Shrouded in low cloud, Savo Island floats on the ocean like a land that time forgot. The boat that is taking us there resembles a bath toy but is skillfully handled by a friendly Savo islander who guides it confidently through the rolling seas.
Savo island is perhaps best known for its megapodes – chicken-sized birds which lay their eggs at dawn on the beach in the warm volcanic sands.
We set our alarm clocks for 4.30am to see the megapodes but our lift from Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, a 45 minute car ride away, is running an hour late. Then when we get to the beach to board the Savo Island boat there is no boat. No one wears a watch here on the Solomon Islands, so time-keeping is unheard of.
The hours go by with no sign of our captain until 8am. Which means that by the time we set foot on Savo’s volcanic sands, the megapodes have disappeared back into the jungle.
The only sign of the birds is their big clawed foot prints and the Agatopa village men who are digging a meter down into the sand to find the eggs. About 100 eggs are collected each day to feed the village and sell or barter with other Savo island villagers.
The megapode footprints are big making their eggs seem disporoprtionately small; scarcely bigger than a hen’s egg.
Labour is clearly divided here; the men unearth the eggs while the women arrive later to fill in the holes and level the sand again ready for the next day. Tomorrow the megapodes will be back to lay their eggs again and the cycle will continue.
After watching the delicate eggs being wrapped in banana leaves for safe transport, it’s back in the boat to Sunset Lodge.
Sunset Lodge provides basic accommodation and a restaurant on the beach. Hospitality is warm and a fresh local coconut, followed by a breakfast of hard old navy biscuits and fruit is gratefully received, although the main attraction on Savo island is the nature and cultural experiences, not the food.
Next up is a volcano hike which is another boat ride away. John, our Sunset Lodge guide is barefoot, his broad, strong feet almost square in shape.
For overseas visitors who are not as hardy, good shoes are advised for the volcano walk. The hike starts along a dry, sandy river through which a creek wanders. The higher we get, the warmer the creek water becomes, and by the time we enter the shady forest the creek is hot.
Our walk ends at a small, steaming waterfall. There’s a bamboo ladder for those who wish to continue up the volcano but we turn back here, leaving this craterless volcano and it’s hot springs only half-explored.
My travel companion, fellow travel writer Tim Roxborogh takes the opportunity to demonstrate the #casuallean pose he is pioneering. Luckily he has chosen a sturdy stick or it could all have gone horribly wrong.
Back on the coast, our boat is waiting in the next village. We walk along the beach during what seems to be rush hour in Savo. There are no cars on the island but a few small groups of families and children are walking home from school.
The island is home to about 6,000 people with six schools. John tells me his family could not afford to send him to school so he can’t read or write. However, he’s learnt good English by speaking with overseas visitors, and through visitingHoniara, where English language television has been his language teacher.
John’s not interested in living in Honiara though. Unemployment is high in the city and life is better on Savo Island.
Here cool, fresh water flows down from the mountain peaks, the sea is full of fish and vegetables grow well in the volcanic soil. The local watermelon at breakfast was one of the sweetest and juiciest we’ve tasted in the Solomon Islands – or in the world.
Back at Sunset Lodge a tasty lunch of tuna steaks and green vegetables fortifies us and showcases the local bounty.
After lunch we snorkel right off the beach. What the coral lacks in colour, the fish make up for. You could spend hours here watching the iridescent blue, orange and yellow fish flashing in and out of sight as they go about their fishy business.
Savo Island has captured our hearts already but the best is yet to come. Not far from Sunset Lodge there’s a dolphin breeding ground where the friendly Bottle-nose and Spinner dolphins frolic around our boat and perform gravity graceful acrobtics for us.
The scenery with Savo Island’s peaks rising behind the dipping dolphins is equally mesmerising.
From the bird eggs buried underground, to the top of the steaming volcano and the depths of the sea, Savo Island has proved to be a fascinating day trip. We may have missed seeing the megapodes but what we did see more than made up for that.
The expression “on island time” could have been invented on Savo island but we’ll never forget our visit to this land that time forgot.
Solomon Islands Travel Notes
I was a guest of the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau during my visit. See the SIVB website for photos, travel information or to plan your trip including a visit to Savo Island or Sunset Lodge. If you want to see the megapodes birds your best bet is to stay overnight at Sunset Lodge.
Other Solomon Islands Travel Stories and Photos
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