Back in Honiara, I found the harbour busy with ferries and freighters loading for the six-hour run to Auki on Malaita island, northeast of the capital. It seems the shipowners chase cargoes, and passengers, wherever they can be found. Who needs a schedule?
Bemused, I fronted up instead at Honiara’s Henderson Airport early next morning and purchased a seat on the short flight to Auki. No need to check seat availability; there was one other passenger plus the pilot of the ten-seater Britton Norman Islander, an Australian woman.
Malaita is different. The people, an energetic breed, still make shell money used for bride price transactions and build their houses upon man-made coral islands. Tourism has barely begun to develop.
Standing on a busy corner in Auki, I reached for my mobile to call a lodge outside town. A slim hand materialised… “Hello, I am Serah, are you looking for me?”
Even though Auki’s waterfront market buzzed with activity, it took another hour to fill a launch with enough other passengers for Serah and I to embark on the run down to Langalanga Lagoon. Here my hostess and her family form an extended community, their island cottages linked by walkways of crushed coral.
Serah Kei’s Lagoon Hideaway is a single over-water bungalow with walls of split bamboo, and furnished with distinctively feminine touches: potted plants, strings of gleaming cowrie shells framing doors and windows and a comfortable sofa looking out across the water from the verandah.
Two open-walled pavilions allow leisurely dining. Serah and her tame red lorikeet joined me at dinner: “He’s like a watchdog, he accepts my European guests and my regular visitors, but pecks aggressively at local people he doesn’t know!”
Serah arranged a demonstration of shell money manufacture: five people clad in traditional costume cut shells to the size of small buttons, buffed them, drilled holes in each, strung them up and applied the final polishing with a whetstone. The resulting necklaces, thick of ropes of shell buttons, are sold and traded all over the archipelago.
Langalanga was no forest-clad wilderness, but rather, a patchwork of activity with canoes and motor launches gliding constantly between man-made islets and even boat building yards. There is plenty to explore in the Solomons, above and below the water line. More images of Malaita