Bensbach Wildlife Lodge

Please note: Wilderness Lodge will be closing to renovate until Oct 2019!

Situated on a coral lagoon on Gatokae Island at the southeastern tip of the Solomons' Western Province, the wilderness lodge offers unique access to the rich natural and cultural world of Marovo Lagoon.

Catering for a maximum of 12 guests the private Wilderness Lodge has been designed to meld the atmosphere of the Gatokae rainforest, ocean, and neighbouring small village with Western comforts and convenience. Oceanfront bungalows feature traditional sago palm leaf roofs and polished hardwood interiors for the ultimate in cool tropical living.  For the more budget conscious there is The Lodge also.

Oceanfront bungalows
Two private oceanfront bungalows each offer two extremely comfortable queen beds with privacy curtains for two couples and a foldout sofabed for families or a third single guest. Locally handcrafted traditional sago palm leaf roofs and hardwood floors combine with timber and glass louvered walls, sliding glass doors and stunning timber finishings to provide the ultimate in cool tropical living.

Exotic hardwood interiors feature an ensuite vanity and toilet and a kitchenette, while solar arrays power the lighting and any charging of cameras or other devices you just can't live without. Private, outdoor, stonework showers provide an unforgettable way to cool down after long days in the sun, sea and rainforest.

Comfortable timber deck chairs and handmade mayan hammocks enjoy epic ocean views from the wide open beachfront verandah and decking. Simply step off your deck and into the crystal clear lagoon.

The Lodge
The lodge accommodation comprises two sleeping rooms, each with two double beds and single bunk, perfect for scientific and student groups, fishing/spearfishing groups and families.  Rooms open on to main lodge living area with large table and benches, 240V AC power from solar sinewave inverter, and walk-in, walk-out to the lodge jetty and decking.

Enjoy real Melanesian hospitality with your Marovo hosts Waelinah and Vaelathy and unique local experiences and genuine adventure with the Wilderness guides. Our all Solomon Island staff has been trained here in Peava, and years of experience and integration have created a unique example of culturally- and environmentally-sensitive tourism.

Meals feature local organic produce from the village gardens, fresh hand-caught seafood, and traditional and Pacific themes with an accent on health. Satellite telephone on hand should you need to stay in touch. Deepwater jetty provides walk-in boat access, easy swimming and snorkelling access with large, safe swim steps.  All packages include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, that can be served either at the lodge or in the privacy of your bungalow. A selection of beer, wine and soft drinks are also available for purchase

The lodge has prime access to the three wild and uninhabited islands of Bulo, MaleMale, and Kicha, the 2900 foot jungle-clad peak of Mt Mariu, and ancient fortified villages and ceremonial sites. Explore the incredibly diverse marine and terrestrial ecosystems and the fascinating old culture of ritual headhunting which persisted into the twentieth century.

People of all ages, walks of life, levels of fitness, and interests will find a week relaxing and exploring at Wilderness a rich, cleansing, and memorable experience.
 

Solomons Airlines flies Brisbane (BNE) to Honiara (HIR) 5 times per week.
Air Pacific and Air Niugini also provide connections from Nadi, Vila, and Port Moresby.

Domestic transfers:  Wilderness is accessed by boat transfer from Seghe [EGM] Airfield in Marovo Lagoon - transfer is by 23 foot 40HP Yamaha longboat and typically takes approximately 2 hours through the incredible scenery of Marovo Lagoon. Please note transfers are not available Friday & Saturday in respect of village rest day. 

Seghe [EGM] Airfield is serviced by Solomon Airlines weekdays with connections to Brisbane, Nadi, Port Moresby and Vila.  Transfers are also available to connect with Uepi Island Resort, Matikuri and Tetepare Ecolodge.
For scuba divers a special Wilderness-Uepi dive transfer is available which provides a unique daytrip transfer with two dives on the marovo barrier islands and picnic enroute.

Diving

More than 50 dive sites to choose from. Epic pelagic and shark action on the points of our wild offshore islands, and the world's richest fish & coral life on protected reefs. Take a daytrip diving remote reefs with a BBQ lunch on an uninhabited island. Exploration, new finds, and even new species are all part of the Wilderness dive experience.

Developed with 12 years of remote village tourism and research experience, Dive Wilderness brings the amazing marine life and underwater geography of the Western Solomons right to your doorstep. Owned, managed and staffed by people from the adjacent village of Peava, dives are led by SSI-qualified Divemasters & Instructors who have spent their entire lives in these waters.

