Out of the misty haze, Bunikalo Port was a sight for weary eyes. We were looking forward to three nights in a soft bed at Driftwood Eco Lodge, a definite upgrade from the 3-metre wooden bench we’d been sharing during our 30-hour boatride from Honiara.
Driftwood is located on Nggatokae Island on the eastern side of Marovo Lagoon. One of the lads from Driftwood met us at the wharf and loaded us up on his 15hp boat, a 20-minute ride that usually takes 10 minutes when their usual 60hp boat is in service.
From the jetty, we couldn’t see the lodge. You’d need laser eyes that can see through trees because Driftwood is actually a 5-10 minute walk from the water through the bush. So for anyone thinking you’d be lounging in a bungalow where you could feed the dolphins from, Driftwood is actually a bush lodge.
As a bit of history, it was built by an Australian dude and some locals using mostly fallen trees, “driftwood ”. At the entrance of the lodge, there is even a set of whale rib “driftbones” from a carcass that washed up on shore a few years ago. Inside, the lodge is woody, open, airy, and a bit fancy pants.
Said Australian guy was taking a rare holiday, but the local staff took good care of us while Bossman was out of town. We must have had that desperate look about us when we got to the door because the second-in-command, Stuey, immediately put the French press on. That’s right, pipin hot, real coffee!!! And once we’d coffeed up, out came the fish and chips complete with homemade mayo. Whaaaaa? Homemade mayo in the middle of the Sols bush?! Better believe it.
We quickly learnt that food at Driftwood wasn’t a one-hit wonder. The food is excellent. The cooks at Driftwood combine Solomon Island ingredients with a few tricks learnt from a yacht chef. Highlights included breakfast pancakes with fresh fruit and grated coconut, fish currypuffs for lunch, plantain chips, and fresh fruit juices, dinners of fried “chickenfish”, handmade flatbreads, papaya salad, pumpkin curry. Fish is usually on the menu and because all of the guys are free divers and spearfishers, they make sure the freezer is always stocked with fish. If you thought Honiara was the mecca for gourmet cuisine, well, Marovo Lagoon is a strong contender.
After we ate, we checked out the list of activities written down on a blackboard – a nice touch. Usually, activities are a bit of a mystery when you stay at a lodge in the Solomon Islands and it was quite novel not having to ask (Does everyone know you can see Manta Rays at Maravagi?). Some of the things we could do included making coconut milk, weaving baskets, seeing a woodcarving and crafts show, woodcarving lessons lo Marovo style, fishing, freediving, and snorkelling.
Despite the miserable weather, we were keen to get into the water. Driftwood isn’t set up for diving but we were happy to snorkel and learn a few freediving tricks from the boys. Because look at that water. Look at it!
There is lots to see in the lagoon but sometimes it was a bit of a toss-up as to what was more interesting: the underwater life or watching Stuey and Kili dive 50 metres for up to two minutes on one breath. After some advice from Stuey, Nid got it to just under a minute and down to about nine metres. Still a bit more practise needed.
We have, however, nailed the part of putting on our snorkelling gear and if you have no idea how to put on your snorkel and fins, Nid provides an excellent guide in the below video specifically catered to nephews of the 1 and 2 age bracket.
One of the best sites we went to were the “swim through” rock formations that lead from the ocean into the bush. A maze of cracks in the rocks where we had to hold our breath for some parts. Absolutely stunning even when the weather is a bit crap. When the suns out, the rays cut through the cracks like high windows in a cathedral.
When we weren’t snorkelling it was because it was pissing down with rain. So much rain that the water tanks burst and the ferry was delayed by another week. We stayed inside playing board games, reading, eating, digesting, and carving. Our friend was carving an octopus under the tutelage of master carver and neighbour, Gura. Every few hours there’d be newly carved suckers to marvel at. When the rain stopped for long enough, we’d make the 10-minute trek up to the top of the hill to get a bar of reception and update our Instagram feed. Sometimes we napped. Sometimes we’d gamble the weather and go for a snorkel or walk along the beach. Then a cup of tea. Kili showed us the fish he speared and we took pictures for the gram. At night we’d fall asleep listening to the rain pattering on the tin roof, then later jerk awake on windier nights when the tita nuts fell onto the tin roof, “Is it raining coconuts?!”. This is how it went for a few days. Come New Year’s Eve, we were all in bed by 10 pm spent after all the action.
One evening, Stuey and Gura storied about the canoe suspended from the ceiling in the lounge. It was an old vessel that Stuey’s father had used to carve out a collection of kastom stories on the sides. Interesting and gory stories of stealing children, rolling heads and lovers turning into snakes.
One interesting tidbit was finally learning what a Nguzunguzu was.
The nguzunguzu is characteristic for its elongated chin and long nose. It is often installed onto the prow of canoes. In the waters of Western Province, evil sea spirits attack those that dare cross their waters. However, these evil spirits can only attack on the sneak when nobody is looking at it. As defence, the men (women don’t carve) of Western Province started carving nguzunguzu with unblinking eyes and putting these figures at the front of their waka. These nguzunguzu trick the spirits into thinking someone is keeping an eye on them and ensure safe passage for travellers.
Although the nguzunguzu originated in Western Province, it has become a national symbol of Solomon Islands that can be seen on the back of their $2 coins. You can often see nguzunguzu figures at the market and in paintings
One other thing we learnt about nguzunguzu were its word origins. The word nguzunguzu comes from Roviana, the language that is spoken in Munda and the areas around Roviana Lagoon. But in the Marovo language, it is called something else: Toto Isu. This literally translates to “Dick Nose”.
“You know… ‘Dick’” Stuey said pointing at his waggling index finger while looking at the Nid. “Because nose is long. Like dick.”
As a souvenir of our trip to Marovo, we commissioned Gura, to carve us a chopping board/cheese board. While Solomon Islanders are excellent, world-class carvers, they don’t do chopping boards unless you take the time to explain what and why the hell you’re putting cheese on it.
“A carving, for cheese?” Gura shrugged, “Ok, mi duim (but I think you’re weird)”
Thanks for the great times Driftwood. And the mayo recipe.
Every time we get the cheese board out, we’ll remember fondly those days of snorkelling and dick noses.
Contact Driftwood here. If you’re a vollie, it’s worth mentioning.
To get there, either defy every instinct you have and take the 8-30 hour ferry from Honiara to Bunikalo wharf and get the lads at Driftwood to pick you up from Bunikalo wharf (20 minutes). Or, take a plane from Honiara to Seghe airport and get the lads at Driftwood to pick you up from there (2 hours). The two choices aren’t great, but it’s definitely worth it when you finally get to Driftwood.