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View Full Version : Diving in the Solomon Islands aboard the Bilikiki!



Papa Bear
09-24-2013, 05:56 AM
Just got back from a wonderful 10 day dive survey trip with the Safe Mooring Foundation, Inc. (http://www.safemooringfoundation.org) and found some of the best diving and healthiest corals I have seen! The trip started at LAX on Sunday the 25th of August 2013. You fly to Nadi Fiji leaving at around 11:00pm LA time and arriving about 5:00am Tuesday morning having crossed the international Date Line. You use the Transit by pass to re-enter the departure lounge and our flight left about 7:00am. We had about a 3 and 1/2 hour ride to Honiara Guadalcanal Via Port Via in Vanuatu. The strange thing is we landed to let a few passengers off and were asked to deplane with all of our carry-on's and transit through their transit lounge! We were re-screened and our carry-on's checked and then in a few minutes our tickets and passports were re-checked and we were lead back out to the plane and our seats, then a couple new passengers boarded and we took off for Honiara international airport about 2 hours away. We landed and lost another hour from Nadi Fiji and filed through customs and immigration at the historically important airport that used to be Henderson Field in the first and one of the largest battles in the south Pacific in WWII.

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Customs and Immigration went easily and we were meet by the Bilikiki at the curb with a truck and bus, from that point on we didn't have to touch our stuff until it was time to unpack and set up our gear. We were taken by buss to the harbor where the boat was moored and waiting for us. The boat had a motor overhaul just a couple days before we arrived and on a regular schedule we would not have been on the boat until 4:00pm or later, but they had snacks and beverages for us as the boat was ready to go. We unpacked our personal stuff in our cabins and set up our gear. Other than to adjust something you don't have to touch your dive gear. The Crew carries it to the Tinnies and loads it along with your camera and upon your return the do it the other way around. They even remove your first stage, fill your tank (Nitrox) and put the cap on the tank and the dust cap on your regulator. Your do have to dress yourself and take your own shower after the dive, but clean warm towels are ready after each dive!

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The first day on the boat is paper work and orientation. This allows everyone to relax and get to know each other as well as get into the boat routine. Our cabins were large and comfortable with a complete head and shower in each one. We stored our luggage under the bottom bunk and you had storage enough for all that you can bring. The cabins were cleaned and bunks made everyday and clean towels stocked in the head as well as all the important paper work. The heads were the European double flush kind and worked well the whole trip.

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We left anchorage about 6:00pm and headed for the Russell group of islands about 6 hours of steaming directly north of Guadalcanal and a little west. We all tucked in fairly early tired from all the travel and anticipating a full day of diving to come and starting at 7:45am the next morning with a complete briefing. One of the two Dive masters were always on the dives with us, even though you were allowed to dive your own profile on all of the dives. The DMs know the area and where to find all the cool stuff, so it is smart to go with the flow or current so to speak.

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Every place we went, except Mary Island, we had visitors of all ages stopping by to say hi or sell their wears.

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Our first dive site and dive of the trip was breath taking! We dropped in with a back roll off the boat into 83* water with 120 plus viability with huge fans, healthy corals everywhere, and a beautiful reef that dropped into the sand at 110ft. From the first dive until the last the critters were everywhere and it was like being Alice in Wonderland to me!

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More to come, stay tuned!

Papa Bear
09-24-2013, 05:42 PM
The diving was diverse and amazing to me, with the underwater world way different from the cost above! Many undercuts and reef structures that give NO clue in the structure above the waterline. The Bilikiki offered 5 dives a day if you followed their dive schedule and more in areas where they moored for the afternoon.... My ears would only allow for 4 a day for me and let me know they weren't really very happy with that! The amazing thing that I found interesting was all the cuts and swim troughs!

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The coast line in many cases did not reveal what lay below!

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More later!

Papa Bear
09-25-2013, 05:09 PM
The Bilikiki presents diving in a way that minimizes the boats impact on the reefs as much as possible. They load all the gear and divers into two Tin skiffs they call "Tinnies" and take you to the dive site about 75% of the time. Once at the site you shoulder roll off the Tinnie and dive your own profile. Which means if you want to be first out or last out there is a Tinnie waiting for you when you surface. So it becomes a shu8ttle service at the end of the dive. The Crew is great at spotting bubbles and being there when you hit the surface.... I could always count on a big smiling face to help with me or my gear, some sure hands to take my camera, and a hand up the ladder. They were top notch on being on top of both safety and convenience, this serves both the diver and the reef. The Bilikiki does drop anchor in deep water and the impact is hard to access due to the depth. They try to pick a good sandy bottom which keeps the impact to a minimum and the other low impact method is they "Orbit" around the area while we dive a site. This has no impact on the local reef system. When they did moor there effort is to have as little impact as possible, but the mooring system needs up dating badly, and a newer system would have much less impact.

