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Neil Harris enters a cave in the West Russells. Image by Jenny Harris

Cruising in the
West Russell Islands

By Andrew Whitehead

Published in Dive Log Australasia
June 2003


There was a vertical wall right next to Aeaun Island with no detectable bottom.  We stepped off the dive platform and dropped down the wall to 30 metres.  There was little current and 20 metre visibility as we drifted along the sheer face.  As usual, we dived as a threesome with Neil Harris going ahead with the video camera, Jenny Harris taking still digital images, and I stayed between them or behind them, whichever was more appropriate at the time. It was a busy, awesome dive with beautiful soft corals on the wall, two sharks, a manta ray, a dogtooth tuna, and maori wrasse out in the blue, exploring the deep indentations in the wall, and occasionally looking over Neil or Jenny’s shoulder at some unusual marine creature.

Altogether we did four spectacular wall dives in the Russell Islands including Karumolun Island, Mane Island, and another island that legend says is the home of the Nautilus. These islands appear to be formed from ancient coral, have steep sides, no beaches and are covered in jungle.  On each dive, we had a bottom time of about 50 minutes using 80 cu ft tanks by slowly ascending from 30 metres to the surface while drifting along the wall.  The Princess drifted along with us, so all we had to do at the end of the dive was swim a few metres away from the wall and climb up the big ladder on to the dive platform. Effortless diving!

Luxury Liveaboard

Our Solomon Islands adventure began when Selwyn Douglas, the owner of the luxury liveaboard M.V. Princess II, picked us up at Henderson airport near Honiara and took us to the secure wharf where the Princess was berthed.  Together with Neil and Jenny Harris of Absolute Scuba ‘N’ Snorkeling in Brisbane, my wife and I were to spend seven days cruising the Solomon Islands which are now regarded as one of the top three accessible dive destinations in the world.

We headed north across Iron Bottom Sound to the Nggela (or Florida) Islands where we dived on the destroyer USS Aaron Ward, a Kawanishi flying boat, coral walls in the Sandfly Passage, then visited the wreck of the liner World Explorer, Tulagi and the Maravaghi Resort. (See Dive Log Australasia, April 2003) We then headed 100 km west to the Russell Islands where we spent a few days enjoying a different style of diving.

Russell Islands

The Russell Islands lie about 70 miles (100 km) to the west of Honiara on Guadalcanal.  The town of Yandina on Mbanika Island is one of the Solomon Islands’ main deep-water ports.  Along the northern edge of the Russell Islands facing New Georgia Sound (The Slot), lie a chain of small islands with superb reef systems and spectacular wall dives.  During WWII there were two airfields, a major American supply base, and PT-boat bases on Mbanika Island. At White Beach and Lever Point, there are artificial reefs created by dumping trucks, jeeps, tractors, bulldozers and large amounts of ammunition.

We spent a busy day in Yandina where we visited the Yandina Plantation Resort, then dived on an ammunition dump near Lever Point, then on the Folau Pinnacle. Back at Yandina, all the kids in town came to see us and spent the afternoon leaping off the wharf. At dusk we did a night dive near the Yandina Wharf.  (See Dive Log Australasia, May 2003)

Coastal Trader Ann

After visiting the Yandina area, we weighed anchor at 6am for a cruise to the more remote areas of the Russell Islands. It was raining heavily as we passed White Beach and travelled up the deep Sunlight Channel which separates the largest island Pavuvu from Mbanika Island.  Just offshore, near a small village, lies the former coastal trader Ann which sits upright at the edge of the channel.  The ship was deliberately sunk a few years ago making a superb dive site.

After locating the wreck by tying a safety sausage to the stern, we dived down to the bow and reached a depth of 28 metres.  There was a large hump headed wrasse just off the bow. We saw schools of pelagic fish near the wreck and huge schools of tropicals in the wreck. The superstructure and deck equipment at the stern provide the basis for a beautiful coral garden at about 12 metres.  Jenny photographed two black lionfish and a coral cod.  With a bottom time of 43 minutes, it was a beautiful dive, one not to be missed.

A Remote Village

After lunch we arrived at the village where the Princess’s chief engineer was born.  Several canoes came out to meet us and all the kids swam out and climbed on to the dive platform. Several people went ashore in the skiff and had a tour of the village.  Apparently this village specialises in fishing while a companion village favours craftwork.  They trade with each other and both prosper because of it.


After the wall dive at Karumolun Island, we moved into a sheltered passage close to a steep, jungle-clad island.  There were orchids in the tops of trees 60 metres above the water level.  Most of us went snorkelling along the edge of the island. It was so steep that it would be virtually impossible to climb onto the island. Some canoes from a nearby village arrived later to sell produce.  A young woman with two little boys in a dugout canoe sold us some tomatoes, eggplant and a watermelon.

In the evening we downloaded our digital images onto Jenny’s laptop computer on a table in the salon, sent the mediocre shots to the Recycle Bin, and recharged the camera batteries. Ema and Sophie prepared a different meal for us each night.  These included stir-fried chicken, pork chops, pepper steak, roast lamb, Wahoo steaks, and curries, always with fresh vegetables and dessert.

Custom Cave

There are a number of caves along the wall beside a small limestone island in the West Russells. Most of these lead to dead ends. The entrance to the Custom Cave leads to a 30-metre tunnel which narrows, then opens out into a larger area.  There is a hole in the roof where the sunlight filters down in a shaft of light when the sun is high.  The cave ends at a small pond surrounded by thick vegetation, so Neil got out to have a look around. The main purpose of the dive was to photograph the shaft of light at midday, which Jenny did very successfully.


After three days in the Russell Islands, we heard the anchor being raised at 1 am as the Princess II prepared to depart and return to the main island of Guadalcanal.  We awoke to brilliant sunshine close to a long sandy beach with the obvious remnants of a ship protruding from the shallow water.  We had anchored near Bonegi Creek to dive on the Kinugawa Maru and just around the point, the Hirokawa Maru.

On our last day, we visited the Solomon Airlines office to confirm our departure, the Japanese and US memorials up on the hills behind Honiara, the Visitors Bureau, the war museum near the airport, and had a pleasant lunch at the King Solomon Hotel.  Then it was back to the Princess to have a rest, dinner and a late night departure for Brisbane.

Note. In this article, I have used the spelling of place names that was adopted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, Honiara, in their chart of the Florida and Russell Islands published in 1975 and reprinted in 1986.

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