The lack of direct flights from NZ, coupled with a small risk of malaria, tends to knock the Solomon Islands off most Kiwis' travel radar. Especially with easier destinations close at hand. For the adventurous however, it's a place waiting to be discovered, a place where the name "Solomons" is just a blunt tool to describe a group of more than 900 diverse islands where residents speak more than 70 local languages.
Having been left to go at its own pace, here they not only speak different dialects between neighbouring islands, but locals often have distinct physical attributes in each area.
Not only rich in indigenous cultures, the Solomons was also the scene of some of the most intense fighting during World War II. Remnants of war are everywhere; some now feature as dive attractions, with many more yet to be discovered. So many ships and planes were sunk here during the battle of Guadalcanal that nearby Sealark Channel was renamed Iron Bottom Sound, a name that is still used.
Many of us are unaware of New Zealand's own wartime efforts in this place. Not only did one of our greatest New Zealanders, Sir Edmund Hillary, serve here, but it was also the where our only ship lost to enemy fire went down. The HMNZS Moa was hit and sunk by Japanese aircraft as it refuelled off the Island of Tulagi. There she remains in 40m of water as a war grave to five Kiwi navy personnel.
A nearby dive resort called Raiders, run by a well-organised NZ couple, take dive trips out to see the ship. It's an eerie, solemn experience that brings home the savage violence that happened here.
If seeing wrecks is your thing, another one that can be seen without diving is the MS World Discoverer. It was a mid-sized cruise ship, 87m long, that hit the reef in 2000 and while listing, steamed ashore in a remote bay where it rolled on to its side.
It is completely at odds with the lush tropical greenery that surrounds it, and coming around a corner to see it lying so completely out of place, makes it feel more movie set than tragic accident. Now locals host visitors in its shadow on the shoreline, where it's even possible to rent basic accommodation looking out over the wreck. You can also climb up its rusting hulk and ride a flying fox off the bridge, perfect for anyone looking for that ultimate Instagram pic.
The capital Honiara often informs people's first impressions of the Solomons, which unfortunately can detract from what the rest of the islands have to offer. A recent addition are flights now ex-Brisbane that will deliver you straight into the Western province, where you can discover places like Munda and Gizo. While extremely safe these days, there is still a feeling you get arriving in these areas of being somewhere truly exotic and most definitely off the beaten track.
Tracking by boat past perfect empty surf breaks that in any other country would be crawling with surfers, helped demonstrate to me how untouched this place is. With just 25,000 tourists a year here, there is zero chance of feeling overcrowded. Being as high as 5 degrees from the equator means it is super calm and warm.
One dive we had, the water was more than 32C and the air got so hot, that for the first time of any shoot that we had done in the Pacific, all our camera gear stopped working. Now that's my kind of heat and my kind of adventure.
Clarke Gayford hosts Fish of the Day, Sundays, 5.30pm on Three
Trevally Fish Curry
Fresh fillets of Trevally chopped into 2cm cubes
1-2 cups of fresh squeezed coconut cream
One chopped onion
Handful of chopped cherry tomatoes
Loose cut potatoes, par-boiled
2 Tbsp of finely diced fresh ginger
1 Tbsp of curry powder
1 tsp of turmeric
Splashes of tabasco sauce to taste
Squeeze of lemon
Into a hot wok with cooking oil add the onion and ginger and simmer for several minutes. Add the tomatoes and potatoes and continue to cook.
Stir through curry powder, turmeric and tabasco sauce.
As the vegetables begin to soften add the fish and stir again.
Then add the coconut cream and keep stirring through.
Turn heat down low and let quietly simmer for 10 minutes.
Serve on to a plate with a squeeze of lemon and enjoy.
Recipe by Chef Dudley, Imagination Island, Solomons