The Gardens of Uepi

My prized Uepi Gardens shot.
My prized Uepi Gardens shot.

Please see our gallery: Flowers of Uepi.  Note: Only a few of the images appear within the text – click here for the full gallery at large high resolution in new tab window.

Uepi Island is a remote magical tropical paradise tucked away in the furthermost reaches of the expansive Marovo Lagoon in the far north region of the Western Provinces of the Solomon Islands. It is my favourite place for a diving holiday, so much so, I may regret publishing about its beauty.

Uepi is sought after by divers from all parts of the globe, and  now is accessible by regular flights on SolAir from Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.  I flew in from Brisbane, Australia and was able to get there and back in a day, of hassle free travel.  We travelled as a group with our Hostess Sue Place from SunDive at Byron Bay.  SolAir was considerate of our weight, and allowed up to check in as a group; thus we were able to share the excess around and did not get hit up for additional costs.  This courtesy is  always appreciated by an underwater photographer.

Uepi is a boutique diving resort founded by Jill and Grant twenty-five years ago. Over the years, the resort has grown with more bures and therefore more guests, thus requiring increasing numbers of support staff from the adjacent local islands.  There is delightful bure style accommodation, with just-the-basics Solomon Island style for your comfort.  At the main house (or “haus” in Solomon Islands pidgin) breakfast and dinner are taken in the dining area; afternoon drinks (de rigueur) at the bar and in the lounge.  The food is tasty, and fresh cooked with often 8 courses for the evening meal with my favourites the lobster and mud crab. The main haus  is  built in traditional island style, and is  a work of  art.  The view from the bar, looking over the Lagoon to far away New Georgia is spectacular, especially at sunset.  For  lunch, a platter can be delivered to your room.   You then do not have far to go to take a midday siesta at the hottest time of the day, in preparation for the afternoon dive. The resort features eco-sustainability, rain water is collected, and delicious fruits and vegetables are grown on site.

Neighbourhood watch, Black-tipped Reef Shark.
Neighbourhood watch, Black-tipped Reef Shark.

The diving program is as busy as you wish it to be, and certainly varied from planes, to wrecks, to swarming fish life, colourful and varied Gorgonia sea fans, as well as soft and hard corals of great diversity and in pristine condition. Penguin Point in 100ft visibility on a clear calm day with sun overhead was a memorable diving experience. At Uepi, the nearest dive was straight off the jetty for exotic critters on the night dive, and schooling fish and resident sharks easily seen during the day.

Remnants and relics of World War II are common in the Solomons.  In Marovo Lagoon alone are several known planes, with probably many more yet undiscovered.  There is diving on the wrecks of  Japanese freighters.    (Please see post on “The Warbirds of Marovo Lagoon”).

After a long run in dive-boats back past the airport at Seghi, the first dive is the near vertical wreck of a fishing trawler, a stunning dive in clear water with the stern of the ship in 150 ft.  Next stop, the caverns of BatiBati await, a memorable dive that takes you out  to the blue water at the reef edge, and then back through underwater tunnels to the sinkhole.  The divers seemingly are swallowed up by solid rock as they descend into darkness of the abyss, until, behold, there is the glimmer of the blue ocean ahead.  This wonderful day ends with a drift dive on the exquisite Penguin Reef to savour the  pristine corals and fans.

Sea Fans
Sea Fans

The best diving is not far from the Lodge, around Uepi Point, which leads into Uepi Channel.  We saw schooling Wrasses, Grey Whaler Sharks, and Pygmy Manta Rays, to name a few of the fish.   At sites further up the coast there was exquisite underwater scenery.  I am a sea fan tragic, and as you come around the point on the resort site is a terrific area Grant told me about, called Sea Fan Gardens.  Beautiful sea fans also just off the jetty, at the Uepi Bombe down around 70 feet.

Just up the coast are several cave dives, with tunnels, caves, and swim-thrus where over eons of time water has eroded through the limestone.  Best follow the leader, and stay close to your knowledgable dive guide.  Our guide for the week was Joe, who was excellent.

Complementing the exquisite beauty of the undersea world, are the terrestrial gardens of Uepi. These are Jill’s pride and passion. Her gardens on the island are almost as varied and as colourful, as the surrounding underwater world. Around her unassuming house are clusters of flowers, and orchids, both native and hybrid, gathered and diligently nurtured  over many years for your enjoyment.

Treat your soul to the balms of the gardens of Uepi. You will return for more.

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