If you're just getting into diving, or want to share the underwater world with your friends and family, as an SSI-certified Dive Resort we have our Instructor and Assistant Instructors on hand to provide Open Water Diver certification courses, as well as Try Scuba (Resort Course), and for those who've been out of the water for a while, Scuba Skills Update. All Skills Sessions are taught in our protected sand and coral lagoon.

Equipment
Guests intending to scuba dive at Wilderness are encouraged to bring their own dive equipment. For divers without their own gear, or needing some equipment, Wilderness has a range of quality dive equipment for rental including BCDs, regs, dive computers and snorkelling gear.  

Things to note:
• Maximum dive group size of 6 people.
• Dive medivac insurance is mandatory, with DAN cover highly recommended.
• DAN insurance is recommended.
• Standard dive charge is inclusive of tank (85 cu ft aluminium), dive weights, boat charter, skipper, fuel, and fees paid to reef owners.
• Guests moving on to, or coming from Uepi Island Resort have the option of diving the legendary barrier islands of Marovo Lagoon enroute on their transfer.

FREEDIVING:
Experience freediving and spearing as it is meant to be in clear, warm 27.5C to 31C (81F to 88F) year-round oceanic water. No thick wetsuits and heavy weights to slow you down. Absolutely pristine reefs and the greatest marine biodiversity on Earth. On Kicha Island and Bulo Point you can hear the underwater sonic barrage of nearby Kavachi Submarine Volcano erupting and island-building.
Bulo Island, offering 30 to 40 metre (100 to 130 feet) vertical and 100 to 150 metre (330 to 500 feet) horizontal visibility most of the year, the sheltered north coast, and Charapae Point wall dropping vertically from rainforest to 75 metres (250 feet), is a photographer's dream - pack the camera and you'll be amazed at the results.

If you're experienced and comfortable with bottomless water and curious Silky sharks, experience the real 'deep blue' - we have five FADs ranging from 1000 to 2000 metres (3300 to 6600 feet) depth, from 10 to 16 n.m.offshore from the Lodge.

The Lodge offers the ultimate swim-in swim-out, boat-in boat-out access. You have a spectacular coral wall dropping into 200 metres of blue ocean just five minutes swim from the Lodge. Travelling time to Malemale Island is 5 minutes, Bulo Island 12 minutes, and Kicha Island 25 minutes. Wood-fired hot water, flexible meal times, and boats always ready to go ensures you make the most of your holiday.
Two fibreglass longboats with 40HP outboards provide fast, fuel-efficient access to the hundreds of freediving options. A twin sit-on-top kayak makes an excellent freedom vehicle for exploring the reefs and bluewater just off the Lodge, and there's a traditional dugout canoe if you're looking for pure island style.

SPORTFISHING:
Where:
Deep blue ocean water starts just 200 metres from the Lodge, with free-jumping sailfish and marlin a regular sight from the Lodge deck. Three uninhabited offshore islands produce spectacular upwellings with pelagic and bottom ooglies always in attendance.

Two inshore FADs in 450 metres of water lie just 1 n.m from the Lodge, and another seven offshore FADs, and Matikai seamount, within 15 nm. Just to our north are the 700 sq km of unexplored sand and coral flats of Marovo Lagoon, and the epic Gevala River.
 
When:
This is an all year round fishery. Pelagics and GT casting action is generally hottest April through November. Mid-April to mid-June and early-October to late-November are generally the best weather windows (this close to the equator climate is highly variable) within that period for offshore action, and whitewater GT work.

The recent deployment of two inshore FADs in 450 metres of water just off the lodge provides solid bluewater action even when the tradewinds are up. For fly and light spin action the daytime low tides and cooler weather of May through October may present the best opportunities on the endless sand and reef flats of Marovo Lagoon. River spot-tail bass and mangrove jack action is year round. For more information refer to our climate page.

The action:
Your indigenous Marovo skipper Captain John Lave has many years experience trolling these waters for pelagics, is an experienced stand-up angler himself, and brings his traditional Marovo knowledge of fish behaviour to ensure you are where the action is.

