When I arrived at Vila, by some dubbed as the "gateway to Savo", and saw one boat safely on land, and no activity at all, I almost knew instantly that my planned visit to the active volcano would not happen. I asked around, it appeared that the owner of the boat had gone shopping in Honiara, and might be back in the afternoon or evening. There were no other boats, unlike what I was told, and I quickly changed plans, waited for a minivan back to Honiara, and headed to Mataniko Falls instead, which I had wanted to visit anyway. I walked to the turn-off, and while walking up the valley of Mataniko river, I noticed that where the sky had been bright blue that morning, dark clouds were gathering above the hilly hinterland. When I reached Lelei village, and was told to cross the river, a guy introduced himself as "Robert, I will be your guide". I knew I needed one, and after we settled on the practical stuff and crossed the river, we started hiking up, while we heard thunder coming from the mountains ahead of us. The trail was quite steep, and within minutes, we had gained enough altitude to have a nice view over Lelei village, the valley, and a little higher, even the sea behind the ridge in a distance.
Robert turned out to be a knowledgeable guy, who showed me a surprising number of remnants from the period in the Second World War in which the Americans and Japanese fought the Pacific war on this beautiful island. If you look well, there still is a large number of rusty remains of shells, there are foxholes, and we even came across a Japanese bomb in the rainforest on our way down to the waterfalls. The Thin Red Line is close to here; and images of the movie which was shot here, vaguely came back to memory - I mostly remembered a violent beginning, and my lack of knowledge of the battles fought here. After an initial rather steep climb, the hike is on a well-marked trail through a landscape with barren hills and with good views of the mountains in the interior of Guadalcanal; Robert could tell me which points had been of importance in the war, where the Japanese and Americans were moving, hiding and attacking. The last stretch is a descent into the valley of the Mataniko river; we entered the rainforest and negotiated a steep, muddy trail down. The thunder of Mataniko Falls was coming from below, and I knew we were getting close. When we finally reached the spot, it looked totally different from what I had expected. No waterfall dropping off a cliff; instead, water rushing down over boulders, and into pools.
Just when I thought we had seen it, Robert waded through the large pool, and I followed. He then walked up the steep boulders, right through the water - I followed again, treading carefully, but to my surprise, the rocks were not slippery, even though some of them had plants on their surface. We thus reached a point where we could see the water gushing out of a hole in the forest; the source of Mataniko Falls is in a cave which was used by the Japanese to hide during the war; with the added benefit that they had access to fresh water. Only now, I realized that the waterfall actually splits in two: one side rushes down the way we had climbed up to, and the other falls off into an abyss, where the water actually runs through a high cave under the other side of the waterfall. After we returned to the main pool area, we walked a little further, where we could look into the cave through which the river was flowing. It continued through a narrow chasm, until it joined with the other stream coming down through the pool area. It is actually possible to enter the cave, and even to float back to Lelei village, but we did not have much time left, and I certainly did not bring the necessary waterproof equipment to protect my stuff, so there was no option: we had to climb up the steep, muddy hill we had come down from. As is so often the case, going up proved easier than coming down. We had been lucky: the thunder had passed, as had the rain, so the walk back turned out to be a good ending to our hike. Some of the villagers almost could not believe we were already back: we had been going strong, and I still had time to do other things before sunset, on my last day in the Solomon Islands.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Mataniko Falls (Solomon Islands). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Mataniko Falls.
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