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Your Guide to Diving in Solomon Islands

Sensational Wrecks and Reefs in the Pacific

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...Highlights: hammerhead sharks, shark action, manta rays, dolphins, great macro life/ marine diversity, schooling fish & big pelagics, non diving activities...
...Solomon's diving environment: healthy reefs, wrecks, wall dives, caverns, beginner and advanced divers, off the beaten track...

The nation of the Solomon Islands is a beautiful island chain in the Pacific Ocean. This peaceful tropical idyll lies to the south east of Papua New Guinea. Of the 992 islands here, only 147 are inhabited and the low level of human impact contributes to the surrounding waters boasting some of the most pristine, untouched coral reefs anywhere in the world. As one of the least dived areas of the world, those lucky enough to visit for a liveaboard cruise in the Solomons a feel a sense of privilege to encounter such an immaculate diving environment.

An aerial view of the Solomon Islands - photo courtesy fo Matt Smith
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This off-the-beaten-track destination has so much to offer the adventurous scuba diver with its huge variety of habitats. The Solomons have very impressive hard and soft coral coverage. You can expect to dive over lush coral gardens with bright gorgonian fans, down decorated walls, and into wrecks and overhangs, all festooned with colourful sponges and coral species. Caves and caverns, pinnacles, sandy slopes and mangrove flats .. you may even be diving against the backdrop of the sound of an underwater volcano rumbling ominously!

Being part of the Coral Triangle, the marine life in the Solomon Islands is fantastic and fantastically diverse. Lovers of the big stuff can point to the variety of sharks here plus manta rays, pilot whales and stunning schools of fish. Macro-photographers will find amazing subjects such as pygmy seahorses, ghost pipefish, cuttlefish and nudibranchs. Wreck-diving enthusiasts will find their desires met on a range of sunken World War II ships and planes, both from the Allied forces and Japanese military. There are even dump sites where you can cruise over sunken trucks and bombs! Some of the most historically significant fighting in that war took place in this area and the legacy is a living history explored by small numbers of lucky scuba divers every year.

The history of the Solomon Islands in fact provides the backdrop to any scuba diving trip here and is one of its unique selling points. A number of the most brutal and bloody WWII battles took place in the Solomons and, with names like Red Beach, Henderson Field, Skyline Ridge and Bloody Ridge, you cannot help but feel part of the story as you dive around the relics of the gruesome past. So much military hardware sank during the war that the waterway at Guadalcanal was renamed Iron Bottom Sound!

Due to the small number of visitors there are not many operators, so commonly your group will be the only divers in sight, and on each site. It will feel like you are the first to dive these sites. How many other divers have finned through these shafts of light that illuminate spectacular caves? How many have been surrounded by these swirling schools of fish, flanked by tuna, trevallies and sharks? How many have emerged from the wreck of a Japanese WWII plane to see manta rays passing overhead? If you're the type of diver that enjoys thrills and adventure where few have gone before, consider a trip to the Solomons.


Dive Site Descriptions for the Solomons

Florida Islands

These are the nearest islands to the Solomons' capital of Honiara and as such are very popular dive sites, forming part of most liveaboard itineraries. Tulagi and the surrounding area are dominated by WWII wreck dives: cruisers, destroyers, sea planes, fuel and cargo vessels - they are all here. However, there are also a lot of amazing macro and muck diving sites, pinnacles, sandy channels and seagrass beds, and at least 1 great spot to observe the feeding behaviour of a giant manta ray colony.
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The USS Minneapolis is a popular wreck to dive as it sits in shallow water with the removed bow being between 14 and 24m depth and can be done as a shore dive. Although badly damaged, there is plenty of interest to see here in this area which used to be a shipyard. The bow is very obvious, lying upside down and facing away from shore. You can see dozens of naval shells lying in the silty sea bed a few metres off the tip of the bow.

There are also China plates and a discarded toilet here which may have belonged to the Minneapolis. There are sections of others wrecks to dive here too and hundreds of 44 gallon drums lying around. It is described a junk dive, but is really a fascinating exploration around historical “junk”.

