Return to Magazine Index

The restaurant at the Maravagi Resort overlooks a coral reef.

Nggela Holiday

By Andrew Whitehead

Published in Dive Log Australasia
December 2003


With 32 cu ft pony bottles clipped diagonally across our chests, we dropped down the mooring line until the massive bow of the USS Kanawha appeared out of the blue at about 40 metres. My dive guide was Neil Yates who operates Solomon Islands Diving in Tulagi, Nggela (Florida) Islands, Solomon Islands. Our dive plan was to explore the forward half of the ship at deck level (about 45 metres) and return to the bow after 17 minutes with 100 bar in our single 88s for the ascent and decompression stops.

USS Kanawha

The big American fleet oiler AO-1 USS Kanawha sits upright near the entrance to Tulaghi Harbour at about 60 metres (200 ft). It was built in 1914, is 476 feet long, 56 feet wide and displaced 14,500 tons.  The ship was sunk in 1943 by bombs from Japanese aircraft.  As a warship, it was heavily armed with guns on the bow, bridge, midships and stern. Because of the limited bottom time, dives are conducted from the submerged mooring lines on either the bow or the stern. As this ship is an old tanker design, it is well worthwhile studying historical photographs of the ship to get an idea of its layout.

The Dive

Neil led the way over the port side past a large anchor that is still secured in place. We then entered the forecastle for a well-lit penetration and emerged through the starboard entrance. Swimming along the deck, there is much to see although my memory is a little hazy from the narcosis!  The bridge on this old tanker is an elevated structure forward of midships and is badly damaged. There are two big guns on either side of midships where we turned around and headed back to the bow. My computer was beeping and racking up the decompression time as we returned past the winch and bow guns to the mooring line.

Although we did not need to use the safety equipment that had been put in place before the dive, it was reassuring to see that I was diving with a very professional operator. We ascended hand over hand up the mooring line with a deep stop at 18 metres.  Neil rolled up the transit line as we swam across to the third deco bar. There was a safety tank with two regulators attached to this deco bar, and two oxygen regulators on long hoses from a big bottle on board the dive boat. On the surface, we handed all the gear to Aba in the boat, climbed aboard and hydrated ourselves with a litre of tank water.

World-class Diving

My wife and I were on a one week holiday in the Solomon Islands where we visited friends in Honiara, had a complete rest at the Maravagi Resort, then a little bit of world-class diving in Tulagi in the Floridas. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was in full swing with an obvious police presence in Honiara and HMAS Manoora patrolling the seas. It would seem that the military intervention has been very successful and has stimulated the economy. Tourist divers are coming back to what is one of the best diving locations in the world, and it is right on our back door! Bret Gilliam (TDI) was on the plane with a big group of Americans who had chartered one of the liveaboards for a ten-day cruise.

Twin Tunnels

Neil Yates had a couple of spare days between courses, so he was free to take me out again for another dive near Tulagi. This time we went out past the Kanawha to a GPS position that locates a submerged mooring on top of a large pinnacle in deep water.  We descended the mooring line which is attached to the reef at about 12 metres near the entrance to one of the vertical shafts. The second shaft is close by, making the Twin Tunnels look like two holes in a bowling ball. We dropped down the nearest tunnel which ended in a cave full of fish at 34 metres. We explored the cave with our torches for a few minutes then ascended the other shaft back to the top of the reef. Quite an exhilarating experience, and that was only the first part of the dive!

We swam a few metres from our exit point to the edge of the reef which forms a sheer wall down into the depths. We found a nice vantage point and held on to the reef because of the slight current coming up the wall. We stayed there for about 30 minutes enthralled by the fish life.  Thousands of fish swarmed around us as we peered over the abyss.  Like leading actors on a stage, large tuna, hump headed wrasse, and two white tipped reef sharks swam past every few minutes. Once in awhile the small fish would scatter, then a small grey whaler cruised past looking for his lunch.


If you are into wreck diving, then Tulagi is the place to go. Close by lie the American destroyer USS Aaron Ward, USS Kanawha, the New Zealand corvette HMNZS Moa, and four big Kawanishi H6K4 flying boats. The dive shop is well fitted out with two compressors, lots of tanks, twins, ponies, good quality BCDs, regulators and tank bands. We stayed at Vanita Accommodation which is next to the shop within the same wire fenced compound for security. We enjoyed meals in the restaurant and drinks in the patio garden. Vanita and her staff looked after us very well for the two nights we were there.

Maravagi Resort

Before my wife and I went to Tulagi, we spent three days at the Maravagi Resort which is situated in a picturesque bay on Mangalonga (or Mana) Island in the north west of the Florida Islands. We were picked up from the beach in front of the Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel in Honiara and taken by outboard-powered runabout across Iron Bottom Sound to Maravagi. The trip took about 90 minutes in this ‘motor canoe’ which is the most common form of water transport in the islands. Maravagi is a charming little village-style resort where guests can enjoy complete quiet and total relaxation. Mathias and Joyce Sake and their extended family provide friendly hospitality and excellent cooking.

