Surfing in the Solomon Islands is up there as one of my favourite wave-hunting adventures ever. This beautiful island nation – which sits to the east of Papua New Guinea – is well off the beaten track and offers the perfect mix of sun, surf, and new experiences.
Where is Santa Isabel?
The longest island in the Solomon Islands, Santa Isabel was my base for surfing in this beautiful country and I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the Solomon Islands.
Situated to the north west of the capital, Honiara, it’s also one of the most wave rich islands in the country, with plenty of existing surf spots and surely a lot more which are yet to be discovered, named or made public!
How to get there
Getting to Honiara is an adventure in itself, but more for the views that the actual flights – which are pretty easy to be fair.
The easiest route to the Solomon Islands is from Brisbane, Australia which has a direct flight into the capital Honiara with Solomon Airlines and only takes about 3 hours.
If you’re flying from outside Australia, things get a little more complex but Virgin Australia, Fiji Airways, Air Niugini, and Air Vanuatu offer flights, with Qantas also running a codeshare option for those flying within their network.
Once you get to Honiara, you’ll need to get an internal flight to Suavanao (VAO) with Solomon Airlines.
The easiest way to do this is to stay overnight in Honiara both sides of your internal flight as the twin propeller flight to Suavanao can often be delayed or cancelled due to weather, so it’s best to play it safe.
The internal flight is where the real adventure begins – the Twin Otter aircraft is not much bigger than a skydiving plane and feels like something out of an Indiana Jones movie! As you fly over the islands make sure you have your camera to hand as the views are epic.
Then get ready for a unique landing – the airstrip is pretty much just a patch of grass on an island surrounded by blue ocean and lots of tropical islands dotting the horizon.
Tip: Arrive early to check in for the flight as luggage space is extremely limited so surfboards go on a first come, first served basis. Alongside this, I’d recommend only bringing one board per person and no longer than 6’6.
There are plenty of stories of boards being left in Honiara and delivered a few days later and the same on the return journey too!
Where to stay
There are three main options for your stay on Santa Isabel, each offering a very different experience, so it really depends what you’re looking for out of your surf trip here.
This was my base for my time on Santa Isabel and I loved it. Vavaghio is a small, family run surf camp which caters for a maximum of 8 guests and costs roughly AU$170 per night.
You’ll be totally off the grid here with no phone signal or WiFi. For some people this is unthinkable – and I get it, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it either! – but it’s actually a very welcome digital detox and a great excuse to immerse yourself in the eat, sleep, surf, repeat routine.
The camp is basic but comfortable – think fan-cooled, wooden rooms. You’ll fall asleep to the sound of the ocean and surrounding jungle and wake up with the birds; it’s really beautiful.
The staff here are warm and welcoming and you’ll quickly find yourself part of the family. The surf guides will jump into the lineup with you each day, and are more stoked to see you get the wave of your life than steal it from you!
In terms of meals, get ready for some of the freshest seafood you could imagine (usually caught by the guys whilst you’re surfing) but vegetarians are well catered for too, just let the camp know in advance.
The sister camp of Vavaghio, Kagata Village is the most budget friendly of the Santa Isabel surf camps. A stay here will set you back around AU$150 per night and like Vavaghio, takes a maximum of 8 guests.
This is the camp to stay at if you’re looking for a truly rustic, off the beaten track adventure and want to immerse yourself in Solomon Islands life.
Adjoining a local village, you’ll meet lots of friendly locals and become a part of day-to-day life in this little slice of paradise.
The camp is located about 4km away from Vavaghio, but you’ll most likely find that you end up surfing the same spots due to their consistency.
If you’re looking for creature comforts and more of a commercial surf resort setup, Papatura is the way to go.
The most well-known of the surf resorts in the Solomon Islands, Papatura caters for up to 27 guests but surfers are limited to 14 (with the exception of private groups), so there’ll still be more than enough waves to go around.
It’s also the closest spot to the airport (10 mins versus the two-ish hour boat ride to Vavaghio) so it’s pretty easy and convenient for those looking to minimise their travel time.
Papatura offers a range of rooms (from shared dorms through to family rooms) plus plenty of flat-day fun like snorkelling. They also have a beach bar so you can kick back with a cold one after a tiring day in the water.
Prices start at around AU$250 per night for a package deal including return flights. I haven’t personally stayed at Papatura so I’d recommend checking TripAdvisor reviews before making your decision.