Troll for Yellowfin, Skipjack, and Bigeye Tuna, Narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, a range of Trevally (jack) species, 3 Barracuda species, Rainbow Runner, Red Bass, Green Jobfish, sharks, Sailfish, Dogtooth tuna, many Coral Trout (grouper) species, Blue, Black and Striped Marlin and many other species around the islands just offshore.

Hot GT action on oversized poppers and stickbaits at Malemale Island just five minutes from the Lodge - 5X trebles and rings, 80lb or 100lb braid and a big Stella or Saltiga are essential to stop the bigger GTs. Bone-crunching strikes as XL GTs crash lures over metre-deep coral heads.

Troll the seven bluewater FADs, Matikai ocean reef, and Kavachi submarine volcano for Wahoo, Mahimahi, big Yellowfin Tuna, Sailfish and Blue Marlin. The Solomons has the most intact tuna stocks on Earth and gamefish numbers are commensurate with this food supply.

Tease up Sailfish, Wahoo, Mahimahi and tuna for SaltWaterFly action. Hunt Spot-tail Bass, Mangrove Jack and other species on the Gevala River and tributariesbottom fishing for all kinds of reef fish.
Deep drop bait fish for longtail snapper and unique deepwater species. Cast lures for Blue, Papuan, and Bigeye trevally, queenfish, and coral trout. Explore the thousands of acres of sand and coral flats of Marovo Lagoon on fly. And who knows what else is out there!
 
Boats:
6 metre Yamaha longboat reconfigured and repowered for 2011 with 50 EFI Honda four-stroke outboard. Suits 2 people trolling & casting, 4 people social trolling and sightseeing and reaching the offshore FADs and Matikai seamount in good weather.

7 metre Yamaha longboat with 40hp Yamaha outboard. suits 3 people trolling & casting, 4 people social trolling and sightseeingand reaching the offshore FADs and Matikai seamount in good weather.
 
Gear:
Tackle:  The Lodge has two 2005 model Tiagra 50W standup outfits, with Black Magic and Braid heavy tackle standup harnesses for bluewater work, and two Penn 50lb trolling bottom fishing outfits, some Halco Laser Pros and skirted pushers, and handlines.  We recommend that you bring a quality saltwater casting or fly outfit, and a quality lighter trolling outfit. Lighter trolling outfits provide plenty of fun but be prepared to lose fish to sharks and be spooled by tuna - 50lb standup gear is the ticket if you want to target big fish in this ultra-deep bluewater environment.

There are a range of options for fly and light spinning. The new breed of bluewater spinning reels such as the largest (slower retrieve ratio) models in the Shimano Stella and Daiwa Saltiga Expedtition make exceptionally versatile outfits out here. Paired with a shorter heavy jig-type graphite rod and spooled with 80lb or 120lb braid, they can be used for everything from pitching baits to teased and tailiing billfish, throwing poppers and stickbaits for XL GTs and feeding XL yellowfin, jigging the seamounts for dogtooth tuna and deepwater ooglies, bottom fishing, and even trolling.  Bring a spare roll of braid, be prepared to crank the drag up until it hurts, and be prepared for some very satisfying hand-to-hand combat.
 
Other info:
There is no ciguatera poisoning here, and with the Lodge situated next to a subsistence-living Melanesian village whose sole protein source is fish, sportfishermen (and women!) are welcome and surplus fish are eagerly shared amongst the village.

With the village Sabbath observance from sundown Friday (approx 6:00PM) to sundown Saturday (approx 6:30PM) all boating, fishing, spearing, kayak and canoe use, and work in the village stops, and the Lodge does not provide boat trips or transfers. Guests are welcome to snorkel and freedive around the lodge area, swim, and there's a range of walks and hikes through the gardens and rainforest and along the coast.

SPEARFISHING & BLUEWATER HUNTING:
It's all about warm blue ocean and endless marine life!

Where:
We have clear blue ocean and 100 metre coral dropoffs just 5 minutes swim from the Lodge. The Lodge is the perfect swim-in, swim-out, boat-in, boat-out base for spearing!  Plus, three wild uninhabited islands with precipitous dropoffs, loads of pelagics and reef fish, and world-class coral are just 5 to 20 minutes offshore in our longboats.

There are two FADs in 450 metre depth just off the lodge, and another 5 at depths of 1000 to 2000 meters within 12 nm from the lodge and at Matikai seamount.

