James Mitchener in “Tales of the South Pacific” said “I think that Segi point at the southern end of New Georgia Island, is my favourite spot in the South Pacific”.
New Georgia is in the Solomon Islands, which were named by Spanish explorers searching for King Solomon’s Treasure – and as my 5 yo daughter Kimberley and I are already in the Islands, this sounds very tantalising. So we promptly go over to Seghi, and find the magic which captivated Mitchener still alive and well.
There is no alcohol in this area, no cars or TV, just an all pervading sense of peace and contentment.
Seghe is on the edge of Marovo Lagoon, the largest island bound lagoon on Earth, and has a history both rich and colourful. Head hunting warriors; European explorers; the blackbirding days; and much more. A vast expanse of calm water sprinkled with islands, plus an occasional village of thatched houses.
Of these, Telina and Tachova are famous for timber carvings, while Checki and Munde villages have small leaf huts which visitors are welcome to enjoy for reasonable rent. They will cheerfully include you in their lifestyle – take you fishing, swimming, or exploring the ancient cut stones near Chair village. These stones, so similar in megalithic style to others in Peru, are a mystery, as Melanesians’ do not cut large stones, and simply say “These were done by the people before”
Hidden away in a secluded part of the western side of Marovo, (that includes many uninhabited islands, tracts of unspoilt forest, hills and rivers), Ben Lumolo and his sons have built four cottages on Matakuri Island. Kimmie and I rent one, explore neighboring islands, snorkel over reefs, (her first time), and as the days drift by, slow right down.
You let the gentle murmur of languid sounds – trade winds sighing through Coconut Palms – birds singing at dawn – and a soft swish of water along the reef – immerse you in a feeling of timeless tranquillity, as long forgotten dreams come calling.
Dreams from your youth, dreams of adventures in far flung lands, sailing ships and voyages to unknown islands in the South Seas. They all surface again as you sit on a cool wooden veranda, in air so fresh and clear. A faint wisp of cloud drapes itself along distant mountains; a solitary timber canoe glides across an unbroken vista of sea, islands, and sky, then wham, it suddenly hits you, those youthful dreams have come true..
.. and you really are living that wonderful poem ..
“The islands ran like emeralds through his fingers till he turned truant, cleared the beach at dawn and half forgot the seasons, under that sky” Judith Wright
How easy it would be to forget the rest of Earth and live on Matakuri forever, but we bid a reluctant farewell, and board the ferry “Iumina”, (You me together now), and travel to Roviana Lagoon. This area was home for such ferocious and universally feared head-hunters as late as 1890, that the British warship “Royalist” was finally forced to shell every village in the Lagoon. The boys had a change of heart after that, and as there was no footy to turn to in those days, took up singing in Church instead.
In 1942 war once more fetched chaos to these islands.
The Japanese Army swept in, spread murder and mayhem, and built an airstrip at Munda, where by an ingenious method of stringing tops of cut down Coconut Palms over the strip, .hid it from the Allies.
However time eventually took the war elsewhere, and today you can relax with a cold beer in the laid back bar at Agnes Lodge, and hear about an Irishman who changed his name to Oppenheimer to trade in diamonds – or how the U.S in a response to a claim for war damages from the British Solomon’s, sent several million to a pleasantly surprised British Swaziland !
Nearby Rendova Island is reputedly the P.T base on which “McHales Navy” was based, and Lubaria Island is from where a young J.F.Kennedy set out one rainy night, only to have his P.T run over by a Japanese destroyer !
However my favourite here is Lola Island in Vonavona Lagoon. How Joe Entriken made his way here is quite a story, straight out of Jack London’s novels. A young Graphic Artist in California, Joe hankered for, then answered the call of the wild. He spent several seasons fishing in Alaska, then threw away a promising career to find out what Earth’s remote places still offered. He voyaged to the Solomon’s, and worked as a voluntary fishing advisor. Then bingo, fate repaid his courage by marrying him to a beautiful young woman, with her own island.
The moral here is none of us can know what magic is out there waiting for us, unless we are game to go find out.
Joe and Elizabeth have established a tranquil fishing resort on Lola, but for today he has lent me a book titled “The wealth of the Solomon’s”
..and as I hold this, while looking through palms to children splashing around in tiny canoes, I see clearly that the wealth is not a Kings gold, timber or fishing, or anything measured in money.
There are turquoise waters rippling along the shore, with Islanders sitting in the shade of Frangipani trees trading produce and stories – as my mind drifts back to our friends who made us so welcome in Old Poishu village on Guadancanal – to Kimberley and her new friends there laughing and running free – to the church at Seghe with Peter Lumolo and his relatives framed in the last rays of sunset, and the answer is ..
..the real King Solomon’s wealth, in these “Friendly Isles” is it’s people.