The Solomon Islands Dive Sites
A liveaboard cruise to the remote and uncrowded area of the South Pacific including the Solomon islands offers some fantastic dive opportunities on both reef and wrecks.
The Solomon Islands dive sites are remote and new to tourism. Compared to its neighbours of Fiji and Vanuatu, the Solomons have fewer tourists visiting each year.
Fewer visitors have resulted in the reefs remaining both pristine and uncrowded. The fish life, macro critters, corals, caves and many World War II wrecks make it a leading dive destination. Most of the dive sites are shallow and with excellent visibility open to all levels of divers. The exception would be some of the wreck dives which are below recreational limits requiring specific training.
The Solomon Islands are on the migration route of many species that include whales, turtles and dolphins.
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The Solomon Islands Dive Sites - 1 LIVEABOARDS
With the many numbers of islands to explore, the Solomon Islands offer an endless variety of dive sites. The islands can be split into groups or provinces.
Trips may start and/or end on Guadalcanal with the main capital and port of Honiara. Off its shores is what they call Iron Bottom Sound, named as such for the 200 shipwrecks and 690 airplanes that sunk in WWII in the battle for Guadalcanal, both Japanese and American. Majority are beyond diving depths, however some close to the shores of Guadalcanal and the Floridas are.
A typical liveaboard cruise of 7 days may take you to two or three island groups such as the Florida islands, the Russell islands and Mary Island. On these trips a village visit to see the custom singing and dancing is a must. Underwater, you will encounter everything from large pelagics, schooling fish, spectacular rock formations and cave systems, rainbow reefs pulsing with life to the minute critters.
Longer cruises of 10 days or more may visit the Western Province. The Marovo lagoon is where hammerhead sightings are a possibility along with other large pelagics, dogtooth tuna, magical walls adorned with enormous gorgonian sea fans with the sounds of a rumbling underwater volcano. This province is also renowned for the beautiful hand made woodcarvings. The areas of Gizo and Munda even further west also offer some fabulous diving with sharks and caves.
The Solomon Islands Dive Sites
Here we list a few of the best dive sites as well as the historical WWII wrecks in these waters.
Hirokawa Maru & Kinugawa Maru are two wrecks lying close to the beach of Boneghi near Honiara, just 100m apart from one another. These are Japanese transport ships that came under attack by allied bombers in November 1942. They were beached in order to offload their cargo of troops and supplies.
Hirokawa Maru – Boneghi #1
At 6860 tonnes, the vessel is largely broken up, but the stern remains. The shallowest depth is 3m running down to the stern at 56m. The engine is still visible and the cargo holds provide nice swim-throughs with lots of coral growth. Many nudibranch, scorpionfish, moray eels and jacks make it home. Ending the dive in the shallows there is still more to see in the coral garden and sandy slopes such as garden eels and ghost pipefish.
Kinugawa Maru – Boneghi #2
At 4500 tonnes, the Kinugawa Maru lies in 5-50 m of water. This vessel was beached higher than the Hirokawa, so it has suffered more damage from storms and salvage. However, it is possible to see the engine block, and the wreck site hosts schooling snapper and many corals and anemones. Take care on the sandy areas for stonefish and stingrays, whilst looking for other rubble dwellers like mantis shrimp, octopus and devil scorpionfish.
The Florida Islands
This is a submerged seamount site just off Tulaghi island that is named after the two lava tubes that descend vertically ending in a cave area that opens up to the reef wall at about 36m. At the base of the tunnels are squirrel fish, big eyes and other nocturnal fish. There are schools of fusiliers around the entrance of the cave and gorgonian sea fans along the walls. Once on the wall area look out to the blue for reef sharks and tuna, with the occasional grey whaler. On top of the sea mount at around 12m there are many eels, mantis shrimp and lobster, plus playful octopus and cuttlefish. Macro life includes pygmy seahorses and squat lobster.
This is a manta ray dive for thrill seekers! Have your reef hook at the ready for this one. At certain tides and times, the manta rays feast on the currents sweeping into the channel between two islands. You start the dive in the shallows of the reef table where the current takes you to the reef wall of the channel, here, hook on and enjoy the ride as manta rays swoop in over, under and around you. You may only need to drop to 5 or 10 meters to experience this magnificent sight.
