Tetepare is the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific. It is chock full of lush rainforests, old strangler fig trees, sky-scraping coconut trees, and a myriad of flowering plants.
Heated battles over land rights and usage have plagued the island since the head-hunting tribes a few hundred years ago. Today it houses an eco-lodge for visiting scientists and adventurous honeymooners, but is still a topic of heated debate. The riveting history of Tetepare is captured in the book, The Last Wild Island, and chronicles the establishment of the Tetepare Descendent's Association, and the fight to save it from international logging.
We have been trying to arrange transport to Tetepare for 2 weeks, which should seem easy given that it is only a few hours boat ride from our current island of Lola. However, boats and reliable outboard engines are scare in Munda, especially one hearty enough to haul the 16 scuba tanks and scuba gear along with us.
Right at the end of our stay, we were finally able to secure arrangements to make our way to Tetepare for 2 nights, relying on our guide, Sunga, to do most of the logistical legwork. A brief 2 hour boat ride in our 16ft, 40 horsepowered boat lands us at the most beautifully lush island I've ever witnessed.
After settling into our spacious leaf huts (which were built by hand without the use of nails or screws) we chatted with Toumey, our local guide and station manager. At the island's "eatery," Toumey acquainted us with the local "kastoms," dangerous plants and animals of Tetepare. We conduct our first dive on the windward shore of Tetepare amid underwater swells that rolled us back and forth as we searched for bumphead parrotfish and 3D modeled corals. Immediately we saw more bumpheads here than we had during our entire time in the water in previous weeks.
Photo by Andrea Reid
After lunch we set out for a marathon snorkel. The size of the fish I saw underwater scared me because of their size. I've dived on coral reefs in a variety of locations including Hawaii, Palau, Saipan, Guam, Bahamas, Florida, and the Maldives. In those locations a snapper that is about 50cm long is considered a large one. In these protected waters surrounding Tetepare, I witnessed schools of snappers twice that size, or 1 meter and over! I was also graced by the presence of a dugong, which once resided in the seagrass beds of Tetepare, but are more rare since the Tsunami a few years ago. Toumey tells me it has been one year since one has been spotted in the lagoon.
The next day we spent more time in the water than out, conducting 2 scuba dives and 2 snorkels on the leeward side of Tetepare, in the shallow coral gardens. These corals were undoubtedly the healthiest I've witnessed in the Solomon Islands, and also the largest.