The RNZN Moa, as the name suggests, is a Royal New Zealand Navy ship, a Bird Class minesweeper and submarine chaser. On 7th April 1943 Japanese planes set off from Bougainville on a mission to bomb ships in the Guadalcanal area. The Mia, while just off Cape Esperance, was struck at least once in the commanding officer’s cabin, and possibly a second time in the boiler room, causing the ship to sink in less than 5 minutes. 5 crewmen were killed and several others were injured. Salvage operations took place in subsequent years including the removal of the whole bridge which was built from 5 mm brass plate. The wreck lies on a silty bottom at a depth of 40m, listing slightly to the port side. You can see the main bomb damage, the rudder and the propeller which is a great photographic subject.

Twin Tunnels is a reef dive providing a break from all the amazing wrecks of the area. This site is a pinnacle in the middle of the channel between Guadalcanal and the Florida Islands. The site ranges in depth from 60m to 12m. You will see 2 large holes in the reef top which are in fact the openings of 2 ancient lava tubes. You can descend down either one of them to 35m. As you do you can look up to see an ever-decreasing circle of blue above you. You will exit by swimming out of a cave full of crayfish. The reef drops away to around 45m here and you can sight schools of fusiliers, grey reef sharks, kingfish and tuna. There is also some amazing coral here, and keep an eye out for some smaller creatures too such as cuttlefish, mantis shrimp and octopus plus as many as 9 species of anemonefish.

Around Ghavutu Island you will find dive sites featuring 13 known Mavis (Japanese) planes and at least 1 Catalina (American) plane. Ghavutu Wharf is a muck diving paradise where among the rubble you can spot myriad nudibranchs, ribbon eels, pipefish and flatworms. The sea floor features a landing barge covered in wartime junk including landing gear and aircraft wings.

Within a short boat ride of the wharf are the several Mavis seaplanes. The most commonly dived of them sit in around 30m of water on a silty sea floor. Many of them were sunk during airstrikes prior to US Marine landings on the 7th August 1942. The best example of these, The Kawanishi H6K5 is almost completely intact and is a great spot for macro life including anemonefish, pipefish and gobies. The starboard wing has been dislodged, most likely as a result of the bombing. You can see a bucket of bottles and ammunition cartridges placed on the fuselage.

Devil’s Highway is all about the manta rays. This channel between 2 islands narrows the flow of water creating forceful currents enjoyed by the resident giant manta ray colony. You can drift along the top of the reef, seeking respite just below the edge of reef wall. Here is a good vantage point for admiring 10 or more magnificent mantas feeding in formation. These individuals can measure between 3 and 5 metres across. Also hanging against the current are often fish like bumpheads, sweetlips and jacks.

Maravagi Bay is a calm, protected area in front of a quaint village which is home to a site that lovers of macro critters will enjoy. The site contains a range of coral bommies, white sandy channels and patches of seagrass. Here you can expect to dive over giant clams, around cuttlefish and pipefish, over scorpionfish, cockatoo waspfish, seahorses and nudibranchs as well as innumerable sapsucker sea slugs.

The USS Aaron Ward is the wreck of a 106m long US destroyer which was involved in some heavy fighting during the war including the naval battle of Guadalcanal. The ship met its end on 7 April 1943 having been attacked by 6 Japanese bombers landing 3 direct hits. 27 lives were lost and there were 59 wounded. The wreck sits upright on the sandy sea bed and is largely in 1 piece. This is deep wreck lying between 53 and 70m and is not normally dived by regular recreational divers.

The USS Atlanta is a 152 metre (500 ft) long light cruiser that lies at a depth of 130m making it the deepest and most challenging WWII wreck that can be dived in the Solomons. Armed with 5-inch (127 mm) guns, Atlanta provided anti-aircraft protection for US naval forces in Midway and Eastern Solomons battles. During a night attack in November 1942, heavy surface gunfire cause damage so extensive that the captain ordered the sinking that very same day.