Starting the dive on the inner reef with a gradual slope covered in large gorgonian sea fans and elephant ear sponges, the current takes you to the sheer outer reef wall and the deep blue. Taking care to watch your depth gauge here, as the wall is endless and currents can be strong. The wall is covered with tubastrea coral (sun coral) of bright yellow and orange against the deep blue backdrop make it a stunning sight. If you can draw your eyes away from the coral encrusted walls dotted with nudis, enjoy watching red tooth triggerfish in their thousands flutter in the open water.
Kawanishi Sea Plane
This Japanese seaplane (also named Mavis) sits upright at 30m with a wingspan of 40m and a length of 26m. The starboard wing is missing the inner engine, but the others are intact. It is possible to enter the cockpit with a bit of a tight squeeze.
USS Aaron Ward
This wreck is not the itinerary for the usual liveaboard cruise due to its depth. The Aaron Ward is an American destroyer sitting upright at 70m and is over 100m in length, sank in 1943 by Japanese bombers. This is a deep dive for Tec divers, only discovered in 1995, remains largely untouched by salvagers, the vessel was armed with four 5 inch guns, torpedoes, depth chargers on racks either side of the stern and searchlights.
Also not usually dived on usual liveaboard itineraries due to its depth. An American fleet oiler that is sitting upright at 60m of depth, at 145m in length she was sunk by bombs in 1943. She was heavily armed at the time of sinking with guns on the bow, bridge, midship and stern.
The stern part of the dive has the engine room, which was severely damaged but has a large piston on the port side. The accommodation area is to the starboard via a narrow gap. The deck is at 48m where the guns are with empty shells.
The bow is a little shallower at about 45m, this has the bridge, which is severely damaged and large guns midship.
The Russell Islands
White Beach is where the Americans located their supply base in WWII. An artificial reef was created with the jeeps, tractors, bulldozers and ammunition after the war ended. At a depth of 29 to 5m the site is accessible for all divers and makes an excellent night dive location, as it is easy to navigate and has some unusual critters like mandarin fish, ornate ghost pipefish and pygmy seahorses. The beach is edged with mangrove vegetation, which gives the dive an unusual atmosphere. If you look closely through the mangrove roots you may spot the elusive archer fish under their surface reflection.
This has to be the signature dive of the Russell islands. A cut or passageway heading back into Leru island that you can follow and surface into the jungle cave at the end. Dropping down to the bottom of the cut at around 12m, marvel at the sun beams that create a spectacular light show for photo opportunities. Look out for lobster and disco clams in the crevices. Outside the cut, join the reef wall and you will find an abundance of reef, macro and pelagic life.
Mirror Pond is a swim-through with some false caves and a wall surrounded by beautiful reefs full of marine life. Ranging from 9m to 25m this ever-changing topography keeps divers interested in the site and offers great photo opportunities. The mirror in the site name is a shallow cove that in calm conditions has a reflective mirror-like surface from the sun overhead.
The canyons and passageways are home to a large school of snappers as well as bumphead parrotfish that graze over the reef tops. Pristine coral gardens with carpets of anemones include the bonnet anemonefish. For macro lovers with keen eyes can find colourful coral hermit crabs.
The Bat Cave is close to Mirror Pond and is a large cavern that you can swim through and surface into an opening above where fruit bats are flying. Outside the cavern on the reef wall there are all kinds of macro life, gorgonian fans with tiny pygmy seahorses, large barrel sponges with hairy squat lobsters, crinoids with squat lobsters and shrimps, bubble coral with orangutan crabs. This dive really has it all. Check the crevices for sleeping white tip sharks and an eye on the blue for passing pelagics.
Custom Caves are volcanic caverns with the sun beaming through the rock. The entrance is a 20m tunnel opening to a larger area. The cave ends in a pond with thick vegetation. Lobster, eels and rays are found at the entrance along with soft corals and sea fans. Divers exploring the caves can also find convict blennies and rock mover wrasse on the rubble substrate.