Water, the hot and cold of it:
We're just 8 degrees south of the equator, so the sun here is powerful all year round, even on cloudy days. Covering up in the water helps to avoid sunburn and avoid coral scrapes too.  On sunny days in October through May, water temps are 29-31C. 

There's a wood-fired hot shower at the Lodge and at each of the bungalows to get warm between dives if needed. Minimal rubber is the best to enjoy the clear warm blue ocean here and boosts your diving capabilities too.
 
Species:
Dogtooth Tuna, Wahoo, Spanish mackerel, yellowfin tuna, skipjack, sailfish, rainbow runner, milkfish, barracuda, GT's, various species of trevally and a host of other pelagics are year-round residents. We also encounter blue marlin on most trips to the FADs.  There is an endless array of reef species, refer to marine species list for the full rundown.

Other info:
There is no ciguatera poisoning here.  The Lodge is situated next to a subsistence-living Melanesian village whose sole protein source is fish. Spearfishermen (and women!) are welcome and surplus fish are eagerly shared amongst the village. There are a few local artisinal spearfishermen, who spear to feed their extended families and whose skills, traditional fish knowledge, and handmade gear are a real eye-opener to dive with.

The Sabbath is observed in the village from sundown Friday (approx 6:00PM) to sundown Saturday (approx 6:30PM). This means all boating, fishing, spearing, kayak and canoe use, and work in the village stops. The Lodge does not provide boat trips or transfers on the Sabbath. However, guests are welcome to swim, snorkel and freedive around the lodge area, and there's a range of walks and hikes to do, through the gardens, rainforest and along the coast.

Boats:
Our boats currently available for charter are:
• 6 metre Yamaha longboat reconfigured & repowered for 2011 with 50 EFI Honda outboard. Suits up to 4 people spearfishing & bluewater hunting.
• 7 metre Yamaha longboat with 40hp Yamaha outboard. suits up to 6 people spearfishing & bluewater hunting.

When:
In the cooler months of April through November, pelagics are generally shallower in the water column. Mid-April through mid-June, and early-October through late-November are generally the best weather windows within that period, though this close to the equator climate is highly variable.  The recent deployment of two inshore FADs in 450 metres of water just off the lodge, provides solid bluewater action even when the tradewinds are up. Reef species and photography, are great all year round.

WALKING & HIKING:
From half hour walks along marked trails winding through lush rainforest and coral beaches to multi day guided hikes around jungle clad volcanic peaks, we can help you explore the real Melanesia and some of nature's richest ecosystems. A day spent walking Gatokae with a dip in a cool mountain stream along the way, followed by a snorkel on a spectacular coral wall - you'll really feel alive.

A typical days' walking takes you through many different types of rainforest, ancient ngali nut and sago palm groves, along cliffs with views over the reef and ocean, visiting skull shrines, ancient ceremonial and village sites, mountain streams and waterfalls. The terrain varies from the level raised coral terraces that rise to approx 300 feet to the steep hillsides of the volcanic peaks, cut by precipitous river valleys.

There are a host of day walks covering all sorts of environments and habitats - our guides can advise the best options subject to fitness, weather and photography considerations. Many of the local footpaths wind alternately through rainforest, coconut groves, pandanus forests and along the rugged raised coral coastline. Options of camping deep in the rainforest or villgestay at remote Weather Coast villages.
Listed below are some of our longer organised hikes. If there is a specific place or habitat you wish to visit we can get you there.

Kavolavata River Valley
Untouched tropical rainforest in a remote river valley in the interior of Gatokae Island. Approx 3 hours mostly level walking each way, some muddy, slippery sections, moderate level of fitness required. Option of camping overnight next to the pristine jungle river. Wild, remote, and utterly peaceful -a very beautiful place. As a day trip it can be done in the morning with an early start and late lunch back at Wilderness, or alternately in the afternoon leaving Wilderness after an early lunch and returning just before dark (recommended), or as a full day trip with picnic lunch and plenty of time to explore.

Mt Mariu
The 2900 foot peak of Gatokae Island.
Mariu is typically a 2 1/2 day / 2 night trek, departing Wilderness after lunch and spending approx 3 hours walking through the subsistence gardens and lowland rainforest, the first night being spent camped in the pristine Kavolavata River Valley (described above) by the river. A morning start on the 2400 foot ascent, lunch on the ridge with spectacular views across Marovo Lagoon, and summiting late afternoon to enjoy the sunset over the Mt Vangunu caldera.

