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Idyllic Isabel Province

Santa Isabel is one of the Solomon Islands’ nine provinces and is located on the south-western edge of this amazing 992-island archipelago.

Consisting of the main island of Santa Isabel, which is the longest island in the Solomon Islands chain, and several smaller islands, the province stretches like a string of emerald green pearls from the  Arnavon Islands bordering Choiseul Province on the western flank to Onogou Island bordering with Malaita Province to the east.

The main island was known as ‘Bugotu’ before European contact in the shape of Alvaro de Mendana y Niera, the Spanish explorer who arrived in the Solomon Islands in 1568 and gave the Spanish name ‘Santa Isabel’ to his ‘discovery’.

In 1885 Santa Isabel became a German Protectorate until 14 November 1889 when, under the Treaty of Berlin, Santa Isabel was transferred to the British Solomon Islands Protectorate.

 

Image credit: Tourism Solomons

 

Geography

  • Provincial Capital: Buala Township

  • Area: 2,999 km2 (1,158 sq mi)

  • Population: 34,548 (2019 census)

  • Highest elevation:1,120 metres

  • Length: 200 kilometres

Getting there

There are currently two active airstrips on Isabel Province, at the provincial capital, Buala, and also Suavanao. Solomon Airlines flies from Honiara to Buala and Suavanao on Mondays and Fridays.

Places of Interest

Buala Township

As the capital of Isabel Province, Buala boasts a number of accommodation choices. These include Ghaseali Resort, which has recently become the leading tourism accommodation operation in the district, and Famene Rest House which offers modern apartment-style accommodation along with Maringe Lagoon Lodge. Jejevo Station and Buala Village also provide accommodation in their own class and style.

 

Image credit: Tourism Solomons

 

Activities in and around Buala.

Hiking Mount Tirotonga is a must and the area is a bird-waters paradise with species including the rare endemic bird Black-eyed Peter, unique to Santa Isabel.

Papatura Island Retreat on Papatura Ite (small Papatura)

Just a five-minute boat ride from Suavanao Airstrip, Papatura Island Retreat is the jewel in the crown of Isabel Province and the region’s first world standard tourism facility.

Owned and operated by the Blanche family from Brisbane, Australia, Papatura Island Retreat offers accommodation for up to 30 guests in traditional ‘leaf haus’ bungalows with full resort services. Papatura Island Retreat Retreat offers excellent fishing and awesome surfing, world-class reefs for snorkelling, great tropical rainforest walks, and a true cultural experience.

 

Image credit: Tourism Solomons

 

Kia

Kia Village is the second-largest settlement in Isabel Province, hosting a number of village rest houses that are experienced in providing hospitality to visiting guests, friends and relatives, and transit passengers. Visitors to Kia have a wide choice of things to do while there. They can choose from simply enjoying the laid-back village setting, going fishing, canoeing, or joining surfers on the outer reef waiting to catch pristine and best of all, uncrowded waves.

An alternative to Kia is the Noguna Home Stay on Barora Fa Island. Noguna Homestay offers accommodation for families and groups of up to 10 people. Two other similar operators on Barora Fa Islands are Isaisao and Vavaghio. Surfing and fishing are the major attractions for these operators.

The Arnavon Islands

The Arnavon Islands is the only mass-marine and terrestrial community-managed conservation area in the Solomon Islands. It is also one of the oldest conservation in the southwest Pacific. This area of 127 square kilometres of the sea has five islands and is rich in marine and terrestrial habitat, including a turtle sanctuary. Visits to the Arnavon Islands can be arranged in Santa Isabel.

Visitors to the Arnavon Islands, who need permission to enter the area, have the opportunity of a lifetime to experience a 25-year-old conservation program focusing on the Hawksbill turtles and other marine species which can be found on the 40,000 acres of land and sea that comprise this Island group.

 

Image credit: Tourism Solomons

 

Festivals in Santa Isabel

The annual celebration of Isabel Province’s 2nd Appointed Day 2nd June is one of the best times to see the Santa Isabel people in celebratory mode but the great thing about Santa Isabel is that you can pretty much see an annual event in just about every village in the region throughout the year.

A true showcase of Santa Isabel culture, the Kodili Festival is a biennial event and involves cultural groups from the province’s16 wards and offers a superb opportunity to see demonstrations of time-honoured traditional practices which have been passed down from mother to daughter and father to son to this very day.

Other cultural events include the Pohga Festival of the Mountains of Tirotongna and the Gao/Bugotu Cultural Festival

In fact, a visit to Santa Isabel Province offers endless activities and things to do:

  • Fishing – go fishing to catch dinner be it by spearfishing, using fishing nets, trolling, bottom fishing, and other traditional methods
  • Bushwalking – with many different treks to choose from, including with the locals to find betel nut, hunting, collect medicine, collect firewood, collect cooking materials, building materials, to find peace and solitude and sometimes, just for leisure.
  • Canoeing – there are always opportunities to go canoeing in dugout canoes which are the main and very traditional form of transport in this area. You can join the local people when they go fishing, visit other villages, collect coconuts, firewood, stones, food – all sorts of things and sometimes, just for fun.

Image credit: Tourism Solomons

 

Isabel Province is a must-visit destination

Alike many of its sister provinces in the Solomon Islands, this relatively undiscovered part of the archipelago is rich in culture and history and the people who live here are as warm and generous as their counterparts in the far-flung reaches of this unspoiled region and like nothing better to show off their beautiful home whenever they have the opportunity.

