Published: January 1st 2011January 1st 2011
After our debacle 10 years back in the Solomons, courtesy of Solomon Airlines, confidence wasn't at its peak with the narrow changeover between our international flight from Oz and the subsequent inter island flight scheduled only 45 minutes after touchdown in Honiara. But, Hey Presto, our fears were unfounded, initially because Solomon Airlines have lifted their game dramatically and also because we were assured the ongoing flight would wait for us. Wait for us? How many airlines would delay a flight for 2 plebs like us? As it turned out, we 2 plebs comprised 40% of the entire passenger list so they really couldn't take off without us. Five passengers plus pilot nestled into a lawnmower with wings skating up, around and under cloud banks with textbook tropical islets dotting the ocean below.
The landing strip was a couple of football fields punctuated with mud holes and a bamboo canopy in knee-deep water that served as the airport terminal. Peering out the cockpit window at the seemingly miniscule landing strip dropping off into the great Pacific Ocean, I was tempted to quiz the pilot as to whether he had double checked the brakes prior to takeoff.
On approaching landing
we also spotted a tranquil palm-fringed bay on the leeward side of an island, the bay replete with a white sandy beach, a couple of boats moored close by and a few semi-camouflaged huts tucked amongst the vegetation. As luck would have it, this was to be our home for the next week and half.
The Retreat part of Papatura Island Retreat is one hell of an appropriate description of this place. From any spot in this complex there is not a hint of any other civilisation in any direction. If you've robbed a bank or simply scuttled away from the other half and are looking for somewhere to hide, here's your spot. Nobody will find you.
The lush vegetation of here and the surrounding islands lends creedence ot the volumes of rain that dump on this area. One particular 24 hour period "blessed" us with 365mm (that's about 14 inches for the imperially minded) of the wet stuff. Even during the sunny days there lurked the constant threat of an aquatic salvo from above.
So what drags someone to this little isolated corner of the world? For me, I was primarily pinning my hopes on the
possibility of nabbing a few waves on the surrounding reefs and Papatura is well served with boats to satisfy us "surfie" types. But let's be honest now, I can't see Indonesia looking fearfully over its shoulder towards the Solomons in terms of being usurped as the surfing mecca on this planet. There is some video evidence that the waves can really turn on here but you get the impression the planets really would need to be aligned for that to occur. Having said that, I did manage to get into the water almost every day and it was surely infinitely better than what was being dished up on my local beach at home at the same time, plus the water feels like silk sliding over the body.
Fortunately the resort is pretty well geared up for a host of alternative activities when the surf doesn't co-operate. Fishing, snorkelling, stand-up-paddling (Penny would like to mention that she won the SUP contest over yours truly), village excursions and island hopping, to name a few.
The island hopping part was certainly fun even though one particular excursion didn't quite pan out as planned. Without detailing specifics, four of us had visions
Hey dancing boy!
of Tom Hanks in Castaway as we ended up marooned on picture perfect "Honeymoon Island" somewhere in the South Pacific. The 2 men, Justin and myself, were left with 2 options:
(a) Eat the women in order to survive, or
(b) Paddle the stricken vessel back to base and then send out the cavalry to fetch the girl folk.
As tempted as I was for option (a), I simply couldn't picture Penny slowly spit roasting with an apple in her mouth (plus we didn't have any apples). Thus it was to be option (b). We McGivered out a few paddles from palm frongs and whaddyaknow, we all eventually made it back in time for a late lunch.
The local populace are amicable and welcoming. Papatura includes a particular village visit that includes a hint of light cultural entertainment and a tasting of some traditional cuisine. This is no cash grab complete with tacky merchandising, but rather a genuine attempt to focus our attention on the simple life of an isolated culture on Australia's doorstep. On returning from this excursion, Peter (Papatura's owner) asked: "So who's right"? I won't say we are but personally I've come too far to
Papatura Island Retreat.
resort to a subsistence life, even if the locals do appear completely at ease with their lot. Can't see myself forfeting red wine, surfing, the Wallabies, lamb shanks and Wanda carpark bullshit at this stage of my life.
Before coming over here I viewed this little trip as redemption for the disaster of 2001. Yep, this was the Solomon's chance to pay me back and they delivered. These islands are a mere 3 hours from Brisbane, so what are you waiting for? Pack a rod, snorkel and goggles, boardshorts and throw in a surfboard just in case. Sionara Honiara.
There are more photos below