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Dive Review of Bilikiki Cruises in
Solomon Islands

Bilikiki Cruises: "Something for Everyone!", Oct, 2015,

by Jeanne Reeder, MO, US (Contributor Contributor 16 reports with 19 Helpful votes). Report 8510 has 1 Helpful vote.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 4 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 5 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments My return trip to the Solomon Islands on the Bilikiki did not disappoint: tiny porcelain anemone crab to giant manta rays, and lots of tropical fish in between. This was a seven day trip, instead of the more popular ten (which I took three years ago) and fourteen day offerings. We covered Russell and Florida and Mary Islands. I missed the longer trip westward, which included the Marovo Lagoon Area, and three remote village visits. But I enjoyed the one visit this trip to Karumolun Village for singing, dancing, and a tour.

Sam was there to greet when we arrived. He and partner Kellie bought the Bilikiki and the Spirit (in dry dock for some years now) from Rick and Jane Belmare within the past two years. Prior, they were dynamic cruise directors on the Bilikiki, super at finding the esoteric undersea and solving all problems on board. Now, separately, they make several trips a year on the vessel, and manage the business from Australia. I think the Bilikiki’s future is in very capable caring hands. They certainly make the road making reservations easy and are great about answering questions without complaint and providing informational materials.

Cruise directors Daniela (Venezuelan) and Chaba (Hungarian) warmly welcomed us, and told us some basics before we began setting up gear in the late afternoon. The crew closely watched, but did not intervene unless asked. In addition to being superb undersea, Chaba & Daniela were skillful in finding fish and critters, and in helping with ID once back on board. They graciously handled questions and interference with their downtime (I wonder if guides ever get any!). Chaba actually seemed amused by requests, such as my mine to put up the hammock. My Air-2 free-flowed, and Chaba quickly replaced it with another the Bilikiki carries. I felt confident that the Bilikiki could handle anything with great competence, which is vital being in a remote area.

I boarded the Bilikiki in Honiara, capital of Solomon Islands, in the northwestern coast of Guadalcanal. The dozens of American and Japanese boats sunk in Iron Bottom Sound during major battles in 1942 lure me to dive, but most are very deep (200’ +), and I have resisted temptation. I knew there were other sites from that era which would fascinate me once again. White Beach in Russell Islands could be considered an eyesore, as when the Americans left their post there, they bulldozed everything into the water. Tanks and jeeps are being camouflaged by coral growth. Large three-foot unexploded shells, vied with live machine gun ammunition. Diving the mostly intact Japanese Mavis Seaplane, at 100’ in the Florida Islands, was pretty cool, too. Coming up slowly as we scanned the sand, I was rewarded with a pregnant blue-barred pipefish, 18” white-lipped catfish, and lots of old bottles, and plane debris mostly buried in the sand.

I never expect too much from the check-out dive, but was pleasantly surprised with the healthy variety of hard coral, nudibranchs, flatworms, signal gobies, large sting ray zooming two feet in front of me, and an ‘undetermined’ bumpy yellow-orange-brown sea cucumber about an inch in diameter, wrapped around a sponge coral. The prize for me, though, was a small octopus curled into a pocket inside a large lavender sponge vase.

Swim throughs, tunnels, caverns and caves abound in Solomon Island diving, luckily for me, as I elected to take each presented by the dive master and some that weren’t. The first of the trip was Leru Cut, a dramatic cut in the reef, with the morning sun shining down…I see a lot of photos from the Solomon’s shot there with a vertical diver in glowing sun rays. Outside on the sloping coral wall, there were large sea fans and soft coral, with many species of butterfly fish, in addition to a large six inch bright yellow banana nudibranch, cryptic wrasse, bird wrasse, and juvenile rockmover wrasse. Finning through a tunnel into the island and ascending to jungle surrounding the hole was a treat at Mirror Pond. There was lots of winding through cuts, sometimes with fairly strong current. Bat Cave lived up to its name as I popped up in an island for the view of several flapping about. On the way out, an electric fileclam (laughingly called disco scallop) in a crevice beckoned me to be awed by the appearance of blue flashing threads of light.

My searching for nudibranchs was rewarded at most sites, as was their ribbon-like eggs, especially the purple from the Spanish Dancer. I am often in search-mode for the tiny stuff, but on several dives, I simply had to just sit back and take in view -- beautiful soft corals, large variety of hard corals, and the dozens of colorful tropical fish, many schooling. Searching for porcelain crab living on anemone usually yielded success for there were many, and we saw all 9 of the species of anemone fish residing in the Solomon’s. Several turtles were around, too.

We stayed around Barracuda Point all day at Mary Island. Loud booming was heard undersea from the volcano Karachi, fifty miles away. Current was so mild that I elected to just hover or hold onto a rock, (some used a reef hook to free their hands for photos), to watch the parade. But it was a Manta that stole the show by making a passes and staying around awhile, before joining a smaller one further away. A school of bigeye trevally were in courtship mode, paired, female silver and male in its black mating coloration, soaring upward together, then returning to the group. It was a very fishy site! And when I got tired of the big picture, I found scorpion fish, mating nudi’s, and a tiny slender roboastra nudi with its orange stripes on black body and purple rhinophores. The mother boat was tied up at shore, and I did a solo dive, enjoying the shoreline riddled with caverns – lots of fun exploring.

