Village stays on the Weathercoast

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The Weathercoast is a fascinating place to visit either as a stopping point for one of the treks described in the next section or as an adventure holiday in its right. The landscape is fearsome and spectacular and the people are tough but generous and welcoming. And if you give the villagers the time and opportunity to tell their Tension stories, you’ll hear about fear and fighting that occurred up and down the whole southern coastline.

The descriptions below cover the follow villages and surrounding communities: Duindui, Marasa, Mbambanakira, Avu Avu, Marau.

1. Duindui

(Introduction to the Poleo language of South Guadalcanal)

The Duindui community lies between Mbambanakira to the west and Kuma to the east. It comprises five villages: Duindui, Ngalapina, Vunusa, Isuna and Inaviti. It is a tough place to live. There are few sources of cash: aside from remittances from workers in Honiara and elsewhere, the main income earning crops seem to be copra and betel nut. Shipping services are infrequent and irregular, making it harder to get crops to market. Furthermore, most gardens are built on steep mountainsides in soils that are probably highly leached from continuous rainfall. When the sea is fine, there is still a good supply of fish but it is, after all, the ‘Weathercoast’, which means that for months on end, the seas can be too rough to fish.

It is also a beautiful and interesting place, however. I stayed with Mishael Mangalevo and his family in the small, beautiful village of Inaviti (click here for details on how to contact Mishael). I thoroughly enjoyed my stay.

Update (Dec 2009): it is now much easier to stay with Mishael and his village because one of Mishael's Honiara-based wantoks, Alistair Pae, has newly established a business called Travel and Tours Guadalcanal, which runs village stays to various villages around Guadalcanal, including Duindui.

Beautiful Inaviti village
Inaviti is a serene place. The Inaviti grounds are covered by a light green surface grass and the walkways and boundaries between houses are lined with hibiscus plants and other bushes. A few large mango trees sit on one side of the village and a stand of sago palms cuts it through the middle.

Inaviti is set back a short way from the coast and sits on top of a small rise. On one side, the village grounds drop away suddenly into a valley. The Kolo Halighecha (abbrev. Kolohali) River flows through this valley and down to the coast. In the quiet of the evening, the sound of the rushing river competes with the crashing surf. Across the other side of the valley, Mount Ngalighombe looms large, rising up to 1,400m about sea level at its peak. It is a stunning sight, especially in the early morning.

Mishael was an excellent host and introduced me to the chiefs of the area and to his family and friends in each of the neighbouring villages. Like Mishael, Overall Chief John Honarua is a friendly and interesting source of conversation. Through Mishael, Chief John and others, I learnt a great deal about the history of the area, the legacy of the Tensions (see below), how gardens are prepared and harvested and how land is bought or inherited.

There are also plenty of opportunities for fun and adventures. Like all villages in Solomons, it seems that afternoon games of volleyball and soccer are a compulsory part of village life. In Duindui, these games take place in the fields next to the Isuna Police Post, which also puts on a Friday video night and a ‘Sunday matinee’! The local boys have perfected the art of boogy boarding on the rough Weathercoast surf (see below). There is also a fine waterfall (the Namopelo) and swimming pool about one hours walk up the Kolohale River from Inaviti.

The easiest way to get to Duindui is to fly to Mbambanakira and arrange to meet Mishael there (in late 2006 there were weekly flights from Honiara to Mbambanakira). You then have a 2-3 hour walk down to the coast to Komate (or perhaps Marasa) and a one hour boat ride to Duindui.

Tensions – stuck in the middle
For a time, the leader of the Guadalcanal Liberation Front (GLF), Harold Keke, was based in the eastern and central parts of the Weathercoast near his home village (Talise, I think) but raids by the ‘Joint Operation forces’ forced him westwards. By 2002, Joint Operations had pushed westwards and established a base at Kolina, a short distance to the east of Duindui. The GLF were based further to the west, at Biti and the Duindui community was stuck in the middle. An overgrown stone bunker, formerly used by the Joint Operations, is still obvious amongst the overgrowth on the edge of the walking track that heads from Kolina towards Duindui. After sustained attacks by the Joint Operations in October 2002, most of the Duindui community fled. Some stayed with wantoks on the north Guadalcanal coast, at Lambi or Aruligo. Mishael and Alice’s fourth child, Danny, was only two weeks old when they moved into the nearby mountains.

Sago palm boogy boards
The Weathercoast has plenty of strong surf and the local boys construct simple but effective boogy boards from the buoyant trunks of the sago palm tree. My attempts to catch the surf at Ngalapina were woefully unsuccessful. Of course, the local boys kicked arse, cruising the waves at will.

Nick Warner’s namesake
On 13 August 2003, after three days of negotiations, the leader of the Guadalcanal Liberation Front (GLF) Harold Keke agreed to surrender to the then RAMSI Special Coordinator, Nick Warner, and the head of the RAMSI police force, Ben McDevitt. On the same day, two grateful parents in the nearby village of Isuna named their newborn boy after the Special Coordinator. It wasn’t too hard for me to spot Nick Jnr when I visited Isuna in late 2006 because he was wearing an unusual variation of the ubiquitous RAMSI T shirt – it had ‘Nick Warner’ written on the back! The T shirt was a gift from the original Nick Warner, who arranged for it to be printed after he learnt that he had a namesake. Nice touch.

