Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Gizo, Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands is a huge country in terms of the total area of land and sea that it covers, in excess of 800,000 square kilometres. Located between Bougainville in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands is a well known dive location. In the early to mid-1990s, the Solomon Islands was probably the most popular dive location in the South Pacific, at least for Australians. There were multiply dive operators in the capital Honiara, three liveaboards, dive operations at Gizo, Uepi and Munda as well as some others.
However, the ethnic problems and almost civil war that erupted in the late 1990s (in simple terms, the Guadalcanal people resented the Malaita people who had moved to Guadalcanal taking their jobs and land and took physical actions to remove them) ruined the tourism industry as well as almost totally destroyed the country's economic position.
These problems were almost totally confined to Honiara and the area around the capital. However, as all tourists have to enter the country through Honiara, it impacted on all areas. Tourism to the Solomons is only just picking up now (2001) but it is still subject to many problems.
Gizo is located in the Western Province on the island of Ghizo. It is about 350 kilometres from Honiara. Ghizo Island is 11 kilometres long and about five kilometres wide. Gizo is a small town of 3,000 or so, spread over the southern end of the island. It is a fairly busy little town, with lots of cars and trucks moving about during the day but quiet at night. The only noise at night were the nightly dog fights about 2 am and the 3 am roosters. Early to bed....early to rise!
You can only fly to Honiara from Brisbane. Then it is a 70 minute flight from Honiara in a Twin Otter plane. You land on the small airstrip on Nusatope Island. It is a 10 minute trip in a small boat to the town.
For the purposes of diving, there are two places to stay. The first is the Gizo Hotel. It is in the middle of town and has quite a large number of rooms, all with private facilities. There is a pool, bar and restaurant. It has hot showers but note that in October 2001 when I visited Gizo, the hotel did not have running water due to a water shortage and showers were not in use. Probably best spot for couples.
This is located at the western end of town right opposite the Adventure Sports dive shop. There are two twin rooms, one double room and one triple room. It has two showers (cold water) and toilets as well as a kitchen. There is a fridge where you can cool your drinks. The rooms were cleaned daily. There is a restaurant (PT-109) located in front of the lodge. Best for small groups, with only one couple.
Places to Eat
There is a restaurant located on the first floor, overlooking the harbour. The food was average but with an above average price for the rest of Gizo. For example, a small serving of calamari and rice as an entree was $15 (about A$6) and mains were SI$25 to SI$30. Solbrew beers were SI$11 (about A$4.20).
Located in front of the Divers' Lodge right on the water, the PT-109 has the best outlook of all the restaurants. Named after President John F. Kennedy's WWII patrol boat which sank nearby, they serve breakfast here for people staying at the lodge and dinner is available. You need to book before 4 pm to arrange or else they might not be open. I only ate here once, but for SI$38.50 (A$15) you get a three course meal. We had pumpkin soup (great), roast chicken or fish (pretty good) and profiteroles. Beers are SI$10 (A$4). I wish we had eaten there more.
This is located on the western side of the main road about half way between the hotel and the lodge (next to bakery). This place serves Chinese style meals. I had noodles and chicken, beef and blackbean sauce and rice, chilli chicken and rice. The meals range from SI$20 to $29 (A$8 to $12) with soft drinks SI$6 (A$2.10). No beer or BYO. Very good value and quite good. We went there four times.
This is located on the hilltop overlooking the ocean. It is quite a walk up there and on a dark night I would not recommend it (we tried and could not see a foot in front of us). They will pick you up and return you to your accommodation free of charge. The food here is okay but not as good as PT-109 or Gizo Nest. For SI$44 (A$17) you get soup, main and dessert. Beers were SI$9 (A$3.80). Good for a change.
There are many places to eat lunch. The Curry Hut is located towards the Divers' Lodge. For SI$15 (A$6) you get curry chicken and rice and the curry puffs were nice. There are some other places near the markets and you could buy fruit or bread from the bakery.
There are numerous Chinese owned stores in the main street. Most sell the same things, although you may need to go to a couple to get what you want. Since we were staying in the lodge, we purchased beer (SI$4.30 to $5 each - does not matter whether it is one or 24) here for pre-dinner drinks (well, also for after dinner drinks), soft drinks (SI$3 - A$1.20), Twisties and cheese snacks (SI$0.80 to $1 - about A$0.40 each), peanuts (SI$2 - A$0.80) and anything else you need.
As mentioned, there is a bakery with quite good bread and donuts are available everywhere.
Started by Danny Kennedy in about 1984, this was the first dive operation in Gizo. With his wife Kerrie, they run the largest and most popular of the two dive operations. If you are staying in the hotel, they pick you up in their ute. From the lodge it is a matter of walking across the road, collecting your fins and wet suit (your BC, regs and new tank will already be on the boat) and going back across the road to the wharf.
The boats are typical South Pacific, narrow, long and powered by twin 40 to 50 hp outboards. Quite comfortable, if somewhat a bit cramped with a full load.
Dive guides are very good. Danny also provides a free simple lunch for those days that you do double dives. Mostly it is tuna (chilli or plain), tomato and cheese for non-fish eaters like me, bread and fruit (pineapple, banana or other). Once on your trip they will take you to an island and have a barbecue, fish (or sausages), bread and fruit. Great!!
Most days lunches are spent on an island. One of these is Kennedy Island, not named after Danny, but after John F. Kennedy, President of the USA, who spent time on the island in WWII while hiding from the Japanese after a Jap destroyer hit his patrol boat PT-109. Adventure Sports can handle very large or small groups with many boats and guides.
There is another dive operator located in front of the Gizo Hotel but I have no personal experience of his operation nor know anyone who has used him.
The hotel has a disco some Saturday nights and the PT-109 had a disco on the Friday we left. We went (why not as we probably would have been kept awake anyway) and had a great time. About 150 attended, including 10 white people.
On your last day you can walk out of town to see some villages or hire a guide to go to another island (however, you have probably done enough of this).
A nice little town with great dive sites. Do not worry about the Australian Government's warning against travelling to the Solomon Islands. So long as you do not head west of Honiara and to some other places on Guadalcanal, it is as safe as any other place I have visited in the South Pacific. An excellent place to visit.
Return to dive list for Gizo.