By Greg Terrell
Marovo Lagoon – the world’s largest double-barrier lagoon, hundreds of small islands in between twin large ones, once considered for World Heritage listing. It has long fascinated the adventurous. Two solo women travellers, well before Lonely Planet and just before WW2, found “the water was blood temperature and the texture of velvet, besides being crystal-clear, the kind of brilliant cleanness that makes one want to plunge in face first and gulp” (from Caroline Mytinger’s eccentric 1942 ‘Headhunting around the Coral Sea’). They were swimming at Seghe. Just where they swam, lying in clear water, an intact WW2 plane that didn’t quite make it still rests meters off the end of the runway.
Elsewhere, much of the ‘brilliant cleanness’ has gone. In the wet season the rivers run ‘milo’, according to the locals, with soil released by logging flowing into the lagoon to deplete the land and destroy the coral. The waters clear quickly once the wet stops, but the coral is suffering. Marovo’s best offer now is above the water – its people, villages and culture, and the extended views over nearby islets and distant forested mountains.
There are two ways to experience Marovo. The first is to stay at a resort – Uepi and the Wilderness Lodge are both well known and high quality experiences; both offer a range of ways to explore beyond their immediate location. Both are expensive.
The alternative is to go local. This is much lower in price, reliable in standards, and offers the potential to do what few visitors do. All within SMS (sometimes voice) reception.
Here’s a few suggestions on how to experience Marovo the local way. All start from Matikuri Lodge, 25 mins on an OBM (boat with outboard motor) from Seghe. All are organised by Benjamin Kaniotoku (746 7177), who with his wife Jilly has run Matikuri for over 20 years and has an unrivalled network across the Lagoon. Matikuri has an excellent reputation (just browse Trip Advisor). Travel by OBM, or try canoes – Benjamin can organise either. We did a bit of both, with kids.
Here are three options (a map is at https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zhr-tfORy2Lo.kyeAIcMsswtg):
2 day OBM trip (the red line on the map)
- From Matikuri, travel west by OBM to Penguin Reef, a coral atoll just outside the Lagoon. It has superb snorkelling along the sheltered face of the atoll. It is eerie swimming whilst protected by reef on one side, with the coast of PNG somewhere on the other.
- Thence north to Mbambatan Passage, through an intriguing narrow channel overseen by high white cliffs, and water clarity to rival Seghe pre WW2. There is said to be a tunnel to dive through; snorkelling, one can see deep openings which might be endless.
- From there, the Passage winds through a cutting in the barrier island forming the east side of Marovo, with mangroves each side and overhead. A short distance the other side of the mangrove tunnel, and back inside the Lagoon, is Bareho Village – a tidy and modest SDA village where you can stay in a friendly, clean and basic house while the family moves out elsewhere.
- The next day, explore the village and return in the afternoon by OBM to Matikuri.
3 day canoe trip (green line on map)
- Similar to above, but without Penguin Reef (while it would be possible to canoe there, the trip can be exposed to the weather).
- From Matikuri, paddle to Bareho Village, snoozing after lunch on one of the sandy beaches along the way.
- Stay a couple of nights in Bareho: on the first morning, canoe to Mbambatan Passage for a snorkel and lunch in the shade with a view of the cliffs; and in the afternoon amble through the Village
- Next morning, paddle back to Matikuri.
6 day canoe trip (orange line on map)
- Paddle to Bareho on day one, and as above use day two to explore Mbambatan and Bareho.
- Day three, head east towards Seghe and stay at Vanua Kino, a friendly lodge just across the water from Seghe. Its beautiful aspect over the water, with Seghe in the distance, is little changed from the time of the two lady travellers.
- The next morning, head north with and stop for lunch in the shade at Betsy’s tiny ‘café’. Continue to Mbuinitusu Village, another small and clean SDA village, and stay overnight. The village fills a small island; to go around the island will take a few minutes if you jog – and hours if you start saying hello.
- Day five heads north again, to Pogepogehere Island, to stay with the avuncular James Ari in his small lodge. If you have time, he can take you up to Uepi for a coffee and swim (20 minutes by OBM), or into the mountains to tabu sites (both are indicated on the map).
- The final day turns south, stopping at Lombi Mulaka lodge, just next to Chuchulu Village. Either overnight here and stori with a Greenpeace-trained eco-logger, or return by OBM back to Matikuri.
Marovo is a large place, and there are endless ways to see it. These suggestions only cover the main north-south axis; it is also possible to go further north-west, or eastwards. We found that one night in a village was busy and social, balanced by the calm of a lodge on alternate nights. Talk to Benjamin about a program – he has an excellent feel for what people might like. There is a wonderful a la carte holiday awaiting.
Benjamin has negotiated with a number of lodges and villages for a discount rate for canoe tours of SI$600 per night for two adults with three meals; kids additional at half the adult price (the normal and advertised lodge/village rate is SI$8-1100). Meals are local food, invariably excellent. All places we visited were very clean. The cost of OBMs depends upon distance more than time, as petrol isn’t cheap. There are direct flights from Honiara to Seghe, and an OBM from Seghe to Matikuri costs around SI$300. Benjamin will cost around SI$250 day to accompany you in a canoe (we found this to be excellent value).