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2. Marasa

Marasa Bay is a calm and peaceful area that belies the violence that occurred there during the Tensions (see Box). The wide bay is large enough to provide some shelter from the rough seas so it is a preferred stopping point for canoe drivers on the Weathercoast. The Lamulagi River empties out at the eastern end of the bay so local canoe owners will take their boats inland for some way. At the western end of the bay, several caves extend from the water’s edge deep into the rock face. When the sea is fine, you can paddle dugout canoes out to the mouth of the caves. Take a torch and some sort of flotation device, just in case the sea is rough and you find yourself (like me) swimming back to shore! There is one cave that is accessible from land however it is said to be inhabited by ‘small people’ and it is tabu to go in and disturb them. (Stories of ‘small people’ are common in many parts of Solomons.)

I stayed in the house of Phillip Manakako, who was the Assistant Commissioner of Police until he retired in mid 2004. Staying neutral was tough for most people during the Tensions but particular so for the police. Phillip told me how he was threatened at gun point twice in mid 2000. The first incident occurred in Honiara, when Malaitan police officers accused him of spying for the Guale militants. Phillip managed to stare them down but, shaken, requested leave and subsequently returned to his home in Marasa. Shortly afterwards, he was once again confronted at gunpoint, this time by Guale militants who were angry that he had previously tried to arrest them!

Phillip is currently rebuilding his house which was burnt down along with other houses in the Marasa area. He is relatively wealthy by local standards and owns his own boat and engine, generator, TV and sound system. He and his family also run a small canteen. Phillip can be contacted via the HF radio at the Mbambanakira clinic. To get to Marasa, fly to Mbambanakira – a highlight in itself (see Box). In late 2006 there were weekly flights from Honiara to Mbambanakira. Arrange to meet someone there and then you have an easy 1 2 hour walk along the road to the coast.

Marasa Bay – tension atrocities and reconciliation
Marasa Bay, on the coast 1-2 hours’ easy walk from Mbambanakira village, was the site of one of Harold Keke’s last atrocities before RAMSI arrived in 2003. Keke’s boys accused the villagers of aiding the ‘Joint Operation forces’ and, as punishment, the entire population in the area (perhaps 500 or so people) were herded down to the beach and held there for two days whilst their leaf houses were burnt down. During that time the villagers witnessed the beating and eventual murder of two teenage boys who were accused of being members of Joint Operation forces. In November 2006, over 1000 people gathered for a reconciliation ceremony at the village of Kohabua (literally ‘blood water’) in the Marasa area.

Wrecked Japanese war plane
There is a wrecked Japanese plane in one the hills near Marasa. Based on descriptions of the route by locals, it is probably a reasonable day’s walk there and back. The plane was apparently shot down by local scouts who were assisting US troops.

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3. Mbambanakira

The flight from Honiara to Mbambanakira is a highlight in itself. It takes you over the Lunnga/Mbetikama Rivers and up over the mountain ranges. As you look down into the sheer valleys you can spot various waterfalls gushing down the mountainsides. It’s a good place from which to ponder why the hell anyone would choose to walk all that way instead!

Just near the Mbambanakira airfield you should be able to see the remnants of a SolAir plane that was hijacked Harold Keke in September 2000. He demanded a substantial ransom for the plane’s return and, when it was not forthcoming, he set fire to it instead.

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4. Avu Avu

Heavy rains forced us to spend an extra day in Avu Avu before starting trek to Lees Lake. Apart from fretting about whether the rivers would clear in time for us to do the trek at all, it was otherwise a very enjoyable day. We stayed at the Avu Avu secondary school, which is nestled in a picturesque between the coast and the Mbolavu river. It sits on an unusually flat, clear section of land which provides an unimpeded view north up to the mountain ranges.

We made our arrangements to visit Avu Avu with Dominic Alebua, the younger brother of the former Prime Minister and Guadalcanal Premier, Ezekiel Alebua. Dominic is also one of the operators of the Avu Avu PFNet station and he has the contract to maintain the Avu Avu airstrip (although the airstrip is not currently operational). He is clearly an optimist and has been pushing for over a year to get a bulldozer to scrape the airstrip so it can be re opened. In the meantime, he conscientiously fulfils his contract to maintain the airstrip in the hope that one day a plane will land there.

Dominic spends part of his time in Avu Avu and part in Honiara. If he is in Honiara, he can be contacted through the Guadalcanal Provincial Government offices above Double 8 Enterprises (two shops down from the Magistrates Court). If he is in Avu Avu, he can be contacted by email through the Avu Avu PFNet station (send emails to with ‘attention to Dominic’ in the subject heading). You can also make contact through the two way radio at the Avu Avu secondary school.

