Travelling from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands
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How to travel from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands

Article | HOW TO TRAVEL FROM BOUGAINVILLE TO THE SOLOMON ISLANDS. On Friday 30th March 2018, we departed from Tubiana near Arawa, Bougainville to the Solomon Islands, with our local Bougainville guide Joe Datuona (contact him on +675 7051 1833) to Nila Island in the Shortland’s, for a long weekend of island hopping, village visits, WW2 relics and fishing.

Travelling from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands

The approximate distance from Tubiana (10-minutes from Arawa, Bougainville) to Nila Island in the Solomon Islands is 75 nautical miles, and the Nila Island GPS position are: 7° 25.00’ S, 155° 51.2’ E.

Cost Breakdown for two-people for two-nights:

Money spent in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea in preparation for our trip (using PNG Kina).

  • $2,500 PNG Kina for the guide, crewmen, boat hire and fuel – paid in advance in PNG Kina to Joe Datuona, who organised all of this for us. Approximately $700 PNG Kina of this was used for fuel, with the remaining making up boat hire and wages.
  • $200 PNG Kina on food, drinks and other items for the trip, i.e. bug spray, sun-cream etc.
  • Sub-total: $2,700 PNG Kina

Money spent in the Solomon Islands during our trip (using Solomon Dollars). 

  • $200 Solomon Dollars per person per night at St Rose of Lima Guesthouse on Nila Island
  • ($200SBD x 2 people x 2 nights) = $800 Solomon Dollars (equivalent to approx. $330 PNG Kina) – Paid to Irene Tova upon departure.
  • $640 Solomon Dollars for additional fuel for fishing and return trip (equivalent to approx. $265 PNG Kina) – Purchased from a nearby island to Nila Island.
  • $190 Solomon Dollars for additional incidentals, ice-cream, buai, smokes etc. (equivalent to approx. $80 PNG Kina).
  • Sub-total: $1,630SBD

Total: $2,700 PNG Kina for two-people for two-nights (spent in PNG for preparation of our trip) & $1,630SBD (spent in Solomon Islands during our trip).

 Total equivalent to $3,375 PNG Kina or $8,143SBD

The following key activities were completed in advance of our trip from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands:

  • Contact local Bougainville guide, Joe Datuona on +675 7051 1833 to discuss plans, boat hire, fuel and crewmen for the trip from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands.

Travelling from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands

  • Acquire a letter of approval from Papua New Guinea immigration and citizenship service authority. Contact Sylvester Vakore, Officer In-Charge PNG Immigration, Bougainville Office on +675 7009 8883 or email to arrange. Ensure you allow plenty of time to receive this letter, at least 4-weeks is highly recommended.
  • Acquire a letter of approval from Solomon Islands immigration division in Honiara. Contact Benzily Kasutaba on +677 61011 or email to arrange. Ensure you allow plenty of time to receive this letter, at least 4-weeks is highly recommended.
  • Acquire sufficient Solomon Island dollars for guesthouse, food, drink, fuel and any additional expenditures while in the Solomon Islands. These could not be sourced within Bougainville, Papua New Guinea and therefore had to be purchased and bought in from New Zealand by a friend.
  • Purchase sufficient food, drinks and supplies prior to setting off, as supplies in the Shortland Islands are limited and expensive.
  • If possible, pre-book accommodation in the Solomon Islands. We stayed at St Rose of Lima guesthouse on Nila Island, which costs $200 Solomon Dollars per person per night. Contact Irene Tova on +677 741 6905 to arrange. However, other accommodation options are available, see below for more information. 

Summary of our trip from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands

We organized a friend to take us to Tubiana Beach, however taxis can be arranged in advance and will cost approx. 20-40 PNG Kina from Arawa. We picked up our guide Joe en-route and headed to Tubiana, next to the blue church 10-minutes from Arawa, for a 0600AM departure. Two crewmen bought the 23-foot banana boat, equipped with a 60HP Yamaha outboard motor, across from nearby Pokpok Island to meet us. The boat was swiftly loaded up using torch light, our bags wrapped in a tarpaulin, just in case of bad weather and the 5 of us (2 crewmen, our guide, and the two of us) set-off, following the east coast of Bougainville south towards the Solomon Islands.