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From the first day forward it seemed easy to slip into the routine provided by the boat. Breakfast started at 7:00 AM and offered both cold and hot entries such as eggs, ham, french toast, and Pancakes.... Then a dive briefing at 7:45 Am and your choice to dive now or later. Once back on board after the dive there was always fresh cookies and popcorn, add some hot coco and life was good.

We then would head to our next site or relax until the next dive close by. After the second dive a great lunch was always waiting for us along with cool stories and many smiles. The boat ran like a well oil machine and if you needed anything all you had to do was ask anytime of day or night. They worked hard to make sure you were happy and safe for the whole trip. The boat understands customer service and safety.

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More to come....

Papa Bear
09-25-2013, 07:57 PM
In the afternoon we repeated the whole process with snacks in between the afternoon dives and many of them where at the same place so that after dinner you had a good feeling for the dive area. I missed the night dives due to my ears and flooding my dive light on a morning wreck dive, it was my fault due to being too ready to go and not replacing the plug on my charge port! So I did a number of transition dives, but missed some very good night dives! My biggest impression on the Solomon Islands was the diversity and number of Critters you could find on anyone dive! It was almost impossible to decide between Macro and Wide Angle lenses?! Belinda the DM tried her best to inform us of her best guess and the good news was whatever you chose to mount on your camera you found plenty to shot!

On of the examples of this was a wall dive that had a lot of Macro stuff and behind us a good possibility of Pelagics behind us and as it would happen a rare Sea Salp was floating by just off the wall!

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In over 40 years of diving I have only seen a hand full of these beautiful creatures and this was the second biggest one I have seen, the largest was at Dog Rocks in the Exumas.....

But on the wall was a number of Nudies and cool stuff along with a turtle tucked away from the current trying to nap!

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So what would you have done? Decisions decisions, I know they are tough but someone has to do it! I had a great solution and that is a 18mm-135mm Canon Lens in a dome port, not always the best choice, but very versatile and a great compromise. A dedicated lens will always give you a better picture, but some times no picture at all!

More to come!

Papa Bear
09-26-2013, 06:25 PM
We had 4 days of out of season rain to deal with and it brought wind as well, so some of the crossings were more like adventure park rides than ideal sleeping weather. But most everyone dealt well with it except a bowel huger who we all felt badly for, although she did well over all and had a great trip. The reduced visibility was workable and the boat managed the swells with little effort although we did have one dive that ended with one Tinnie having to run behind the island in order to unload us. The sea came up while we were doing a very nice dive and the boats were rocking in the swell making it dangerous to try and transfer the divers back to the Bilikiki.....

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On one such morning we headed for a Japanese Freighter called Maru #2 as it was on a secret mission and the records have not been found to date and it remains unclaimed in a hundred feet of water. It was delivering Torpedoes to Japanese Subs and after unloading its cargo was sent to the bottom at night in a lagoon. Its only defense was a field artillery piece strapped to the stern deck. You could see where the bomb hit it separating the the hull from the deck and removing the wheel house completely. It was dark and full of growth as well as millions of Silver sides, one person commented "You couldn't see the wreck for all the fish" and it was almost true yet beautiful! There appeared to be human remains in the hold of the ship that have not been recovered or claimed. Everyone treated this with the utmost respect.

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The field piece on the stern.
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The Solomon islands was the first major battle of the South Pacific and our biggest navel defeat in history! The US war memorial was an eye leaker! I will post more pictures at the end of Guadalcanal and the battle that took place there.

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The sea is reclaiming most of the WWII wrecks and material left behind.

More to come....

Papa Bear
09-26-2013, 09:50 PM
This site we moored on the wreck and went down the mooring line for the dive.... The Bilikiki lets down its swim platform is such cases so you can just swim to the back of the boat and the crew will help you out and take care of your gear.

The boat would move or visit a village between dives so you didn't have to miss any diving what so ever by going ashore.... Their system works like a well oiled machine and with only 20 divers max there are no lines, except at meals, to speak off.

On one of our Visits we were greeted by the villagers and chief by a wonderful greeting and they sung and danced for us. We gave them school supplies and gifts that they were very happy to get.

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Please checkout the music in this video, they are playing PVC Pipe with Flip Flops!


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More later!

Zeff_A
09-30-2013, 12:49 PM
Hope you guys are having wonderful time in the Solomon Island. I have been there as well. It is a beautiful place. I especially love Honiara and its attractions (http://www.solomonislandsresorts.com/local-attractions.html), the museums and market. I had also visited some of the waterfalls as well as did some trekking in the distant forests with my guide. I just loved the party in the Maryland and King Solomon (itís a hotel where I had stayed). Underwater diving has been a memorable experience for me on this Island. Thanks for sharing this experience and pics, you guys recalled me of my days in Solomons.