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About 6 miles east of Gizo in the western Province of the Solomon Islands, Kolombangara is an extinct volcano which spectacularly dominates the landscape for miles around. Usually capped in cloud, the conical shaped island has a multitude of small harbours at its perimeter, many of which are home to crocodiles. Venture outside the bay to the open ocean, and it is the ever present sharks which keep the heart racing, ably assisted by the sometimes disconcerting walls and bedazzling fish life, sea fans, sponges and caverns. We have dived just a few spots around Kolombangara, but each tries to out-do the other. If we had to settle on a favourite though, Marusu /Iriri would be it. Anchor Drumbeat in the most secure haven, with picanninis jumping of the jetty, and out of overhanging trees, men and women commuting from one side to the other to tend gardens, take produce to market or go to church in dugout canoes, then a 300m dinghy ride to the entrance, line up the mast of a long forgotten yacht with a massive tree on the ridge, and drop the folding anchor onto the bommie 8m below. The surf crashes onto the shallow reef just 20m away, but rarely is this site troubled by the south easterly trades as it is on the protected side. Drop over the side of the inflatable, check the anchor is secure and down, down down you go, remembering the golden rule of diving – do the deep stuff first, and here can be as deep as you like, maybe deeper! On one of my first dives here, I found that my dive computer had heart failure at 52m…oops, but I can still see the dingy at the surface!! The sea life swarms, with species I am not familiar with, and being a Great Barrier Reef diver most of my life, the walls and overhangs are covered in the most amazing sponges and critters I have never encountered. Bring a good torch peoples!! After 15 minutes at depth, it is reluctantly time to start meandering back up the face, finishing with 10 or 15 minutes in the brightly lit shallows, host to pristine corals and their companion fish life.

Vanga on the western extremity is also a favourite, same deal, sheltered bay with amazing drop offs just outside the entrance. The bay is home to a Catholic Vocational School and what appears to be a cluster of resort style bungalows. Reihite is barely a bay, the anchor dropped precariously in 30m of water on the side of a silty bank sloping away from the shore, exposed to anything with north in it. We go ashore and the local kids take us up the river to where they hand feed freshwater eels, lots of eels, slimy inquisitive eels. We trudge back to the shore laden with huge sweet pomelo, and a couple of papaya……awesome! There is a massive bommie at the point where we anchor the dingy in safety, nervously checking the weather before heading down under for an hour or so. The time passes quickly enough, but on approaching the surface, the sight of rapidly oscillating wavelets has me thankful we don’t have to do a decompression stop today. A northerly has come up, swinging Drumbeat too close to the shoreline for comfort. Time to head off.

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