The "Nusu Nusu" traditional canoe prow, ever-watchful for enemies (local modern miniature carving)

The Solomon Islands - A Visual Geography

from West to East Images taken by

Brian Taylor

The Solomon Islands, apart from a few tourist areas, remain well off the track of the more usual world traveller and so these images are presented here as a fond personal memoir and to bring the very beautiful islands into view. The collection was taken while I was Government Entomologist with the national Malaria Eradication Programme from October 1969 to July 1973, and are assembled the in a roughly west to east order. Most of the geographical summaries are taken from my own writings, notably the Review of the Mosquito Fauna of the Solomon Islands. The various maps are derived from a number of sources - most of the line maps are those I used for the mosquito papers see this link, and the others I have prepared by extracting from and adding to the Directorate of Overseas Surveys maps of 1969. None should be taken as providing definitive information on modern boundaries.

Some of the earlier photographs have suffered from being taken with unstable film. I have tried to restore something of the colour and to clean up other defects. Although not 100% successful, I have used the photos as they make the record much more complete, please accept them as they are.

The various images of carvings and ornaments are from among our personal collection of modern artefacts.

Title: The Warrior's Challenge
Royal Visit, 1971

Title: The Solomon Islands

Title: The Solomon Islands - outline map

Title: The Eastern Outer Islands

Key to maps
Location of photos from on-board ship

Location of aerial photos

Location of photos from on land

General Geography

(compiled by me in 1975)

The Solomon Islands comprise a scattered archipelago of mountainous islands of continental character formed by tectonic folding, and with numerous extinct and dormant volcanic cones and low-lying coral atolls. The major islands form a double chain stretching southeasterly for 850 km from the Shortland Islands to Ulawa and Santa Ana, lying between 5°S to 11°55'S and 155°30'E to 162°55'E. The major islands are, to the north, Choiseul, Santa Isabel and Malaita and, to the south, New Georgia, Guadalcanal and San Cristobal. Numerous smaller islands and groups of islands are interspersed in the double chain while to the north and east lie the coral atolls of Ontong Java and Sikaiana, and to the south lie the raised coral islands of Rennell and Bellona. The isolated Eastern Outer Islands are described separately below.

The major islands are characterized by precipitous, thickly forested, mountain ranges intersected by deep narrow valleys. The coasts are frequently surrounded by extensive coral reefs and lagoons and there arc widespread mangrove swamps in many areas. Guadalcanal is unique in having a large expanse of flat grassy plain on the north-central side of the island.

The climate is equatorial but is modified by the surrounding ocean. The annual mean temperature is around 27°C at Honiara, the capital on Guadalcanal, and at Kira Kira, on San Cristobal, the temperatures between 1965 and 1970 ranged between an average maximum of 29.6°C and an average minimum of 22.2°C. The annual rainfall for the Solomon Islands as a whole averages 3000 to 3600 mm. However the outer coasts of the island chain are considerably wetter than the inner coasts. This is well illustrated by data from Malaita where the average annual rainfall recorded at stations on the west (inner) coast is 3182 mm at Auki (based on figures for 1926-50 and 1954-64), 3608 mm at Dala (1962-65 and 1968-69), 3571 mm at Malu'u (1962-65) and 3335 mm at Hauhui (1963 and 1967-69), but on the east (outer) coast the averages are 4838 mm at Nafinua (1961-65) and 4835 mm at Kwai (1962-66 and 1969). In some areas the annual rainfall can be as much as 7600 mm. In recent years cyclones have apparently become more frequent and these can bring enormous downpours: in April 1970 at Auki, where the average April rainfall is 274 mm, the month's rainfall totalled 917 mm of which 386 mm fell in one day. There are rarely long periods without rain and this, in combination with the relatively high temperature and humidity, gives conditions which are usually very favorable for the development and longevity of mosquitoes. Consequently, the mosquito-borne diseases malaria and filariasis are extremely prevalent.

The total population of the Solomons in February 1970 was over 139,500 with an overall density of 5.8 persons per km², varying on the large islands from 11.8 per km² on Malaita to 2.16 per km² on Santa Isabel. The overall population growth between February 1970 and July 1973 was estimated as being over 11%. With the exception of the inland populations on Guadalcanal, Malaita and, to a lesser extent, San Cristobal, and a few inland villages on Choiseul and Santa Isabel, the people all live in close proximity to the sea on the typically narrow coastal strips of flat land or on lagoon islands.