The PBY Catalina is an American amphibious aircraft that was in wide use during WWII. You can now dive the wreck of this seaplane as it sits upright in around 34m of water near Tulagi. When the visibility is favourable you can see the entire plane making it a great photographic subject. The port side engine and cockpit has broken off and the tail fins are tilted, however the shape and structure are largely intact. The propeller is still visible and you can see right inside the cockpit.

The USS John Penn was a US Navy troop and cargo vessel which took a direct stern hit on 13 August 1943 from a Japanese torpedo off Lunga Point. This wreck now rests at a depth of 35 to 60m on its starboard side and is mostly intact towards the bow. You can dive around the bridge and anti-aircraft guns looking out for Spanish mackerel and barracuda. You can poke around here and penetrate the wreck at several spots. Tour the officers' mess, radio room, forward holds, crew quarters and even the exposed lower decks if you are an experienced wreck diver. Masts, winches, 3 inch guns are all visible as are the lockers where ammunition has spilled to the floor.

The USS Kanawha was a U.S. Navy oiler (a.k.a. a fuel ship) that was struck by 5 Japanese bombs hitting the oil tank under the bridge. The fire spread but was extinguished and the crippled ship was towed to the beach on the west side of Tulagi where it slipped back into deeper waters and sank on the morning of 8 April 1943.

Lying between 40 and 60m, it is deep and therefore not for inexperienced divers or those who like long bottom times. The wreck is littered with debris and artifacts and features guns on the bow, stern, amidships and bridge.

Guadalcanal

The Solomon Islands’ capital of Honiara on Guadalcanal is conveniently located right on the "Iron Bottom Sound". There is seemingly as much iron at the bottom of the sea here, as sand! Here you dive a variety of historical wrecks, whether ship, plane or even submarine!
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Bonegi I, II and III is a collection of 3 Japanese ship wrecks near to Bonegi Beach. They are the Horkawa Maru, Kinugawa Maru and Kysyu Maru. They are all relatively shallow wrecks and can be dived by walking in from the beach. You can expect torpedo holes to explore with lots of visible cargo, particularly in Bonegi I. You may see turtles, blue-spotted stingrays and sharks, sweetlips and snapper. Smaller creatures include fields of garden eels, cuttlefish and octopus.

The Japanese I-1 Submarine is a wreck that lies about 40 km from Honiara against a sloping reef. It was sunk by 2 New Zealand Navy vessels in early 1943, one of which was the RNZN Moa. This submarine had previously played a role in the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. The top of the wreck is only at 10m depth and the stern lies at 25m. It is quite damaged today but still much of it is recognisable as a sub. In the 1960s a salvage operation accidentally caused the explosion of 2 live torpedoes that were still intact, causing serious damage to the structure. Interestingly, code books were retrieved from this submarine which helped the Allied forces to eventually break the Japanese code.

US B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber is a shallow wreck at a maximum depth of 18m lying 100m off the coast. This plane went down amid fierce fighting in 1943. This Boeing-made bomber featured 13 machine guns and 17,600 lbs of bombs and was manned by a crew of 10. Much of the structure is still intact: 2 wings, tail, cockpit and 4 propellers. It lies on the sandy sea floor and has become bedecked in hard corals and encrusting sponges.

Marovo Lagoon

This is a double barrier enclosed lagoon located on the eastern side of New Georgia islands. It is said to be the largest salt water lagoon in the world and has revealed levels of coral diversity as impressive as anywhere in the world, including Raja Ampat. The lagoon is home to huge numbers of fish as well as sharks and mobula rays. The sandy channel is home to pipefish, nudibranchs and crocodilefish. Either side of the channel is festooned with hard and soft corals, anemones and huge sea fans. In this area you can experience sinking down through lava tubes, and even hear and feel the rumble of a nearby underwater volcano!
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Kavachi Corner is a stunning wall dive named after an emerging volcano, 15 km away, just south of Kicha Island. You may have the novel experience of hearing (and feeling!) the rumble of Kavachi when diving here. The cracking and booming noises and vibrations are exciting and can even be a little unnerving. However the sharks, mobula rays and giant trevally don’t seem to mind, and there are plenty of them here.

