Oravae Cottage in the Solomon Islands
Camilla Manson, a freelance travel writer and blogger, as well as an official Community Pathfinder for Lonely Planet, shares with us her experience visiting Oravae cottage, a stunningly beautiful private island stay in the Solomon Islands.
The adventure begins as I head towards the remote Western Province of the Solomons, flying low over the islands and marveling at the kaleidoscope of blues and greens below me. However as I am known for not being overly fond of small planes, I am of course keeping one eye on the propeller at all times, willing it to keep spinning.
The adventure continues when I arrive at the small tin shed that is Gizo airport, met by the smiling Jeremy and transferred by boat to my own private island.
As I draw closer, the sight of Oravae Cottage seemingly suspended over the water, hammocks swinging softly in the breeze, and Darcy the wonder dog barking a greeting make me oh so glad I was brave enough to tackle that plane. (Sometimes you just gotta pull up the big girl panties)
I’ve got that mixed feeling of excitement and anticipation low in my belly and I can’t wait to disembark and explore.
If any of this sounds a bit ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ then I apologise. Because that is definitely not what Oravae is about. Leave those Laboutins at home girls!
This is no ordinary island. It’s a slice of tropical paradise owned by a local family who have decided to share it with the rest of the world. And for that, we must thank them.
Not just for the sharing, but for the vision and foresight that came with it. Tourism is an industry in its infancy in the Solomons, and Patson and his family wanted to get this baby right from the start.
It is eco-tourism at its best, and sustainability is not a word they throw around lightly. They live and breathe it.
Not for them the conventional resort: you will not see a brick in sight. All buildings are constructed from locally sourced materials, including timber and thatching. Much as you would find in neighbouring villages.
I have a choice of three cottages to stay in – the main bungalow which is Oravae Cottage, the Penthouse, and the Treehouse. Once you have a reservation the whole island is yours: not another soul can book.
I opt for Oravae, although the Penthouse, perched on stilts on the very tip of the island, runs a close second. Both of these buildings have indoor toilets (yes, flushing!), and cold outdoor showers fed by rainwater.
The Treehouse, which shares its bathroom facilities with the other two buildings, has spectacular sunrise views over Kolombangara Volcano.
Most of the power comes from renewable solar energy, although every evening there is electricity which runs haphazardly between the hours of 6 and 10 pm. Lights out signals bedtime, and after some spectacular star-gazing, bedtime means being cocooned under my mosquito net and lulled to sleep by the sound of lapping water.
In the morning I am woken by the distant vibration of motors, as villagers from outer islands make their way by loaded boat to Gizo to sell home-grown produce at the markets. I sit and watch this morning commute, and feel for those that still have to reply on paddle power in their traditional dugout canoes. We share a friendly wave as they pass.
Thankfully on the return trip, the canoes seem a bit lighter and sit a bit higher in the water. Hopefully, their pockets are heavier.
These markets are where all food is sourced from, and are just another way the Bae family supports the local communities.
My meals are delivered to the cottage three times a day and are easily some of the freshest and most delicious I have ever eaten. Think curries, fresh fish and crabs, homemade roti, pancakes and the sweetest fruits.
They are all prepared by Patson’s nephew, Junior, who could surely get a job at any of the best restaurants in the world. If the future of tourism in the Solomons is left in the hands of people such as Junior and his cousins Shemiah and Nagarita, then it can’t go wrong.
Some days I spend jumping off the deck, snorkeling and exploring the house reef. Oravae’s policy of no fishing and protecting the local marine environment means that I have an abundance of tropical fish to keep me company.
Other days I hop in the Oravae boat with the family and travel further afield, visiting different islands and dive sites, including one over a WW2 wreck.
Oravae is authentic and organic, a great insight into life in the Solomon Islands. It is perfect for the traveler who wants to take their first hesitant step off the beaten track, safe in the reassuring knowledge that Patson and his family are only a cooee away.
Eventually, the adventure ends with me waving goodbye to my new friends and the Western Province, once again flying low over islands and gazing at the beautiful scenes below.
However this time I do not keep one eye on the propeller – I have come to love and appreciate all that the Solomons has to offer, and I don’t want to miss one single thing.
Camilla has been involved in the travel industry for 30 years and is a freelance travel writer and blogger, as well as an official Community Pathfinder for Lonely Planet. If she can ignite the wanderlust in others, then mission accomplished.
You can find her at www.alandofmarvels.com and on Instagram @alandofmarvels