On Karumolun Island, this finger of reef plateaus from the surface to 30+m. Where the current catches the point grey reef sharks, jacks and barracuda congregate for a great action dive. Eagle rays can also be seen. The reef itself is abundant in soft and hard corals teeming with life. Make your way up the finger to the shallow coral garden to find all kinds of anemones and anemonefish and nudibranchs. This site also makes a good night dive. Fishing is not allowed here, so it is a protected area. The village on Karumolun Island is also where you may stop for a land visit to see the custom dancing in the surface interval.
The Folau Pinnacle is a seamount at 15 to 20m that drops off steeply into deep water, here large schools of barracuda along with crocodile fish, anemone fish and pristine soft corals housing many small fish.
Mary Island, or Mborokua Island is a jungle-covered volcano surrounded by deep walls. The dive sites here include Jackfish and Barracuda points. The deep water (300m+) is home to manta rays, sharks, schooling jacks and barracuda. The walls have large gorgonian sea fans, and there are many cuts and caverns to explore. On the points themselves, schools of jacks and barracuda engulf divers in a whirlpool, sharks patrol the deep and reef fish bustle in the shallows, a divers paradise and the highlight on many liveaboard cruise.
Often the whole day is spent here exploring the pristine reefs. On the surface intervals you can spot Hornbills in the jungle cliffs or looking out to sea you can search for dolphins and whales passing by this remote uninhabited island. Only accessible by liveaboard, other divers will be the rarity here.
Western Province- Marovo Lagoon
Fantastic diving surrounds Mbulo Island with six sites circling the island. There are lava tubes with long swim throughs and sloping reefs housing fields of hard and soft corals ideal for drift dives.
The Cathedral is just outside Marovo Lagoon on Mbulo Island. It is a cavern and cave dive easy for beginners as well as having unexplored passageways for divers with appropriate training in overhead environments. There are sloping reefs outside the passageways with magnificent coral gardens home to cuttlefish.
Kicha is where you may encounter all kinds of reef sharks as well as mobula ray and trevally in the open water. The stunning reef here is buzzing with activity, with curious batfish coming to check the divers out, herds of bumphead parrotfish parade over the reef tops and the sandy gullies keep the rock mover wrasse busy. The underwater volcano of Kavachi is only 15 miles away and can be heard rumbling on dives.
Wickham Island is edged by a beautiful hard and soft coral garden with many sea whips as well as having sandy slopes home to garden eels. This is a site where more unusual critters can be found, such as cockatoo waspfish, leaf fish, jawfish, and razorfish to name a few. The occasional shark may make an appearance.
Japanese Maru #1 & #2
Two Japanese freighters sunk in the inner Marovo lagoon in WWII, resting at 32m. Maru #1 has a gun on the bow and the stern broken up. Maru #2 is more intact with a lot of life, soft corals, whips and black corals adorning it. Artillery shell can be found in the cargo holds. Due to the location of these wrecks, the visibility is not as good compared to the outer lagoon.
Western Province- Munda
As the same suggests, Sharks are the main attraction here. The point itself is a reef sloping down from the reef wall at around 10m to extreme depths of 600+m. Divers with the appropriate advanced certification may venture out to diveable depths over the point where larger shark encounters are possible, such as the great hammerhead and silvertip sharks. In the shallows, the reef wall is pristine and has much more to offer with an abundance of life, reef sharks, schools of fish and turtles are commonplace.
A stunning wall dive with deep-water drop off. Sharks of all varieties can be seen here from blacktip, whitetip, grey reef sharks and the silver tips and hammerheads in the deep. The wall is covered in soft corals, barrel sponges, sea whips, and gorgonian fans.
In Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands, the outdoor museums have many machines and remnants from WWII that can be viewed on a tour.
Stops are also made on the liveaboards at some of the smaller islands to visit remote local villages. Here the crew purchase fresh produce for the boat supplies and the guests can experience the custom singing and dancing. Some villages host local carving markets mainly in the Marovo area.
Marine Park and Conservation in The Solomon Islands
As a result of over 20 years of campaigning the Solomon Islands government declared Arnavon Islands the first protected area. The Arnavon Community Marine Park (ACMP) is a very recent development to protect the largest breeding ground for hawksbill turtles in the South Pacific.