Kicha is one of the best loved sites in this area. It is renowned for numbers of reef sharks, big schools of spadefish and fantastic coral coverage. You can also expect schools of batfish, jacks, barracuda as well as giant bumphead parrotfish chomp on coral. You might also be diving here to the soundtrack of the rumbling volcano. This fantastic wall has a great deal of gorgonian sea fans and is home to all sorts of creatures including twin-spot lionfish, Clark’s anemonefish and reticulated butterflies. Also keep an eye out for a silvertip shark cruising by in the blue.

Mbulo Island is an island surrounded on all sides by some fantastic dive sites. Normally you will start a dive here drifting over a gentle, sloping reef of pristine hard and soft corals. There are volcanic lava tubes which create magnificent swimthroughs and awesome photographic opportunities. This series of shallow caverns and crevices are illuminated with shafts of light from above creating a fabulous ambience.

Taiyo a.k.a. The Upright Wreck is a 90m fishing boat (unusally not a WWII wreck!) that ran aground on its maiden voyage. An attempt to salvage the ship from the reef it struck in Nono Lagoon went wrong and caused the Taiyo to disappear over the edge of the reef. This misfortune has granted the diving world with yet another fabulous Solomon Islands wreck dive. Also called the Upright Wreck, it lies vertically with its bow pointing up toward the surface, so it looks very usual in photographs! The bow is in fact less than 2m from the surface with the stern at about 40m. It is a very colourful wreck and is home to a great number and variety of nudibranchs and anemonefish.

Wickham Island is another favourite spot in this area and has a range of sites with something for everyone. Wickham Harbour is beside one of the last villages to practice cannibalism in the Solomons. Descendants of one of the original missionary families of the Solomons still live there. You can satisfy your diving hunger by descending down to dive over a number of Japanese WWII wrecks. Black corals sprout from the wrecks and they are frequented by schools of grouper and trevally.

Mborokua (Mary) Island

Mary Island is an uninhabited island which sits alone in the sea, not far from Russell Islands. It is included in many liveaboard itineraries and is often considered one of the best dives of any cruise.
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There are large schools of fish here attracted by the sweeping currents. You can probably guess what fish are incredibly plentiful at sites like Jack Point or Barracuda Point, or what the main feature of Coral Gardens is. Add sharks, turtles, bumphead parrotfish, plus caves and caverns and overhangs to explore, and you can see why this island is such a favourite.

Munda Area (NW New Georgia)

The Munda area is a region the north west of the New Georgia Islands and is a less visited, but no less fabulous, part of the Solomons. It is an off-the-beaten-track part of an already remote destination! Sites here can be characterised by renowned war wrecks and incredible wall diving. The topside scenery is breathtaking, with idyllic islands, white sandy beaches and almost no people, but an excess of marine life!
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Cave of the Custom Shark is a unique site that underscores the pioneering nature of diving here. This site needs to be approached on foot in full dive gear (or with a little help) through the mangroves! The entrance to the cave is a pool of cool, fresh water of 2m width. As you descend through the murky fresh water layer and down into the salt water the temperature and visibility both improve. You move slowly down and through the cave using a guideline for safety. There is almost zero natural light here so your torch illuminates the ridged cave walls.

There is not a lot of visible life in the cave but it is a memorable experience. You might spot the occasional lobster or some soldierfish. Finally you exit at 35m on the outer wall of the island to be greeted by natural light. You can then carry on this unique dive on a colourful wall covered in soft corals and awash with fish. There is a nice legend of a young local boy who grabbed a turtle on the reef only to be dragged deep into the cave by a jealous shark. When all hope seemed lost, the boy spotted light above him and, when released by the shark swam desperately to the surface. He emerged through the freshwater spring, bewildered but grateful for his life.