The thirteen divers and one snorkeler were a convivial lot, from USA, UK, Austria, and China. Oh, yes, and one ex-pat lawyer residing in Honiara for a dozen years has done seventy-seven trips on the Bilikiki. Between dives we’d be comparing notes of the dive and searching our memories and the plentiful identification books on board. The 124’ by 24’ Bilikiki has space for twenty divers in ten staterooms in bunks or side-by-side. All cabins are below decks, without a porthole. Coming up on thirty years as a dive vessel, it has a lot of charm. Tender lovin’ care keeps it in good shape and running smoothly. In rough seas, it rocks and rolls, and I decided to be secure in my stateroom than on the stair case. You know you’re at sea – nothing wrong with that.

Two substantial strong tinnies took divers to sites, never more than two minutes, most often considerably less. We self-selected one of two groups, and I was always in the first boat out, which the dive guide was on. When I had been on the second boat three years ago, with no dive guide, it was tricky at times to catch up. I had to pay close attention to the plan of the dive, but when entering a cave that complicates the issue. This trip, Sam usually was with the second boat, but that is not a permanent fix. Andrew, one of the crew, is being trained as a dive master, which will help the situation of 1 guide for potential of 20 from two tinnies. Hopefully, other crew will join the dive guide cadre.

About half of the group dived with nitrox, which ran 29-30% O2; we were required to test and record. No lugging gear around, it was waiting in the boat; we brought on fins and mask. After assistance with donning BC’s, we were ready for the backroll. Exiting the water was easy, too, as most of the divers passed up all gear, and climbed the sturdy ladder. I never had to wait for pick-up longer than a couple minutes. On several occasions, it was as easy to go to the Mother Boat, and plop up on the water-level platform lowered for that purpose in the stern. Dives were three hours apart, beginning after the briefing on the dive deck, at 7:45 AM. Five dives were offered all days but the last, including night dives.

Most divers preferred diving at dusk and enjoying alcoholic beverage of choice before dinner at 7 PM – not many takers for night dives. Wine began at $20 a bottle, beer $3.50, and shots were $4. There was a small bar, which was sometimes manned, otherwise it was the honor system.

Popcorn was offered as a snack twice a day, along with fresh baked cookies or local fruit. Before dinner, appetizers appeared…usually crackers, cheese, grapes, boiled eggs,salami, and sometimes sushi. Meals were buffet. Always eggs for breakfast (over-cooked and rubbery), sausage, ham or bacon, toast, fresh fruit. A different delicious hot soup was served each day at lunch, alongside, pizza or chicken burgers, for example, and vegetables and fresh fruit. Fish or chicken made an appearance at dinner, with potatoes or rice, sautéed local vegetables and a fresh crispy garden salad. Meals were as substantial as one would want them – good ‘plain’ fresh food; not gourmet, nor does it pretend to be. Pitchers of water and lime-water were always available, and could be replenished by going to the communal fridge.

The hyperbaric chamber in Honiara is not consistently manned; the nearest one is in Australia. We were strongly encouraged not to dive deco and to closely follow our dive computers. A prophylactic for malaria is highly recommended for the Solomon Islands.

A tub holding water treated with chemicals was changed daily for rinsing gear. Others, with fresh water, were available for cameras and masks. The crew washed and laid gear out to dry at the end of the trip. I had none of the ‘where’s my stuff’ syndrome I’ve experienced on other vessels – very organized.

The trip ended with the traditional tossing bags of popcorn as were heading back to port to the local kids in their wooden dugout canoes, followed by toasting to a great trip with sparkling wine. Viewing one of the passenger’s professional quality video of the trip was a treat in itself. I’m definitely heading back soon, and for a longer trip next time. [ link]
[ link]
Websites Bilikiki Cruises   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving Sudan, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Philippines, Palau, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Raja Ampat, Turkey, Saba, St. Kitts, BVI, Bonaire, Cayman Brac, Cozumel, Turks and Caicos, Statia, Nevis
Closest Airport Honiara Getting There Fiji airlines from LA through Nadi,Fiji, and onto Honiara, Solomon Islands

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy, cloudy, dry Seas calm, choppy
Water Temp 82-83°F / 28-28°C Wetsuit Thickness 5
Water Visibility 20-125 Ft/ 6-38 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Recommended: follow our computers, return to boat with no deco time. It was optional to dive own dive or go with group. Lots of diving freedom! A board with divers names on movable tags gave a visual as to who was on board or in the water -- divers responsibility.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins 1 or 2 Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 5 stars Tropical Fish 5 stars
Small Critters 4 stars Large Fish 4 stars
Large Pelagics 5 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter N/A Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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