- Kologhose – This long left hander by Vavaghio was super playful and held up well in a range of swell, from waist high to well overhead. Certainly my favourite wave in the Solomons.
- Marista – Opposite Kologhose is a punchy right-hander which again holds a huge variety of swell. It’s a short but sweet ride with a lot of shape to it. Just beware it can get super shallow as the tide draws out.
- Anchovies – The home break for anyone staying at Papatura, this barreling little right hander is heaps of fun.
- Donuts – Longboarders rejoice – this long right-hander is super fun and playful. Great for those looking for a more mellow ride.
- Tarzan’s – Another fun right-hander suitable for a range of surfers and with a beautiful backdrop
- Dolphins – A fun, barreling left-hander.
- Watto’s – A really picturesque wave (with a postcard perfect backdrop) there are two sections to surf. On smaller days sit right next to the island or when a big pulse comes through the channel is the better spot to sit.
- PT’s – Probably the most famous right-hander in Santa Isabel, PT’s offers up both lefts and rights. Works in a huge range of swells and can handle solid size – so make sure you know your limits!
- Zoli’s – A fun left-hander, great on a range of swells.
- Kummas – One of the stand out surf spots on Santa Isabel this left-hander works best on a mid to high tide and is ideal for taking photos.
- Blanchey’s – A must for goofy footers, this long reef has a variety of left-hand peaks offering everything from carveable walls to cover ups.
Other things to do
As well as empty lineups, Santa Isabel offers a range of other activities – both for flat-day fun but also things I’d highly recommend you do to make the most of your time in the Solomon Islands:
If you like fishing then you’re going to be truly spoilt in Santa Isabel – to say it’s abundant is an understatement.
Cast a line out along this coastline and you’ll find yourself hauling in sports fish, from dog tooth and yellow fin tuna, to huge GT’s and even sail fish.
You only need a short trip to pick up some fresh treats for the BBQ!
Watch the Frigates roosting at sunset
Ok so bear with me on this – it’s honestly much more impressive than it sounds! Just along the coastline from Vavaghio is a spot where the graceful frigate birds nest at night – a small island with a magnificent tree in the centre – and there are hundreds of them.
The black silhouettes of the pirate birds against a truly mesmerising Solomon Islands sunset is something you’ll be in awe of.
If you can’t make it to the frigate roosting ground, keep an eye out for the huge range of native birds that call these islands home – many of them are unique to the Solomon Islands.
Paddle a dugout canoe
Want to see how the locals get around? Well nothing says Solomon Islands more than paddling a traditional dug out canoe.
Carved out of a single tree trunk they’re the traditonal method of transport around the islands for locals and fishermen.
…do it for the ‘gram but be warned, it’s certainly a lot more difficult to balance than the locals make it look!
See the insanely beautiful lagoon
If you’re staying at Vavaghio, make sure you head around to the lagoon for a few hours – it’s out of this world.
At low tide, this lagoon mangrove is simply a sandy patch around the corner from the main surf spots.
But at mid to high tide it becomes one of the most incredible places I’ve ever laid eyes on. The shallow, white sand-bottomed waters become every shade of blue and turquoise, with the vibrant green mangroves and bright blue skies creating the kind of visuals you’ll be accused of photoshopping!
With so many reefs, lagoons, and tropical waters surrounding Santa Isabel, it’ll come as no surprise that there’s some pretty amazing snorkelling to be done.
Shoals of colourful fish, pristine corals, octopus, rays – there’s plenty out there in the big blue for you to see.
Depending on where you stay, you may need to bring your own snorkel and mask, but to be fair they’re always a good investment for future trips anyway!
Watch a cultural dance
If you get the opportunity, check out one of the cultural dance shows on the local islands, it’s one of those unique experiences that will no doubt be a highlight of your time on Santa Isabel.
Grass skirts, shell necklaces, and the melodic tones of the local songs will give you a glimpse into traditional local life and leave you full of chilled out island vibes.
The best place for a Solomon Islands surf trip
If you’re up for an adventure, I cant think of anything I’d recommend more than a Solomon Islands surf trip. The landscape is off-the-chart stunning and the lineups are pretty much empty. Santa Isabel is the ideal spot to head to, with surf camps ready to show you what the island has to offer, and if you’re willing to head a bit further off the beaten track, you get a glimpse of local island life as well.
If you have any questions, drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them, otherwise, feel free to share this post using the social buttons below.