Shark Point is a site whose point is sharks. Several species have been sighted here. Often you will encounter silvertips and there is a reasonable chance of hammerhead sharks. This is a gorgeous 600m wall dive with protruding gorgonians, sea whips and lush soft corals and, as is often the case in the Solomons, the macro life is fabulous. You might have your mask stuck in a crevice while the big boys cruise past in the blue. There is often amazing 40m+ visibility here especially in the mornings, increasing your chances for exciting sightings which might include oceanic whitetips.

Kashi Maru is Japanese freighter whose masts are visible above the water’s surface. It was bombed while at anchor 20m from the shoreline and now sits upright in shallow water listing slightly to the port side. At a maximum depth of only 15m it is suitable for divers and snorkellers alike. The shallow nature of this wreck means it is bathed in natural light allowing for some great photography opportunities. There is plenty to see from the cargo holds to the engine room which has 3 levels, one decorated with Japanese bathroom tiles. Look out for the workshop with a large vice intact. Corals have really taken root here especially towards the stern. Expect a variety of nudibranchs and schools of fish.

Douglas SBD Dauntless Bomber is a WWII American naval scout plane that was shot down on 21 June 1943. It is still largely intact although bedecked in corals and encrusting sponges. You can expect to see lionfish and shrimp lurking in quieter area plus myriad basslets and damsels swirling all around. The story of this plane was that it was piloted by Jim Dougherty who attempted, after taking incoming fire, to make it back to Yandina in the Russell Islands. The aircraft couldn’t make it and he crash landed here surviving to swim to a nearby American hospital – and on his 21st birthday! In 1995 Jim returned to dive here and see his old plane on the 52nd anniversary if its demise.

Russell Islands

Lying to the north west of Guadalcanal, the Russell Islands offer a fantastic range of diving and are another area included in most liveaboard itineraries. The huge variety of dives here is key - sunlit channels and caverns to swim through, current-swept pinnacles where pelagics play, colourful wrecks to explore and WWII history to witness first-hand.
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Rainbow Reef is so called because of the swirling mass of colour that comes from the huge schools of fusiliers and anthias that cover this reef. The sessile life is equally colourful on this pinnacle which is absolutely covered with sea fans, sponges and soft corals. Oceanic currents sweep in and around this sea mount bringing food for sharks, schooling barracuda and mobula rays! The pinnacle which tops out at around 16m is often blessed with great visibility making it a favourite spot for photographers to use their wide angle lenses.

Leru Cut is one of the best known dive sites in the country and certainly one of the most memorable moments of any scuba diving vacation in the Solomon Islands. Picture a canyon with a sandy floor at 12m and delicate shafts of sunlight filtering down from above. No cruise would be complete without ‘that picture’’ of you finning through the iconic Leru Cut.

The canyon runs around 100m into the island to a fantastic soft coral wall teeming with fish life and not far from other dive sites Mirror Pond and Bat Cave. Before reaching the end of the canyon you can surface for a moment within the jungle. Not many sites include popping your head above the surface to the sight of vine-strewn cliffs and thick jungle!

White Beach is in a location which, surprisingly, has no white beach. The name is military code for an American supply base. At the end of the war a huge amount of materials were unceremoniously dumped into the sea near the mangroves. Now all those trucks, bulldozers, jeeps, trucks, ammunition and old Coke bottles have created an artificial reef which is both an amazing historical dive site and one where macro-life abounds. You can expect to see mandarinfish, harlequin shrimp, jawfish, pipefish, archerfish and nudibranchs. Mangroves are often great for juvenile fish and this site is home to an array of species in their juvenile forms.

Custom Caves is a series of volcanic caves and caverns where sun streams through fissures in the rock making beautiful shafts of light, ideal for photography. This is an often-visited site on Pavuvu Island. Look out for lobsters, eels and rays inside the caverns and soft corals and gorgonian fans towards the entrance.

