You Can Go Back
These islands have another draw for me. Like larger, better-known Papua New Guinea and Fiji, the Solomons are part of a large subregion known as Melanesia, which lies northeast of Australia. Melanesians are recognized as the most successful farmers in history. Over the course of 30,000 years, they've developed a complex and sustainable system of agriculture. Unlike the Polynesians, however, they aren't known for their maritime prowess-except for the residents of the Swallows.
As I planned my return to the Solomons, I consulted my old but trusted pilot book, which reported, "The inhabitants appear to be bold navigators, sailing their double canoes as far as Tikopia, which lies 190 miles southeastward. They were formerly reputed to be rough, treacherous, and fearless."
Clearly, these were my kind of sailors, and I just had to meet them. But as I watched Diana grow ever more content in her garden, my hopes of ever seeing Temotu Province were ebbing. In 2002, after 20 years afloat, Diana and I had sailed to her native New Zealand for a much-needed break ashore. But after three years, this land life began to smack to me of permanency, and I was ready to move aboard and start exploring once again.
Fortunately Diana's other passion is textile art, especially native weaving. While visiting the Pacific Peoples section of the Auckland Museum, I saw her marveling over a banana-fiber weaving that incorporated an intricate and unique pattern. Flushed with excitement, she turned to me and said, "Take me to the Santa Cruz Islands."
I'll admit that I've finessed that request into a four-year, 13-nation, 20,000-mile tour of the Pacific, but I believe that when opportunity knocks, you should throw the door wide open.
Gateway to the Solomons
For us, sailing first through southern Melanesia created a context within which to approach the Solomon Islands.
In Nouvelle-Calédonie, revenues from vast nickel deposits underpin the native Kanaks' growing autonomy and their resurgence of cultural pride. The people of Vanuatu have little such material wealth, but they have cooperation among their many island tribes, a reputation for lawful and friendly conduct, and a land and location that beckon tourists from Australia and beyond.
Perhaps the demand for biofuels will reinvigorate the collapsed coconut plantations, but until the tourists return, the Solomon Islanders must rely on a waning fishing industry and on destructive nonrenewable logging.
As the rules are written, those who depart Vanuatu are prohibited from making stops in the Santa Cruz Islands prior to check-in at Lata, on the island of Nendo, which is also known as Ndeni, and such visitors incur huge fines if caught. I wanted to stop anyway, but Diana disagreed. She listened to my rant, which began "As a citizen of the world, I should have unimpeded access to-."
Then she said simply, "No."