Time now to explore a few more islands, by embarking at dawn on a weekly passenger ferry making the twelve-hour run from Gizo, back southeast towards Honiara. Before long I reached Munda, a tiny township on New Georgia Island. Munda is the gateway to the myriad islands and waterways of Roviana Lagoon or, if local politics permit, the mound of skulls bequeathed by past headhunters.
Next morning, two men in a boat bobbed gently out in the channel and watched the dawn come up over New Georgia. We were waiting for an inter-island freighter expected… sometime that morning. But, just after sun-up, a white blob did appear on the horizon as the good ship Bikoi steamed into view.
Motor launches and dugout canoes alike converged on the rusty steamer and we scrambled aboard, picking our way over sleeping bodies and sacks of copra. In the stateroom we admired a large illuminated map of the Port of Osaka, a legacy of the ship’s earlier life, and tried to ignore the strident squawking of ‘America’s favourite children’s gospel station’.
Scattered dive resorts complement the simply-furnished ‘eco lodges’ and village homestays which cluster around the forested shores of Marovo Lagoon.
Near the hamlet of Seghe lies Bernard and Jilly Kaniotoku’s Matikuri Lodge, one of several locally-operated ‘eco lodges’ clinging to the densely forested shores of the majestic Marovo Lagoon, shielded from the Pacific by a double row of islands. [wow – since my visit, Ben’s acquired a website and a mobile phone service]. This earthly demi-paradise has been somewhat tainted by rapacious foreign loggers, depleting the forests and causing run-off into the lagoon. Apparently though, their depredations are now largely contained.
We had no booking and no means to contact Bernard directly, but Seghe’s good-humoured policeman assured us he would be found shortly – and was.
Matikuli’s bungalows are built out over the pellucid waters, populated by schools of fearless coral fish, giant clams and even a few laid-back sharks, circling unhurriedly. At dinner, lit by kerosene lamps, we savoured fresh-cooked crayfish, mud crab and tuna; the twice-weekly flight back to Honiara would touch down all too soon. More images of New Georgia and Marovo Lagoon.