More to Malaita than meets the eye
First sighted by Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendaña in 1568, Malaita Province is the largest of the nine provinces that comprise the Solomon Islands and the most populous.
There are 14 named mountains in Malaita Province. The highest and most prominent mountain is Mount Kalourat or Kolovrat at an elevation of 1,303 metres (4,275 ft) above the sea.
Interestingly today, some villages, and especially those located high up in the mountains, are difficult to access with people still living a world apart from civilisation.
Malaita is also renowned across the Solomon Islands for its rich, starchy taro and heavenly sweet pineapples.
The volcanic, forested, and mountainous islands bear rich soil high in wealth-bearing minerals and hold huge potential for local agriculture and agri-business.
The province consists of two main Islands, Malaita as the larger island giving the province its name, and Small Malaita (Marapaina and Malamwaimwe in the local Areáre language) and the smaller atolls of Ontong Java and Sikaiana. The people who live on the two bigger Islands are Melanesian while the inhabitants on Ontong Java and Sikaiana are Polynesian.
The provincial capital is Auki, situated in the northern end of Langa Langa Lagoon on the northwest coast of Malaita Island. Auki is one of the largest provincial towns in the Solomon Islands, connected to the country’s capital of Honiara with regular air services operated by Solomon Airlines. There are also three other airports serviced in the province - Atoifi, Manaoba and Parasi.
Frequent passenger boats and ferries connect Auki with Honiara and other ports throughout the province. However Ontong Java and Saikaiana boat services currently face challenges in terms of access due to irregular and non-scheduled boat services.
Photo credit: Chris McLennan Photography
LANGA LANGA LAGOON
The people of the province’s Langa Langa lagoon are renowned for their ability to build built artificial islands on the reef including Funaafou, Foueda, Sulufou, Saua, Ferasubua, and Adagege, and as such, these inhabitants call themselves ‘wane i asi ' or sea people' as distinct from the ‘wane i tolo ' or inland people' who live in the interior of the island.
There was a history of conflict between the bush people and the salt-water people which formed the basis for the people of Lau Lagoon to build islands on the reef as this provided protection against attack. These islands were formed literally one rock at a time. A family would take their canoe out to the reef which protects the lagoon and then dive for rocks, bring them to the surface and then return to the selected site and drop the rocks into the water. Living on the reef was also healthier as the mosquitoes, which infested the coastal swamps, were not found on the reef islands. The Lau people continue to live on the reef islands today.
Photo credit: Chris McLennan Photography
MALAITA SHELL MONEY
Shell Money is unique to the province and today is still used as a traditional currency in Malaita and throughout the Solomon Islands. Shell Money holds great value and is mainly used during traditional weddings (as bride price), for settling disputes, at funeral feasts, or as gifts. The use and traditions of Shell Money, and especially for Bride Price where it is most commonly used, is inherited and passed on from father to son as befits Malaita’s patrilineal culture. An annual Shell Money Festival is a unique event for Malaita Province, normally held every August to coincide with Malaita’s Second Appointed Day celebrations.
MALAITA PANPIPE MUSIC
Malaita Province is also famous for its exceptional panpipe music and panpipe bands, especially those in the Are’are area, so much so that a festival, first hosted in Honiara in 2019, now centers on this unique cultural component.
Interestingly, and something the people of Malaita province are extremely proud of, is the fact that Malaita Panpipe music was selected as one of the examples of ‘musical sounds’ included on the ‘Gold Record’ inserted into the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes launched in 1977. The list includes Mozart, Bach, Aboriginal music from Australia, songs from Peru, Mexico, Zaire, Japan, and even music by US-musician Chuck Berry and the Navajo Indian people. The two copies of the record serve as time capsules and transmit much more information about life on Earth should extraterrestrials find it.
Photo credit: Chris McLennan Photography
Malaita is a deep and fascinating ‘world within a world’ but despite its huge potential, tourism is yet to take off here.
Tourism in Malaita is mostly centered on the Langa Langa and Auki areas which provides opportunities for snorkeling, waterfalls/cascades, traditional cultural displays, and insight into these boatmaking people, along with surfing, fishing, and the rich authentic culture of Malaita Province.
The artificial Islands of Langa Langa and parts of the northern region are must-see places to visit and experience century-old traditions which are alive and regularly practiced today.
Riba Cave in Auki
East of Auki is this remote and pristine cave, with stalagmites, large subterranean chambers and an underground river flowing through it. Perfect for active trekkers, it is completely natural in setting and you will require sturdy shoes. You can reach the cave by taxi and walk 5 minutes to the entrance but it is best to go with a guide. Auki is a 30 minute flight from Honiara.
Kwaibala Waterfall in Auki
About 3kms from Auki, along the Kwaibala River, the hike to the waterfall is moderate and will take you 20-30 minutes, passing through various villages on the way to the falls. You will have the chance to jump into rock pools also. A highlight for the adventurous is jumping from the top of the falls to the clear pool below.
Osi Lake near Auki
In the Northern part of Auki, Osi Lake is a place in which nature thrives and is especially populated with colonies of sea birds. Take your time, explore the lake in a dugout canoe and take in the beauty of this natural ecosystem. A guide can be organised and a kastom (cultural) fee may be required. Get to know the local villagers and feel at home exploring.
Serahs Lagoon Hideaway
Located a short boat ride from Auki, stay in a traditional leaf bungalow with a balcony over the beautiful Langa Langa Lagoon. What makes Serah's unique is that you are staying in a traditional village. Watch the process of shell money being created, have a cooking experience and immerse yourself in Malaita local culture.
Rarasu Waterfront Hotel
The property is well located and just a few minutes walk to the shops and wharf in Auki. The rooms are more modern with private bathroom and air-conditioning. There is also easy access to the bustling Central Markets.The team at Rarasu are helpful and can organise experiences in the area for you.
Bataisai Village Stay
Located in the Langa Langa Lagoon and just a short boat ride from Auki. Experience real village life in the traditional style, be taken care of by the locals, learn about shell money and how they build artificial islands of stone. Set close to the water’s edge in the village, they have three guest rooms and meals and entertainment are on-site. Relax and enjoy peaceful views of the clear water lagoon and reefs.
In an excellent location right in the middle of town near the Post Office. Rooms are simple, but functional and clean, with select rooms featuring terraces that overlook the lodge's garden. There is a small restaurant on-site with a variable menu.
This budget hotel is located in central Auki and not far from the wharf. The rooms are spacious and are either Dorm style accommodation, twin-bedded rooms, or family units. The property has a café which is open for breakfast lunch and dinner.
AM Family Inn
The Inn is located on the hillside of Auki with a local residential neighbourhood, offering a homely feel for those wanting to live like a local. The comfortable rooms are on the top level and there is a communal space on the lower level.
The Hilltop Guesthouse
Besides the warm family atmosphere of the guesthouse and clean, comfortable accommodation, a stay here helps the local community. Proceeds go to development and training in various programs in conservation, hospitality and tourism.
BH Transit Lodge
This is a family run lodge which makes you feel welcome as soon as you arrive. There are full kitchen facilities for self catering and a large communal dining room. The property is positoned well and local tours can be arranged.
Berlin Lau Lagoon Homestay
This stunning location in Lau Lagoon has a rich history. The islands had been formed in the early 1900's so locals could escape the feared head hunters of the region. Berlin is built on two islands and is a homestay that would not be forgotten. You can also experience a bath which is like no other in the Solomon Islands.