Accommodation at the Maravagi Resort is in four local-style bungalows by the beach and a larger building with seven rooms. We stayed in one of the bungalows which can actually accommodate up to four people. It has two bedrooms, a bathroom with toilet and cold shower. The dormitory style building provides beds for fourteen people. Two more bungalows are currently under construction. The bungalows are of local construction, built about one metre off the ground, with screened louvre windows, ceiling fans and mosquito nets over the bedding. The accommodation is basic, but clean and comfortable. Electric power is supplied by a generator.

The restaurant and bar at the Maravagi Resort has been built over the beach so that guests can look out of the front windows onto a colourful coral reef with many fish. The construction is island-style and is tastefully decorated with woven matting on the inside of the walls. There are superb views of the sheltered bay with its deep-water anchorage and the much larger Sandfly Island across the channel.  Meals are substantial and include soup, fresh fish, chicken and beef with salad, vegetables and fruit. Guests can also sit on the lounge chairs around the coffee tables and read, play games or chat about the day’s activities.

Activities around Maravagi

The area consists of many small islands, extensive reef systems and deep passages where there is abundant marine life. Local reef dives include the following dive sites: Baby Cake, Kovuhika Island (wall dive and Pyramid), Soghonara Island (wall dive and Crayfish Cave), Passage Rock (vertical drop-off with big fish action), Rueben’s Express, Sandfly Passage (wall drift dive), and the US B24 Liberator Bomber.

Other activities at the Maravagi Resort can include fishing, swimming, snorkelling, bushwalks, beachcombing, cultural entertainment and sightseeing trips. The Maravagi Resort Reef is a great place for hours of snorkelling and easy scuba diving. There are three undercover tables and chairs along the beach near the restaurant for guests to sit and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

We hired one of the motor canoes with a driver and guide for sightseeing trips around Sandfly Island and Buena Vista Island. We visited the local school on Sandfly Island, drove past the skull cave on Mount Panamanauvi, stopped at the half-built Roderick Bay Yacht Club with the beached wreck of the World Discoverer. We also went to picturesque Buena Vista Island with its blue waters, old coconut plantations, and the unfinished Nugu Beach Resort.

Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel

While in Honiara, we stayed at the Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel which is set amongst lush tropical gardens and right on the beach. The Mendana is the Solomon Island's largest hotel with all the amenities that you would expect from a premium operation. The hotel is only 15 minutes from Henderson Airport and two minutes from Honiara's government and business offices, making it a convenient place to stay when visiting the Solomon Islands on business. There is a Business Service Facility, large and small conference rooms, and a courtyard for outdoor activities.

We had a room on level 3 above the beach, complete with balcony and a glorious view of Point Cruz, Iron Bottom Sound, and the Florida Islands on the horizon. All rooms are air-conditioned, come with full tea and coffee making facilities and fridge, and feature direct dial telephones as well as in-house video and satellite TV systems. The rooms have beautiful ocean and garden views, and are equipped with one queen-size bed or two single beds. 

We arrived back from Tulagi on Wednesday which is the day when a local group perform traditional island dancing in the courtyard after dinner. On these nights, the Mendana puts on a seafood buffet in the large air-conditioned Capitana Restaurant. Since the hotel is Japanese-owned, the delicacies included sushi and sashimi. We enjoyed a drink in the afternoon at the Raratana Terrace Cafe with stunning sea views and cooling sea breezes. The hotel also has a tour desk, gift shop, cashier, safe deposit facilities, large car park and a guest laundry. There is a swimming pool near the Raratana Terrace Cafe with outdoor lounges and umbrellas, and a panoramic view of Iron Bottom Sound.

Visiting the Solomons

Solomon Airlines flies from Brisbane to Honiara on Tuesdays and Thursdays using Boeing 737s. The main port of entry into the Solomon Islands is at Henderson Airport on the island of Guadalcanal, situated approximately 10 minutes drive from the capital of Honiara. The town is situated on the northern coastline and includes a small, picturesque seaport at Point Cruz. Scuba diving is available on liveaboard cruise vessels based in Honiara, or from Tulagi, Maravagi Resort, Yandina Resort, Munda, Uepi or Gizo.

Web sites:
Details about the dive sites around Tulagi are available on the Solomon Islands Diving website
Historical photos and details about the USS Kanawha can be found at
Visit for further information on places to stay, Maravagi dive sites, and links to many other related websites.

Return to Magazine Index


Home News Scuba Diving Articles Author Contact Links