Cruising to the Solomon Islands is relatively new, so ports like Gizo are still trying to get logistics right. First impressions stepping off the tender boat onto uneasy ground at the port entrance are that this destination is very raw. Locals huddle around in interest to see the commotion, but they are friendly and welcoming. A large open-air hall is filled with traditional dancers while an emcee introduces cruisers to the destination and points out places of interest. There is a money exchange desk where you can grab some local Solomon Dollars and wander up the road lined with shop stalls. These are very basic: a blanket or raffia mat on the ground lined with handicrafts ranging from shell money necklaces (unique to the islands), calved wooden sculptures and other shell trinkets. Adventurous cruisers can even try the local betel nut (a bitter tasting nut that is chewed with lime that stains the teeth red but gives a slight buzz).
Port of Gizo
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The ship will dock off shore and tender boats will bring you into port. Arrival in port is at a wooden jetty so it can prove a bit difficult to get on and off the tender boats. It's a short walk up the jetty and the path is concreted for a short way before falling off to the dirt road and sandy grassed area under palm trees.
Good to Know
There are limited facilities in Gizo so be prepared before you step off the ship. The actual passenger terminal is an open-air, traditional-style hall. Here you will find a makeshift stand for money exchange, but changing money on the island can prove tricky unless you are a client of the bank. Credit cards are not accepted in the small market stalls.
The Gizo Hotel is the main point of call for all other amenities. They have the only bathroom facilities, free internet in the lobby, and the bar offers a great place to relax with a cool drink, overlooking the main street.
On Foot: Gizo is a small port and it only takes about 20 minutes to walk up and down the main street in town. There is not much outside of town so no need to walk too far.
By Boat: The wooden banana boats in Gizo are taxis on water. You can negotiate a price with locals to take you to neighboring islands, but be prepared to have a true island experience. Safety standards on these boats are not the same as provided by the cruise ship transfers. The boats used for cruise ship shore excursions will provide life vests, water and ensure you are returned to the ship on time. Booking a boat yourself means you run the risk of your skipper slipping into "island time," which might result in a late return back to the ship.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Solomon Islands' currency is the Solomon Dollar (SBD). (You can visit www.xe.com for current rates.) There is an ANZ bank at the end of the main street with an ATM where you can withdraw money, but unless you are a local client, you cannot change currency in the bank. The Gizo Hotel can change money, but they run out fast so get in quick. Worst case scenario, you can barter with local vendors who often will accept AUD and NZD.
English is widely spoken and understood throughout the Solomon Islands. However, the local language is Pijin English. Pijin is also known as Solomons Pidgin, Neo-Solomonic or Kanaka, and is closely related to Tok Pisin, Bislama and Torres Strait Creole. Say thank you "tagio tumas" to the locals in their lingo -- it will bring a smile to their face and be much appreciated.
Food and Drink
Cuisine in the Solomon Islands is typical of any Pacific destinations -- lots of fresh fruit, seafood, salads and an array of vegetables. Fish is the staple meat in local cuisine. Usually any meat is cooked and served with sweet potatoes, rice, taro roots or leaves, cassava and many other vegetables. Food is mostly locally sourced and never will you find fresher seafood as it's plucked straight from the ocean to the kitchen.
This is a top spot for lunch, not only for its food, but for its location. Overlooking the main street in Gizo and out to the port, you can enjoy a meal here and watch the city below. Lunch is a typical bar menu of fish and chips with salad, burgers and sandwiches. The beers are cold, though, and that is what matters most.
Fatboys is an exclusive resort on Babanga Island, with the restaurant and bar literally over the water. It's a 15-minute boat ride (about AUD25 per person return) from Gizo, but probably one of the best-known places to grab a bite to eat and beer in the Solomon Islands. Cruise passengers visiting Fatboys can access a lunch menu valued from AUD30 to AUD40 per person, offering a choice of fish and chips with salad, crispy calamari with chips and salad, or the famous grill crayfish tail with chips and salad. To wash it all down, there is a cocktail menu featuring a Fatboys sunrise, Fatboys sea breeze and a Long island iced tea. After lunch, cruisers can jump straight over the side of the restaurant and snorkel for as far as the eye can see. The visit includes a trip over to the WWII historical Kennedy Island where J.F.K was left stranded.
The handicrafts sold in Gizo are well constructed and unique to the Pacific region, however for a truly authentic gift to take home from the Solomon Islands, check out the shell money. Strands of shells collected and beaded onto strands used, culturally, as payments for brides in the villages. These strands of shells are made into necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other jewellry.