The conditions were calm and the sea flat along the east coast, and we watched the sun come up around 0700AM, slowly warming us up. At approximately 0800AM we left the coast of south Bougainville and headed out into open water towards the Solomon Islands dotted on the horizon. The wind increased slightly and it became choppier as we bounced towards a small idyllic looking island (name unknown) to stretch the legs, take a toilet break and drink coconuts, as well as just wander around this beautiful, white sandy island.

Travelling from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands

We continued the short hop of roughly 7 nautical miles to Ballalae Island, which took approximately 20-minutes. Ballalae is home to an operating airport from which Solomon Airlines have scheduled weekly flights (which are often cancelled). It consists of a grass runway strip and small wooden shed. We explored the large island for an hour, walking inland to see the runway, and into the bush to look at the half a dozen Japanese WW2 planes of varying condition that are now housed under a large shelter. We also found a large industrial roller, which was potential used to build the runway, and a bulldozer, which had been engulfed by the bush. Joe mentioned that all these planes used to be in the bush and he thinks more still remain in there now covered and hidden from sight. Before departing onwards towards Nila Island, we had a quick swim in the calm waters, and my partner snorkelled on the inner reef, before calling it a day when she spotted a 6 feet shark nearby.

Travelling from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands

We continued at a slow pace while trawling fishing along the reef around Ballalae Island, catching a large Spanish Mackerel using a lure on a handline, which would cook at the guesthouse at lunchtime for the crew and us. The remainder of the trip towards Nila Island was calm as we weaved in and out of small islands for an hour or so, often with reefs visible, and tried fishing a number of times with no luck.

It was midday as we approached the wharf at Nila Island, where the Catholic Church started a mission in 1899, building the church and hospital, of which were visible in the background. Around 40-50 banana boats were moored at the water’s edge, as people from neighbouring islands came to Nila for the Easter services. A couple of very small shops are available selling limited, basic and expensive supplies like biscuits and drinks. However, I wouldn’t rely on the shops being open or having what you are after.

Travelling from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands

The Rose of Lima guesthouse is set back behind the Parish Hall, about 3-5 minutes from the water’s edge. It’s a very simple and ageing house with a decent deck area, table and chairs, a dining room with a table and chairs, a small kitchen with a 2-hob gas burner (however, one wasn’t functional), pots, plates, cups and cutlery. A very basic toilet and shower is available within the house. It has 4-bedrooms, of which Irene and her child stay in one, the other 3 available for guests of which usually consist of mission workers. The bedrooms have 2 single beds with thin mattresses, mosquito nets, window mesh, and a lockable door with key. Please note, the house has generator power for 3-4 hours at night, when lights can be used and devices charged. Please note, the house doesn’t have any fans or a fridge/freezer.

Travelling from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands

During our stay we visited a new guesthouse that was nearing completion on the opposite island, a 1-minute boat trip from Nila Island. This guesthouse was showing a lot of potential with a large deck area overlooking the water, which at the time had a nice cooling breeze, a living room, kitchen in a newly built outhouse, toilets and showers in a separate block and 3 bedrooms. The cost is expected to be $230 SBD per person per night.

Travelling from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands

While staying on Nila Island or any of the surrounding islands the most common activities include exploring nearby islands, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, visiting villages and discovering WW2 relics, planes, vehicles, equipment and machinery, most of which, you’ll need a boat and driver with knowledge of the area. I highly recommend contacting Joe Datuona from Arawa, Bougainville on +675 7051 1833 to discuss and organize your trip from Bougainville, Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Islands. 

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Hi, I’m Adam Constanza, freelance travel content creator living, working and supporting tourism in Timor Leste, South East Asia.

Adam Constanza

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