Tours and Activities

Surfing in Suavanao

Surfing in Suavanao
www.papatura.com

There are waves for all levels of surfing enthusiast with some great local breaks that are consistent all year. The best time for surf is between November and April when you can expect up to six foot waves.

Fishing in Suavanao

Fishing in Suavanao
www.papatura.com

You are spoiled for choice as the area is abundant with many varieties of fish to catch. If you’re a first time angler and just want to sit on a jetty and throw a line out, there are plenty of catch and release opportunities however sports fishing opportunities abound in the deeper waters.

Snorkelling in Suavanao

Snorkelling in Suavanao
www.papatura.com

The area offers some amazing snorkeling opportunities with various soft and hard corals, World War II wrecks and tropical fish to find. A signature snorkel experience is the blue lagoon which looks like a volcanic hole. You will have the change to swim with friendly black tip sharks, sea turtles and manta rays.

Rainforest Walks in Suavanao

Rainforest Walks in Suavanao
www.papatura.com

There are many walks to take all with something special on offer such as waterfalls, rock pools and wildlife galore. The walks can vary in difficulty and it is advised to have a moderate amount of fitness to take on the challenge.

Village Experience in Suavanao

Village Experience in Suavanao
www.papatura.com

A highlight to the Solomon Islands is having a village experience and the one in Suavanao is no different. Visit the traditional haus and the cook haus. Chat with the villagers and enjoy playing with the kids. See how village life is today and see how the village is retaining its traditions and culture.

Village Life in Fera

Village Life in Fera
www.flysolomons.com

Situated along the mountain range above Buala Town, you can visit Tirotonga Village, a picturesque home with mostly sago-palm thatched houses and few iron-roofing hamlets overlooking Maringe Lagoon. Witness a traditional fishing technique still practised by the nearby coastal village of Nareabu known as 'Visi', using woven coconut leaf nets. Read more at the link.

Hiking in Fera

Hiking in Fera

Track for an hour south east of Buala and experience the Thitiro Falls, or see the Sana River fall straight down into the sea. Climb Mt Kubonitu, the highest peak on Isabel, standing 1392 metres above sea level, and enjoy spectacular views of the area. The Marutho River springs from the mountain and meets the ocean at Hofi. The summit can be reached with the help of guides from nearby Tirotogna and Bara village.

Birdwatching in Fera

Birdwatching in Fera
www.flysolomons.com

Fera is the perfect starting point for birdwatchers, before they make the trip up the hills to seek out the Black-faced Pitta, Fearful Owl or Solomons Frogmouth. Other species that can be seen include the Imitator Goshawk, Sanford’s Sea-eagle, Woodford Rail, Solomon Boobook and Myzomela. Read more at the link.

Attractions

Arnavon Islands

Arnavon Islands
www.arnavons.com

Located between Isabel and Choiseul Province, these four small islands are home to the largest rookery of the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles in the South Pacific. The Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area was established to protect the remaining Hawksbill turtle population. Learn more about the turtles, swim, snorkel, relax or take a cultural tour.

Accommodation

Noguna Island Homestay

Noguna Island Homestay
www.facebook.com

About 2 hours from Suavanao, this is truly an amazing home stay experience in which you are encouraged to immerse yourself in the village lifestyle. You will be given a traditional welcome, enjoy hands on experience making tools and crafts and learn the ways of the local Melanesian culture.

Maringe Lagoon Lodge

Maringe Lagoon Lodge
www.visitsolomons.com.sb

This quaint lodge only has 3 bungalows so a total of 9 people per stay. Each bungalow has its own balcony which overlooks the picturesque lagoon, kitchenette, queen bed, single bed and bathroom. A perfect location to come for birdwatching with species such as Black Faced Pitta, Fearful Owl and Solomons Frog Mouth in residence.

Vavaghio Guest House

Vavaghio Guest House
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This remote island getaway is picture perfect and made for those that want to relax, surf, snorkel, or visit the Arnavon Community Marine Protection area in which you can learn about turtle conservation, dig for Megapode eggs, swim amongst amazing corals and go on cultural heritage tours.

Kmaga Village Stay

Kmaga Village Stay
www.gotours.com.au

Try an authentic Melanesian village stay where you will immerse yourself in the village lifestyle and meet all the locals and chiefs in the area. There is only one two-bedroom bungalow with a living area and is set on a beautiful beach overlooking tranquil waters.

Ghaseali Island Resort

Ghaseali Island Resort
www.facebook.com

Centrally located in Buala Town, the hotel features clean rooms, a restaurant, and a bar, offering a comfortable base for visitors and particularly birdwatchers to explore the surrounding natural attractions. The property offers a 24-hour front desk and free WiFi is available.

Kagata Village Stay

Kagata Village Stay
www.visitsolomons.com.sb

Located in Kia and accessible from Suavanao Airport, Kagata Village offers a laidback retreat with authentic village hospitality, for those who appreciate the simple things in life. With 3 bungalows on-site offering a basic kitchenette, private facilities, and catering by the village, feel at home while discovering crowd-free surf spots and pristine paradise nearby.

Papatura Island Retreat

Papatura Island Retreat
www.papatura.com

Enjoy Papatura Island Retreat, Solomon’s oldest holiday destination and Santa Isabel’s first world standard tourism project. Relax in your beachfront bungalow with warm tropical waters lapping the white sand beach on metres from your deck. Papatura boasts excellent fishing and awesome surfing, world class reefs for snorkelling, some great tropical rainforest walks and a true culture experience unspoilt by mass tourism. Papatura Island Retreat is your island getaway and is quickly being known as one of the Pacific’s most sought after secret spots to step off the map and leave behind the worries of the modern world. Pure isolation.