Underwater Volcanos and diving with crocodiles aboard the Bilikiki

We recently completed a 12 night trip aboard the Bilikiki MV in the Solomon Islands, September 24th through October 6th 2009. This year marks their 20th anniversary.  www.bilikiki.com

We traveled from North Carolina to Brisbane, which took  34 hours.  Spent 2 nights/days in Brisbane touring the city, Surfers Paradise and survived the “Sand Storm of the Century”. (See pictures in earlier post.)  We headed to Honiara in the Solomon Islands, an additional 6 hours, to start our trip aboard the Bilikiki.

There were a total of 15 guest aboard; Larry and Brent from Seattle; Kim and Matt from Modesto, CA; Dimitri and Yuolia form San Francisco; Alex and Astrid from Austria (the land without kangaroos) and Rae and Geoff from New Zealand.  Our group; Sharon from Hawaii, Clark from California, Mary (a.k.a Pooh), Sara and me from North Carolina.  Very international and entertaining group.

Our first night we traveled from Honiara on the Island of Guadalcanal to the Russell Islands.

Our diving itinerary:

  • Russell Islands, September 25th and 26th for 2 day’s of diving.
  • Mary Island, September 27th for 1 day of diving,
  • New Georgia Island Group, September 28th, 29th and 30th for 3 days of diving
  • Mary Island, October 1st of 1 day of diving
  • Russell Islands, October 2nd, 1 day of diving
  • Florida Islands, 3rd, 4th and 5th, 2.5 days of diving.
  • For a total of 10.5 days of diving and 43 dives!

Local Island Tours.

Not only did we do a lot of diving we also went to 4 different villages to buy carvings, to see local dancing and singing.  It was another great experience!

Diving stories…

  • Volcanos underwater. While diving Mary Island we could hear a volcano erupting under water.  How cool is that!!
  • Diving with Crocs. While in the Russell Islands at White Beach, Sharon and I are making a very leisurely dive when Kelley, one of the dive masters, and Pooh come racing toward us, flapping their arms with the crocodile signal!!!  Someone said one was seen over their heads about 50 yards away.  Needless to say I exited the water as soon as I completed my safety stop!
  • The Devils Highway Manta dive. We were able to see plenty of big stuff; sharks, turtles, barracuda, bumphead parrotfish, humphead wrasse, several mantas and dolphins.  Without doubt, the highlight was the manta dive at Devils Highway! The dive started about 1/4 mile from the actual site.  All 15 divers did a backwards roll on the count of three, went to 15 feet, rode the current, 3 – 5 knots depending on who you talked to.  Then at the wall dropped to 25 feet and hang-on!  This is when the show began; we had 2 mantas, then 4, then maybe 6 manta rays cruising just feet over our heads feeding!  It was awesome!
  • Most breathtaking hard coral I’ve ever seen was at Russell, Mary and New Georgia Islands.

Evaluating Bilikiki MV

I met most members of the team; all of the boat crew are from the Solomon Islands.  The dive masters/managers Kelley and Sam; Kelley is an Aussie and Sam is a Brit.  The TEAM did an excellent job of making sure their clients needs were satisfied!  I don’t say this lightly, I’ve been on many live aboard dive boats and the Bilikiki Team is one of the best!

Food

All meals were served buffet style, which helps with individuals schedules.  Additionally, all food was local, Kelley purchased fruits, veggies, fish, chicken, eggs, and crabs daily from locals that paddled to the boat in their dugout canoes.  Very cool!

  • Breakfast – every morning there was both hot and cold breakfast with plenty of fresh fruit. Boy, was the pine-apple and papaya great!!!
  • Between dive snacks – fresh cookies, fruit and popcorn.
  • Dinner – every night we had something different.  Each night there was a vegetarian dish then either fish, chicken, meat or crab dish.  Desert was served every night with dinner.
  • Paella in the Solomon Islands –  My wife brought the spices necessary for a spanish paella and the crew happily let her assist in preparing a meal from her home country.
  • Vacation Birthdays – Both Dimitri and Yuolia celebrated their bithdays’ during our trip and the crew prepared special cakes and deserts.

Safety

  1. They had a DAN Oxygen kit-Excellent
  2. Had a diver responsibility In and Out of water board.  And the crew counted divers after every dive-Excellent
  3. Boat well maintained, as far as I could tell everything was working, which is a small miracle considering the remoteness of the Solomons-Excellent
  4. The accommodations where clean and comfortable – Excellent

Making Diving Fun

  1. Both Kelley and Sam went out-of-the-way to show us critters.  Pygmy sea horses, little crabs,  nudis, the “disco” fire clam, and roughsnout ghost pipefish. Their enthusiasm for diving made everyone comfortable – Excellent
  2. Somethings we take for granted on a live-aboard; hot showers and towels.  They were present and plentiful after every dive – Excellent
  3. Made sure all divers no matter their ability were part of the activities, from newbies to those with physical limitations. – Excellent
  4. The dive times were stress free and to schedule; 8:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM.  The night dive did change due to weather, crocs, moving the boat and village visits.

Minuses

  1. Nothing I can think of – Excellent

Overall

  1. Lastly, the Bilikiki owner Rick, dive masters/managers Kelley and Sam have an excellent relationship with the local Chiefs and villagers.  This relationship opens the doors for their customer’s access to the best dive sites, produce, fish and crew!
  2. Awesome Service!
  3. Excellent, safe, and fun!

Champagne and diving… We reserved the last dive of the trip to celebrate Clarks 1,500th and Pooh’s 200th dive with champagne at 20 feet.  What an awesome way to end a spectacular trip!!  Ten and a half days of diving, the healthiest reefs I’ve ever seen, awesome boat and crew, dialing in my Nikon D300 and Seacam housing, spending time with 3 great friends and most of all diving with my wife!

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~ by Arthur Koch on October 16, 2009.

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