcanic island
about 40 minutes fromMunda. The slight swell on the deep water is
enough to cause our boat to slap from crest to crest all the way to the
wharf at Titiru Eco Lodge, where we’re met in fine island style by a band
of musicians. In contrast to the island beaches we’ve seen so far these sands
are black and the south west coast of the island is an important nesting
ground for endangered leatherback turtles. Local villages there are a base
for a local conservation program.
Titiru Eco Lodge is less than five years old and is considered a model
for environmentally sustainable tourism in the area. It’s a gateway to
local villages for visitors and it provides an opportunity for locals to learn
hospitality skills. The closest village of Ugele is just a short walk away and
the locals are happy to demonstrate their talents in carving, making ‘toys’
bracelets and headbands from palm fronds and impromptu ‘cooking
classes’ in how they make favourite dishes – one from a nut that would be
poisonous if not treated the right way! While we’re here just for a day, guests
of Titiru can try climbing Rendova Peak, visit the Wild Cave (if you like
bats, crabs and snakes), go night crabbing or exploring in a dug-out canoe.
There’s a reason we’re told to keep our bags to 16kg or less once we leave
Honiara – it’s a smaller plane ride to Munda, but fromMunda we’re
travelling by boat to Gizo and a spinner suitcase is no help on a plank jetty
or a sand track to beachfront bungalows.
It’s fitting that we arrive at Fatboys Resort on nearby Mbabanga Island
in time for lunch and the boat pulls up alongside the restaurant on a jetty
100 metres from shore. The resort, owned by Brisbane locals, takes its name
from the character Joe in the classic Charles Dickens novel
– Joe, ‘the fat boy’, loves eating, drinking, sleeping and generally
avoiding every effort to work at all and we need no convincing to do the
same, starting with a lunch of crayfish and salad.
By now we’ve been dining out on crayfish almost three meals a day. At
Fatboys it’s delivered by canoe every morning and so it’s possible to have it at
breakfast (omelette), lunch (barbecue grilled) and dinner (curry). Manager
Mano and barmanTimmy are perfect hosts.
The afternoon is free for snorkelling (straight from the beach), kayaking,
paddleboarding, swimming or snoozing, but two of us take out a Polycraft
(a little plastic boat) to a sand cay we see in the distance for a Robinson
Crusoe adventure. It turns out to be only about 15 minutes away and we
jump out on the sand to make first footprints on a truly untouched piece
of paradise. It’s perfect for a swim, a little walk and a dramatic skyline view,
which changes quickly as we take photos.
As the distant sky gets greyer we decide to head back and as we do we
keep an eye on the rolling clouds behind us. There’s an adrenalin charge as
we scoot back as fast as the little craft will take us and we make it back just