Karumolun Point could be viewed solely as a fantastic macro site, or a site for the big stuff. In fact, like many Solomons dive sites it is both! Big picture diving will include a backdrop of colourful soft coral with large schools of jacks and barracuda. Whitetip and blacktip reef sharks and white-spotted eagle rays are commonly seen here too. So if you want to dive this site with your back to the reef there is plenty to keep you entertained.

If you would rather poke around in the cracks and fissures of the reef, or use your macro lens then Karumolun Point takes on a whole different character. All manner of smaller creatures are present here from nudibranchs to ghost pipefish, cuttlefish to crocodilefish. One creature of specific note you can see here are Ctenoides ales, variously known as disco clams, electric clams and electric flame scallops. They seem to flash light as if battery operated! What is really happening is they have a highly reflective strip of tissue on the edge of their mantle which is exposed and quickly hidden so the colour quickly flips from white to red creating the appearance of flashing.

The Ann Wreck is adored by photographers and regular divers alike. Much smaller than the average wreck in the Solomons, The Ann is an island freighter sunk intentionally in Yandina as an artificial reef that now lies between 9 and 31m in depth. It is bedecked in encrusting sponges and coral and so many red elephant ear sponges that lionfish live in the shelter of its folds.

There are resident crocodilefish, frogfish and mantis shrimps, rose-coloured halimeda ghost pipefish and an array of nudibranchs. For nudi nerds these include Chromodoris coi, Chromodoris tinctorial, Thecacera picta and Miamira sinuate. You can also take a moment to enjoy the sandy slope nearby which is home to a fantastic colony of garden eels as well as innumerable shrimp/gobie partnerships and anemonefish.


How to Dive the Solomon Islands

The best dive locations of the country are spread throughout the islands – New Georgia, Tulagi/The Florida Islands, Russell Islands - and Iron Bottom Sound. And since the nation is small enough to be navigable by sea within a couple of weeks, the best way to see all the highlights is on a liveaboard diving cruise. You can even combine the Solomons with Papua New Guinea on a transit trip between the two.

Since the Solomons are a remote with a very low number of liveaboard operators, availability is often an issue. We recommend you book 12 months in advance to avoid this problem.



Solomon Diving Season

The Solomon Sea is tropical, with water temperatures constant all year between 28-30°C (80-86°F). You can dive here all year round. 3 mm wetsuits are the norm, although some divers simply use lycra suits. Visibility is generally excellent at 20-40m/75-125 ft throughout the year (no seasonal variation). Although there are a few dives with currents, generally the currents are very mild and there is no need to swim against them. Surface conditions are nearly always calm.

Located just a few degrees south of the equator, the climate is also tropical but moderated by the sea air. It is generally sunny with frequent but short bursts of rain. Humidity is usually high but lower at sea. Air temperatures are 29-31°C (84-88°F), the coolest months being July and August. Evenings are 7-8°C cooler (72-73°F). The rainy season runs from December to April, with March being the wettest. For more on the climate of Honiara and the Solomon Islands, visit the Weather AtlasOpens in a new window website.

There is always a chance to see all marine life at all times of the year however, it is more reliable to encounter mantas during March through to May and August through to December. Reef sharks can be seen at all times of the year too but there are often more around June through to September.

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Where are the Solomons and How Do I Get There?

Review our map below showing the Solomon Islands' location in the world.

Map of the world (click to enlarge in a new window)

Solomon Islands are in the South Pacific and consist of 6 major islands and over 900 smaller islands. It consists of a double chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls that join with Papua New Guinea in the north west. Honiara is the capital city and its international airport connects travellers with Nadi in Fiji (flight time 3 hours 15 minutes), Brisbane in Australia (3 hours), Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (2 hrs 15 mins), and Port Vila in Vanuatu (2 hours). The major airlines are Solomon Airlines, Virgin Australia, Fiji AIrways, Air Niugini, and Qantas.


Reef Summary

Depth: 5m - >40m
Visibility: 20m - 40m
Currents: Gentle
Surface conditions: Usually calm
Water temperature: 28°C - 30°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: >150
Recommended length of stay: 8 - 14 days


Useful References


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