The mossy montane or 'cloud' forest occurs at much lower altitude (thanks to eminent Solomon Island botanist Myknee Sirikolo for pointing this out) than normal at this latitude due to the oceanic aspect of the peak and the clouds scudding in off the warm Pacific Ocean.
Spectacular views across Marovo Lagoon and the myriad islands during the ascent and across Peava and Borokua as the summit nears. Hike time from the River valley campsite is typically 8 hours, allowing for time to enjoy the sunset on the summit.

This a long strenuous hike that involves frequent scrambling through cloud forest over the last few hours. A good to high level of fitness is required. Expect very warm and humid conditions through the gardens and lowland rainforest on the first afternoon with slippery sections, and the morning of the second day. As altitude is gained during the second day the air becomes progressively cooler and drier, conditions on the summit very between hot (circa 25C) and dry when clear and sunny to cool (circa 16C) and very damp when clouds move in. Night on the summit is very cool, hence the need for warm clothing, temperature can drop to 10C during windy, rainy weather.

Due to the proximity of the ocean and the high peak, the summit is often cloaked in cloud. Mornings and evenings are typically clearest, and seasonal prevailing weather plays an important role. For this reason the mid-June through mid-October southeast tradewind season (refer to 'climate' page for full description) is avoided unless you specifically want to experience the full, dripping wet, cold, oceanic cloud forest experience!

Biche Village Walk and Tour / Villagestay
Approx 3 hours walk each way, through the subsistence gardens then down around spectacular Maggotu Lagoon and white sand swimming beach, following the coast around to Kele River and swimming hole with the wild surf of the boulder beach - several skull shrines and kastom sites along the way - then on along the rugged coastline to Biche Village. An excellent two hour tour organised by the village showing the headhunting sites, skull shrines, waterfalls, tame eels, and epic oral history of Biche Village. Options include the 5 hour roundtrip hike to headhunting fortress ruins of Mategele, 2000 feet above Biche, and also overnighting villagestay in Biche. Return can be by boat (in fine weather) or return walk. Half-day tour of Biche by longboat available in most weather - refer to tours page for more info. The Biche walk is mostly level with brief climbs/descents each side of the peninsula that are slippery after rain, and passes through an enormous variey of habitats and scenery.

Gatokae Weather Coast Trek
Epic 3 day, 2 night hike around the entire Gatokae Weather Coast. Each day a guide from the respective area will show you the remote, rugged beauty and headhunting history of this never-visited coastline. First day follows the route outlined in the above Biche Walk, staying overnight villagestay in a traditional leaf house with village people looking after you. The second day walking follows the coastline with the rainforest clad 2900 foot mountains plunging down to jagged coral and surf, through the tiny settlements of Vao and Moe, stops along the way to look at waterfalls and kastom sites and many kastom stories - the oral history of the Gatokae people, staying overnight villagestay with the people of Beu Village and their ancestral sites. Day three walk leaves Beu, following the coast through Sangiona and natural and cultural sites to Penjuku Village where our boat picks you up for the trip back to Wilderness. In addition to the known scenery and culture of the coastline, the mountain valleys along this coast are unexplored, and rumours of secret jungle pools and headhunting fortress ruins abound. From Biche onwards you have front row seats should Kavachi Submarine Volcano be erupting, and its night time lava fireworks.

BIRDING:
The Solomon Islands hosts one of the highest rates of avian endemism on Earth, with individual species and races unique to individual small islands. At Wilderness you have rainforest, coastal and oceanic habitats overlapping, providing a vast array of species in a very concentrated area. Every inch of land is covered with forest.

From walking the adjoining lowland rainforests and coastal zones to following tuna schools just offshore from the Lodge, from walking the untouched Kavolavata River Valley to hiking the cloud forests of Mt Mariu, from visiting the seabird roosting sites on Malemale and Bulo Islands to boating up the mangrove and rainforest reaches of the Varea and Kumabusi Rivers, from early morning and evening stakeouts of the subsistence gardens to visiting the Karubelama Islands where thousands of frigate birds roost every night - there are so many birdwatching options at Wilderness, many within walking distance, and dozens of species visible from the Lodge.

