We left Marovo Lagoon and sailed south through the narrow channel that separates New Georgia Island from Vangunu. After an overnight stop in Matakuri, we continued south to Tetepare Island together with our buddy boat s/v Perry. Tetepare is the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific (118 sq km) and has untouched rainforest, gorgeous coral reefs and unique wildlife. Many different stories try to explain why this long rugged island was abandoned 150 years ago: fear of head-hunting, curses, inter-village rivalries. But what’s most special about Tetepare is that, unlike all other islands in the Solomons, it has been untouched by commercial logging. The rainforest is intact and the reefs are protected by a conservation project.
We were recommended by a friend to anchor in the western end of the island, within the reef system. This conservation zone is looked after by park rangers and apparently there are dugongs that live there. And sure enough, as soon as we had dropped the anchor in the shallow water, we spotted a huge dugong. I have to admit that before we went on this trip, I had never heard of a dugong. Now I know they are similar to a manatee (but with a different tail) and a relative of the seacow. This herbivorous mammal is an endangered species, close to extinction and used to be hunted for its meat and oil.
Seathan and I were still tidying up the boat after just having anchored but Tyrii was already in the water snorkelling and, lucky him, the dugong swam right past him. He was literally 1 metre away from it. No camera, no photos, the only one I have is where the dugong briefly comes up. We will just have to lock these memories in our brains forever.
In the afternoon we went ashore to see the park rangers. Three rangers man the station one week off and one week on, all coming from a nearby island called Rendova. They told us there was an anchorage fee and a conservation fee totalling 700 Solomon Dollars per boat (approx 70 pounds). This surprised us, nowhere else have we been asked to pay to anchor and the fees were written on a scrap piece of paper and didn’t look official at all. We questioned the formality of this and soon enough the price came down to 200 Solomon Dollars. Fair enough…
Apart from ‘trying it on’ the park rangers were very friendly and showed us around. It was a beautiful spot and seeing a dugong certainly was a privilege!