After eight nights at Wilderness Lodge arriving at Uepi Island Resort felt like hitting the big smoke! It's also located in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, about a two-hour trip by boat away from Gatokae Island, but much closer to the tiny Seghe Airport.
You will be greeted at the 'welcome wharf' by a member of the Kelly family, who have made Uepi Island their home for the last seventeen years. At the main house, where you take your shared morning and evening meals, you'll also find a bar. It's amazing what luxury a drink with ice in it can seem after eight days without ice. Take in a margarita while you are briefed about the resort.
With your luggage taken care of by the resort staff, you can spend the meandering walk 600 metre walk to your beachfront bungalow documenting the various shades of hibiscus.
The lush, green path is lined with manicured jungle, with the occasional garden bed thrown in.
Our beachfront bungalow - known as Vanua 3 - was a nice blend of local and Aussie surf shack architecture, and totally adequate for our needs.
After all, right in front of our generously sized porch was the main attraction - a large expanse of sandy white sand and aquamarine lagoon, able to be enjoyed without reef shoes.
Good villa separation (there are only 26 beds on the whole island) gave us the feeling of having our own private beach, which we put to very good use during our week on Uepi Island.
While this island is known as a diving hot spot, it also has a lot to offer to snorkellers like ourselves.
Without leaving the resort, you can slide gently off a jetty (no splashing or jumping allowed as it attracts the attention of the passing sharks) and get in amongst some of the most spectacular snorkelling we've seen in the Pacific. Brightly coloured coral lines the edges of the passage, known as The Slot, between Marovo Lagoon (the largest salt water lagoon in the world) and the wider, deep blue sea.
Uepi Island Resort 2016 from Craig Donarski on Vimeo.
A short (free) boat ride out to Uepi Point allows you to drive back in through countless species of large fish travelling in and out of the lagoon, including getting up close and personal with black and white sharks. Along the coral shelf that runs along the edge of the island, you'll be able to swim through countless smaller fish in a veritable rainbow of colours.
From our travels to a wide range of Pacific destinations including the islands of Aitutaki, Hawaii, Rarotonga, Isle of Pines, Upolu, Molokai, Maui, Savaii, Niue, Atiu, Espiritu Santo, Efate and Grand Terre, as well as travel within Australia to various areas of the Great Barrier Reef, it's extremely rare to see fish density at this level. The fish are also protected from fishing on this island, so they're remarkably unafraid of snorkellers - allowing you to swim amongst schools of fish with them barely parting to make room for you.
Another short boat excursion offered to every guest also gives you the chance to swim with giant manta rays - it's one early morning adventure you won't want to miss.
We also chose to play Gilligan and be stranded on our own deserted island for a picnic lunch and snorkelling adventure.
While it was exciting to land on a beach where the only footprints present are your own, with respect to the snorkelling not much compares to what's available straight off the jetties at Uepi Island Resort.
Morning and evening meals are a communal affair taken in the main house. It's airy and cool, with lovely water views, and the long table format encourages you to make friends with fellow travellers, dissecting the various excursions or dives you've made each day.
Dinner is a multi-course affair, always beginning with soup. To further develop their English language skills, Solomon Islander staff members are tasked with presenting the daily menu to the island's guests each evening. The main course is served buffet style, with a range of familiar accessible dishes balanced by more interesting island creations. At Uepi Island Resort, the local river fern, poucha, is turned into a short crust poucha'n'cheese pie that's particularly delicious.
Any catches made on guest fishing exursions turns up as a special sashimi courses, like lightly seared pepper-crusted wahoo.
You'll also find plenty of crustaceans, so many in fact that the kitchen is constantly dreaming up new uses for crab and crayfish that you're unlikely to see anywhere else where these items are less plentiful. Plump crab balls (a Jason Kelly creation) and an even more delicious crayfish Madras curry, were highlights during our stay. We also enjoyed oyster night where large, flat local oysters were presented three different ways - fried, freshly garnished and grilled kilpatrick.
Dessert ranged from fruit and ice cream, to a more fancy lemon meringue pie - not bad for a tiny island in the middle of nowhere relying on at times dubious supply chains! (The Kelly family did mention they often crave fresh cheese.)
While breakfast and dinner are both taken in the main house, lunch is served privately at your bungalow. Each day it includes a different selection of tropical fruits, as well as everything from quiches to wraps to rolls you fill with crayfish or grilled wahoo. Once again, there's always dessert, usually baked goods ranging from slices to cookies to cake.
Being an island without a village, most of the resort's staff come in by boat from other neighbouring islands to work a rotating week-long roster.
While I missed the close connection to a village we had at Wilderness Lodge, where there was more opportunity to get to know people from Paeva village, I felt glad to be at a resort that invests in the health and wellbeing of Solomon islanders through their own Solomon-based charity 'Solutions pa Marovo'.
This charity does things like Marovo Medical Tours bringing doctors and medical treatment to people on outlying islands in Western Province.
In addition this resort makes every effort to travel lightly on the island, from leaving most of the island as undisturbed rainforest which you can walk through and view, to protecting the reef from damage by educating guests on how not to hurt it with their fins, to offering biodegradable products in the bathrooms.
Uepi Island Resort
Western Province, Solomon Islands