Wilderness has had very few (two at the time of writing) bird enthusiasts visit to date, and our local guides are still learning the English names of our birds. Our guides do, however, possess excellent bushcraft skills, and are very enthusiastic, and we already have several prime birdwatching spots. They can take you as far and as long as you want to go, and we have a number of foot trails leading through all of the many different habitats on Gatokae, and where you can't reach by foot, they can take you by boat in most any weather.
 

 

Island Snorkelling Trip
Snorkel the world's best reefs with unrivalled coral and fish diversity in incredibly clear water, plus sightseeing and photography around our three wild, uninhabited offshore islands with local guide. Dolphin pods and tuna schools with frigate birds often encountered on the 15 minute trip across.
Priced per person for 2 hours snorkelling, max 6 adults, 4 in rough weather. Please note this price does not cover fishing trips - expert guided fishing available with or without tackle included, refer to the website for details.

Biche Village Cultural & Photographic Trip
Remote, inaccessible Biche Village, situated on the rugged south coast of Gatokae, is the most culturally intact village in Marovo, with many tambu sites from the headhunting culture which persisted into the 20th century and stunning scenery which very few people see. The community provides an excellent guided tour of the sites and surrounds, including skull shrines, waterfalls, sacrificial altars, birthing cave, the famous tame eels, and custom stories.

We encourage all our guests to experience this unique and stunning place and people. Tour price includes fees paid to the Biche community and village guide.

Duration:  approx 2 ½ hours at Biche, boat transfer approx 25 minutes each way (an excellent sightseeing trip in itself). A full-morning, or full-afternoon trip. 

Availability:  Year round except for rough weather (particularly the mid-June through mid-October tradewind season) when Biche is only accessible by a spectacular 4 to 5 hour roundtrip walk. In fine weather access is by longboat from the lodge.

Local lunch at Biche, hikes to Mt Matengele fortress site (2 hours steep but clear walk) with fantastic views from 1900 feet, and other historical village and tambu sites can be organized. If you wish to make a day of it, traditional lunch at Biche can be organized at a small cost. Overnight villagestay also available.

Kavachi Submarine Volcano
The world's only accessible submarine volcano is located 20 nautical miles seawards from the Lodge in a west-south-west direction. Kavachi Volcano often produces spectacular eruptions, and every few years an island event with lava lake that lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Its summit varies from 40 metres underwater to 30 metres above sea level and can change tens of metres in a few days.
During non-eruptive periods there is typically a large plume of sulfur, mud and dissolved gases emitted from the vent. Adrenaline-charged snorkeling a safe distance from the vent with huge schools of pelagic fish, lots of sharks and extremely loud underwater sonic explosions and strange sounds, usually present regardless of eruptive status. Exceptional sportfishing around the vent with state-of-the-art tackle included in cost of trip. Close proximity to the volcano in a boat during eruptions is an absolutely unique and unforgettable experience.

Duration: 5 1/2 hours. Extensions, subject to weather conditions, additional fee required. Travel time typically 90 minutes each way, longer in rougher weather.

Availability & conditions: Trips to Kavachi Volcano are subject to weather and sea conditions, which are not always apparent from the extremely protected aspect of Peava Lagoon, particularly during the northwest monsoon season. The tradewind mid-June through mid-October tradewind season is usually too rough for access. Decisions on whether to go or not to go, and whether to turn back at any point are the Captain's and are taken in view of prevailing conditions and latest satellite weather data and marine forecast. Eruptive activity is entirely unpredictable and there is no guarantee clients will witness the volcano in an eruptive state. Experience to date indicates that eruptive activity of some type can be expected on at least 50% of visits. The decision on whether to snorkel the volcano remains the Captain's. Kavachi Volcano lies 20 nautical miles west-south-west from the Lodge in the open ocean and conditions can be rough - you will get wet, and the sun is strong. Ensure you are well prepared. There are no nearby islands to stop at in case of seasickness.

Maximum of 4 passengers per boat due to boat size and safety equipment. Please note this trip can be prebooked but not prepaid due to being entirely weather-dependent.
 

Kavolavata Cultural and Art Demonstration
Take a walk just 25 minutes along the coast from the lodge and you will find Kavolavata Village. Organised and run by Kavolavata locals, Apongo Steven and Vince Sesala this tour takes in the cultural aspects of Kavolavata Village life, as well as the surrounding forest.  Master carver Apongo demonstrates the many stages in working the famous Marovo woodcarvings, dugout canoe making, and other traditional crafts. Vince demonstrates the centuries-old stone bowl (mortar) carving tradition of his home village Biche, and the primitive kibo stone figurines, worked laboriously from basalt with primitive hand tools, and other Biche crafts. Apongo's wife Piliani shows how everyday household needs are made from forest materials, including pandanus basket and coconut frond hat weaving, fragrant ylang ylang coconut oil making, banyan bark clothing, and, in season August to December, that mainstay of Marovo life, ngali nut cooking.