Avu Avu – new islands, old waterfalls and large lakes
A huge earthquake shook the Weathercoast in 1977, causing landslides and much destruction. Near its epicenter, a submerged reef bed was thrust up above the sea level to form the new island of Kora Sagalu. It is a short distance from Avu Avu and reputed to be a good fishing spot. Along the eastern coastline of the Avu Avu area, a long low wall encloses Lauvi Lake, the second largest in Solomons after Lake Tengano. About 4km inland from the lake’s edge is Salibu waterfall.

Catholic mission in Avu Avu
(The following information is mostly from O’Brien, C (1995), A Greater than Solomon here: a story of Catholic Church in Solomon Islands: 1567-1967, Catholic Church Solomon Islands, pp.111-13. However, a contributor has subsequently made a number of edits and has commented that "a lot of the story here is not correct". S/he also commented that "This is the story of a smsm Sister, Sr Evangeline". Any further comments or corrections are most welcome.)

French Marist missionaries arrived at Rua Sura, near Aola, in 1898 and later that year, they had visited Marau. In April 1899, the Marists arrived at Avu Avu on the Eclipse (query?). A land sale was negotiated with Chief Lapikiki, after which Fathers Guitet and Boudard and three Fijian catechists established a Catholic station. The two Frenchmen struggled on the Weathercoast – O'Brien claims that Boudard cleared out on a passing whaling boat and Guitet left a few days later in a state of anxiety however a contributor claims that Boudard, at least, was there more than thirty years. (Note: there's also some contention about names here. O'Brien refers to Father Menard; our anonymous contributor has changed this to Father Boudard. Perhaps there were two fathers and one cleared out whilst the other stayed 30 years?)

The station was maintained by the Fijian catechists and an ex convict from New Caledonia. We stumbled on one legacy of the Catholic mission when we visited Avu Avu in 2006. Previously, the priests there had run a stock of cattle and had constructed fences and cattle grids to contain them. We were told that, over the years, hungry locals had picked off the cattle until the entire stock was gone. The only sign of their presence and the efforts of the priests were the cattle grids in the roads. However, our contributor writes that in fact the station was destroyed by a cyclone in 1952. They started again at Kolotabu, the present station. That is where the school is, built by Fr Jan Giesselink sm, from 1966 - 1970. The cattle were not stolen, but sold to Aruligo on the eastcoast.

Getting to Avu Avu
Currently, the only ways to get to Avu Avu are by boat or by foot. A boat directly from Honiara may take around 8 hours (depending on the engine). The alternative is to fly to Marau and take a 3 hour boat trip from there. Either way, consider making the boat trip the night before because starting a walk after a hard boat trip covered in salt-water can get uncomfortable. Also, make allowances for delays in arranging the canoe and the length of the trip.

The canoe ride from Marau to Avu Avu took 3 hours for a 40 horsepower engine in seas that seemed damned rough to me but the locals declared were fairly reasonable. Our driver, Victor, has an excellent reputation for driving boats on the turbulent seas of the Weathercoast. He works for the Community Sector Program (CSP), which may be open to the prospect of allowing him to take groups of walkers. Contact Henry Tobani at the Guadalcanal CSP office located next to the Iron Bottom Sound Hotel. Alternatively, the Marau clinic nurse is allocated a boat and should be able to organise a trip.

There are also moves afoot to re open Avu Avu airport, mostly led by the indominatable Dominic, although at the time of writing Solomon Airlines had not yet resumed flights.

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5. Marau

Marau is such a gorgeous area that there’s very little that we need to say. On the eastern tip of Guadalcanal, a ring of small islands carve out the tropical island fantasy. It is already home to several established village stays and one up market resort (Tavanipupu) and one mid-range resort (Tawa’ihi Island). Marau airstrip is situated at the easternmost tip of the Guadalcanal mainland, and is a short distance by boat (5 – 10 minutes) across the smooth waters of Marau Sound from either of these resorts.

As with Mbambanakira, an additional attraction for visiting Marau is the flight over the north east coast in SolAir’s 8 seater Islander. Study a map beforehand and you’ll appreciate the landmarks (rivers, mountains, larger villages) along the way. Alternatively, just enjoy the scenery, pausing only to blow a big raspberry at the logging companies that are tearing up the forests.

If you prefer to stay somewhere more down market, Stanley Tova, the Guadalcanal Province Area Administrative Officer, was very helpful with accommodation in the recently built Provincial Government office building (and also with arranging a canoe to Avu Avu). Gabriel at the police post is also a good contact. Both people live in Manikaraku (15 minutes easy walk from the airstrip) and can be contacted by two way radio to the police post. The clinic is also connected by radio, and the nurse there also has access to a canoe.

Village stay on 'Devil’s Island'!
Marapa is the largest island in Marau Sound, and if coming by boat from Honiara, is visible as a long low hill off to the left side of the (nearer) mainland. Custom stories from as far away as Malaita and Makira refer to Marapa as the “devil’s” island, and it is said to be the home of spirits. No-one lived on the island until recently, when a growing population and the ethnic tensions compelled some families to relocate to the island. Alan spent a weekend staying on the island at the home of James Opa and his wife Nisha – and wasn’t disturbed by any spirits! Alan visited Marau 6 times and it is his favourite place in the Solomons.

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