Honiara is the only large town with over 17,000 inhabitants, although there are small townships at Auki, the Malaita District headquarters, Gizo, the Western District headquarters, and Yandina, Russell Islands. Ports of entry for overseas shipping are Honiara, Gizo, Yandina and Ringgi Cove, Kolombangara. International airports are at Henderson Field, near Honiara, and at Munda, New Georgia.

The majority of the people are engaged in subsistence farming and fishing. Their only important cash crop is the coconut palm. Copra, the dried flesh of the coconut fruit, is one of the main exports and large commercial plantations are found on northern Guadalcanal, tlie Russell Islands and elsewhere. Other agricultural projects on a commercial scale are rice, oil palm and cattle production, all on northern Guadalcanal, although there are considerable numbers of cattle in the Russell Islands, where they are used to keep the undergrowth short in the coconut plantations. Timber is a major export with large forestry operations on Kolombangara at Ringgi Cove, on New Georgia at Viru Harbour and on Santa Isabel at Allardyce Harbour, although the last was severely disrupted by a cyclone in 1972. Fishing on a commercial scale based at Tulagi was started in the early 1970's. Potential mining operations for bauxite, on Rennell and Waghena, and for nickel ore, on San Jorge, are still being evaluated.

Eastern Outer Islands

The islands of the Santa Cruz Group are perhaps the most isolated and least visited in the Southwest Pacific. Politically and administratively known as the Eastern Outer Islands, the islands lie at the extreme eastern end of the 1600 km long Solomon Archipelago. The islands, which have a total land surface of only 836 km², are scattered over a wide area of the Coral Sea (9°30' to 12°30'S and 165°30' to 170°30'E). The nearest lands are to the south, the Torres Group of islands at the northern tip of the New Hebrides, over 150 km away; 400 km to the west is San Cristobal in the main Solomons. However, the Santa Cruz group is separated from the main Solomons by the Torres trench, over 6000 m deep. Apart from the isolated islands of Tikopia, Anuta and Fataka, the group lies on the same submarine ridge as Vanuatu (New Hebrides).

Their climate has the seasonal characteristics typical of tropical islands lying in the zones of the tradewinds. Rainfall can be considerable, particularly when mountains are present as on Vanikoro. The population is approximately 9000 (1970 Census) with a predominance of Melanesians on the larger islands and Polynesians on the others. The average density is 10.8 persons per km² with variations from 1.1 on Vanikoro to 201 on Tikopia. Though recent evidence suggests that the movements of populations in the subarea have been quite extensive in the remote past, Tikopia and Anuta have remained relatively isolated, whereas cultural and commercial interchanges seem to have been continuous and active between the Santa Cruz Group, the Reef Islands and the Duff Islands.

Northern outliers

Ndai - A small, 6 km long, isolated island, north of Malaita at 7°55'S and 160°E, with a single village of about 80 people (in 1970).

Ontong Java - The second largest coral atoll in the Pacific, 75 km long and up to 25 km wide, lying between 5°-5°32'S and 159°15'-159°40'E, at the northern limits of the Solomons. In 1970 the about 900 Polynesian inhabitants lived on two of the small islands (Pelau and Liuaniua, combined land area 7.8 km²).

Sikaiana - An isolated coral atoll, lying about 8°27'S and 162°50'E. with a maximum width of 20 km. The about 200 (in 1970) Polynesian inhabitants lived on Sikaiana (Taini) Island with an area of 2.6 km². A man from Sikaiana is in one of my photographs taken in the Reef Islands.

Ulawa - A relatively small narrow island, lying about 9°45'S and 161°55'E, some 20 km long and up to 5 km wide. In 1970 the about 1500 inhabitants lived in coastal villages. I visited there briefly but took no photographs.

Current situation - In 1970 the total population of the islands was around 186,000, now it is in excess of 430,000. The single large town and capital, Honiara, then with around 17,000 inhabitants, now is home to over 40,000 people. Most of these are from outside of Guadalcanal, which has led to increasing unrest, coupled with the large numbers of non-Guadalcanalese working for the major agricultural enterprises of the oil palm and rice enterprises, and latterly, the Gold Ridge Mine.

2. Choiseul 3. Shortlands Group 4. New Georgia Group 5. Central Solomons
6. Savo & Guadalcanal 7. Honiara 8. Florida Group 9. Rennell & Bellona
10. Malaita 11. San Cristobal (Makira) 12. End - Eastern Outer Islands

©2000 - Brian Taylor CBiol FIBiol FRES
11, Grazingfield, Wilford, Nottingham, NG11 7FN, U.K.
Visiting Academic in the Department of Life Science, University of Nottingham
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