Duration: Approx 3 hours, may vary according to village work commitments and seasonality of some crafts. Easy 25 minute walk each way from the Lodge. Boat transfer available if required.

Availability: Subject to Apongo and Vince's movements, not always available but can be prebooked a minimum of one day in advance.

Varea and Kumabusi Rivers Tour
The Varea River runs several kilometres from the ridges of Mt Mariu, Gatokae Island's 2900 foot peak, down through lowland and coastal forest to where it enters Marovo Lagoon near Sekisau on the Gatokae's north coast. Varea is a beautiful narrow jungle-crowded river navigable for two kilometres in the longboat, which also serves as a road for the people of Sobiro Village and neighboring communities, with dugout paddle canoes a common sight plying the lower reaches as well as the occasional motorised canoe dugout or fibreglass canoe.

The lower reaches of the Varea are thick mangrove country which hosts rich marine life and a resident population of saltwater crocodiles. Further up the mangroves are replaced by abundant nipa palms (the traditional walling material used on the Lodge) and further up sago palm and lowland forest. The upper navigable reaches are intespersed with small subsistence gardens taking advantage of the mixed alluvial and humus soil, and this mix of habitats makes for a unique array of birdlife, much of which can be viewed from the cool and comfort of the longboat, Your skipper can raise the engine and traverse the upper reaches with a silent paddle which enriches the river experience. A kilometre upstream from Sobiro village is Jojoloro pool, also home to large saltwater crocodiles, with a boat landing and crystal clear shallow rapids ideal for cooling off nearby, also an excellent spot for spotting a range of insectivorous and forest birds.

The Kumabusi River is quite different to the Varea, with no mangrove lower reaches, and different forest and birdlife. Also lovely rapids at the top to rinse off in.

Availability: Best done early or late in the, leaving either at 7:00AM and returning to Wilderness for lunch, or departing after lunch and returning to Wilderness for dinner at 7:30PM. Travel time from Wilderness to rivermouth is approx 40 minutes . Dry weather much more comfortable, but wet weather the jungle really comes into it's own.

Bookings: One day in advance essential.

Extensions: Picnic lunch at tiny Pagupagu sand cay just offshore in Marovo Lagoon also available.

Varea River Crocodile Tour (night-time)
Refer to 'Varea and Kumabusi Rivers Tour' description above.After an early dinner the longboat departs Wilderness at 7:30pm, calling into IriIri (the boat landing used for Gatokae Airfield) to pick up river guide Gary Kituru (Gary is also our mud crab supplier, braving the crocs to catch the tasty crustaceans by hand).

From IriIri the boat runs northwest through Bili Passage, entering Marvovo Lagoon at Tibarene Bay, then heading back south through the Lagoon to the mouth of the Varea River on the north coast of Gatokae, travel time from Wilderness approx 40 minutes. Gary then guides the boat to the favoured haunts of the saltwater crocodiles that call the Varea River home, using spotlight to locate and get close to the reptiles. Gary has paddled, fished, and happily shared the Varea with the saltwater crocs for some 40 years. Boat arrives back at Wilderness approx 11:00pm.

Availability: This trip needs to be planned to coincide with a darker moon phase/time and dry weather.

Bookings: One day in advance essential.

Island Coconut Crabbing
Malemale or Kicha Island offshore from the Lodge. Your guides prepare the coconut baits in the late afternoon, then return after dark to look for the coconut crabs attracted to the baits.

Please note this is a highly endangered species that is in enormous demand in Asian markets and accordingly we don't serve coconut crab at the Lodge - there are plenty of kakarita [mangrove or mud crabs], chehana [coral crayfish], and chehana pepete [slipper lobsters] to enjoy! Binahere [Cuscus - a Melanesian possum], including rare all-white specimens, are frequently seen along with a host of other nocturnal sights and sounds.

Duration: Typically departing the Lodge around 7:30pm after early dinner and returning approx 9:30pm.

Special: