"My Journey to Vella Lavella" Vella Lavella Island by minstrel74

Vella Lavella Island Travel Guide: 5 reviews and 11 photos

The seeds for this particular visit were planted many years ago when, as a child, I watched innumerable National Geographic television specials featuring faraway lands where no westerner had ever set foot. Places deep in the jungle where to survive meant to understand the plants and animals, the tides, and the weather. Places where head-hunting, or at least the recent memory of it, still existed. In other words, places virtually untouched by the outside world or western civilization. As a youngster, such places seemed to me no more real than the fantasy worlds I saw in the movies. As a got older, however,I grew to recognize the distinction and came to the realization that for some people, this was daily life, and that for them, it was I who lived in a strange, faraway land. Nonetheless, the exotic allure of these remote lands never faded from my imagination and many years later, I found myself on a mission to experience firsthand the world that had thus far existed only in my daydreams.

My visit to Vella Lavella Island was to be the centerpiece of a 3-month trip through the South Pacific which I undertook in 1997. It would be the most inaccessible stop along the way and perhaps the only place where I would meet people who had never come into contact with tourists. How it is that I chose Vella Lavella to serve this purpose I can't quite say, but the fact that so little was written about it in the guidebooks certainly attracted my attention. Getting there would involve making informal travel arrangements with locals, being that regular transport to Vella was irregular at best. I was also drawn to the rumor that Japanese soldiers left behind during WWII still lived deep in the island's jungles. And the presence of freshwater crocodiles in the island's rivers added just a hint of danger. All this, together with the predominance of Melanesian culture, meant that this was as far away from my everyday life as I could possibly get on this trip.

Getting to Vella Lavella

Half the adventure of visiting this island was the journey there. At the time of my visit, this was NOT an easy undertaking by any stretch of the imagination. Although the island is just across from Gizo, a large and relatively well-traveled town by Solomon Islands standards, there is no regular transportation and arrangements will probably need to be made directly with the drivers of outboard canoes at the wharf. By a stroke of good luck, the owner of the lodge where I was staying was able to make arrangements on my behalf. He introduced me to the Senior Planning Officer for the Western Province, who along with some other government officials, would be traveling to the village of Simbilando on Vella Lavella to meet with traditional leaders to discuss some issues surrounding a land dispute. I was given a free lift and was offered the chance to stay in the village for a couple nights, which I promptly accepted.

The trip across the Gizo Strait took two hours by motor canoe. A somewhat frightening journey, I might add. Life jackets were conspicuous by their absence. I tried to forget this minor detail as we sped through the shark-infested waters towards the distant land mass. After the grueling journey, we were greeted in Simbilando by what must have been the entire village. They had been told of my arrival over the radio, so they were not surprised when I stepped ashore, but rather warm and welcoming.

My Stay in Simbilando

During my visit to Vella Lavella, I stayed in the village of Simbilando on the northeast side of the island. Although the villagers wore western clothing and had clearly caught on to the idea of a cash economy (judging by their offers of trips, activities, etc.), they still lived a very traditional lifestyle. Most of the buildings (with the exception of the school and other community gathering spaces) were hand-made from materials available in the forest and subsistence agriculture and fishing seemed to be the order of the day. I had been given permission by the chief of the village to stay here for a couple days and would be looked after by his son, a grown man with children of his own (who would presumably one day be the chief himself). I was told that I was the first western traveler ever to stay overnight in their village. Quite an honor for a lowly backpacker. It was, however, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and I am forever grateful to the residents of Simbilando for their hospitality.

Vella Lavella may have become slightly more developed since my visit in 1997, but chances are this remains an adventurous, difficult-to-reach destination. If you are fortunate enough to visit, you may have the opportunity to experience traditional dancing (even if you're the only spectator) and you will certainly want to visit the Ulo River themal area, provided you are in excellent physical condition. Be forwarned that the daytime temperatures and humidity can be downright oppressive.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:relatively undisturbed Melanesian culture; friendly people
  • Cons:difficult and expensive to reach
  • In a nutshell:Perfect destination for the intrepid traveler looking for true South Pacific adventure!
  • Last visit to Vella Lavella Island: Sep 1997
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (5)

Comments (6)

  • ullfri49's Profile Photo
    Dec 12, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    Very interestic your remarks about tour this little far Island in the Solomons. all best wishes for next tour

  • XenoHumph's Profile Photo
    Feb 8, 2005 at 8:56 AM

    Another cool and unique place to go! Great!

  • hunwagner's Profile Photo
    Jan 31, 2005 at 11:59 PM

    I had magapode eggs in the Philippines and in galela on Halmahera Island in Maluku, too! BIG and tasty.

  • littlesam1's Profile Photo
    Jan 28, 2005 at 10:10 AM

    Truely an amazing story and adventure. Great page.

  • melissa_bel's Profile Photo
    Jan 16, 2005 at 7:31 PM

    Wow... even better. First Westerner to stay there. Now, that's worth of the National Geographics you used to read.

  • Maria_75's Profile Photo
    Nov 26, 2004 at 2:01 PM

    Another incredible place, and a great page! Maria :)


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