The Folau Pinnacle is the top of a seamount with a large summit area at about 15-20 metres, which then drops off steeply into deep water. The Princess II headed north from Lever Point and tied up to a buoy which is permanently anchored on the pinnacle. 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. The best action was at the edge of the reef so we stayed around the rim at about 26 metres.
We saw a school of barracuda, several anemonefish, a large sea cucumber, many beautiful soft corals, and millions of tiny fish. As we returned to the mooring line, I spotted a black and white crocodilefish lying on a piece of flat coral. According to the Australian Museum, the Crocodilefish is a species of flathead (family Platycephalidae) with an intricate pattern, a distinct pit immediately behind the eyes and a concave head margin. It enhances its camouflage by remaining perfectly still even under close scrutiny. Neil hit it with the twin video lights. Jenny took several still shots of it and it still did not move!
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 edition, for this part of the trip) We then headed west to the Russell Islands where we spent a few days enjoying a different style of diving. The Princess took us to a great variety of diving locations including sheer coral walls, pinnacles, the coastal trader Ann, sea caves, a night dive near the Yandina wharf, and on an underwater mound of ammunition.
The Russell Islands lie about 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 arrived in Yandina in time for a hearty breakfast of cereal, pawpaw with lime juice, mango, sweet pineapple, bananas and toast. Flora arrived in the van and took us to the Yandina Plantation Resort which she and John manage. Like many resorts in the South Pacific, it was built on an old coconut plantation. The view from the resort through the tall coconut trees to the beach and surrounding islands is magnificent, and as we were to find out, the diving around Yandina is excellent.
Sel took the Princess to a beautiful beach near Lever Point which is a few kilometres north of Yandina. Neil and Jenny dived to about 35 metres on an underwater mound of vehicles, artillery shells and packs of ammunition. My wife went snorkelling over the coral along the beach, while I swam along the slope down to 24 metres. There were areas where the coral had been damaged, and at the bottom of these slopes, there were the remains of jeeps and trucks. On the slopes there were clumps of debris including artillery shells and 50-calibre machine gun rounds.
After diving on the Folau Pinnacle, we returned to Yandina and tied up at the wharf where all the kids in town came to see us. Jenny had them laughing and posing for pictures. My wife taught them some songs and to make hand signs. My contribution was to teach them to do the diver’s OK signal. When one boy jumped in the water, Jenny pointed her camera at him. Well that started it! They all leaped off the wharf like Adelie penguins jumping off an icefloe. They climbed onto the dive platform, up the stairs, and across to the wharf and jumped back in the water. Around and around they went. It was a great game for them! We also taught them to do bomb dives the Australian way!
Many of the older kids and teenagers stayed to see us gearing up for a night dive near the wharf. They watched every move as we attached regulators, computers, battery packs, torches and safety lights, tested power inflators, checked the cameras and slipped on our fins.
The bottom slopes downwards fairly steeply near the wharf which makes Yandina a good deep-water port. It is like a junkyard down there! Reaching a maximum depth of 30 metres, we saw a barge, three bulldozers, a flying boat wing float, a lionfish, two big sea cucumbers, tiny shrimp, a crocodilefish and a hermit crab. While we were under the water, the kids enjoyed watching the bubbles and the light show as we moved around on the bottom.
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. By the end of the trip, we had nearly 800 images in high-resolution form for future use. Ema and Sophie prepared a different meal for us each night. That night John and Flora joined us on board for a smorgasbord of roast chicken and lamb. Delicious!
After visiting the Yandina area, we weighed anchor at 6am for a cruise to the more remote areas of the Russell Islands. We travelled up the deep Sunlight Channel and dived on the former coastal trader Ann, visited a remote village, dived in the Custom Cave, and enjoyed some spectacular wall dives. That part of the cruise will be told in Dive Log next month.
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.