Star Spangled Kiwi: Southland and the (not so) sinister Solomon Islands video

BENJAMIN MACK/STUFF.CO.NZ

Reporter Ben Mack spent Easter in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.

Paradise is a relative term, they say – "they" being somewhat more sane people who don't think travelling for three days to spend less than 24 hours in the Solomon Islands is a very good idea.

Wait, what?

Yeah, that happened this past weekend.

A rusting ship sits idly by the shore near the Central Market in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
BEN MACK/FAIRFAX NZ

A rusting ship sits idly by the shore near the Central Market in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

I know, I know – it's a rather bizarre thing to do, as the Australian Federal Police officers at Brisbane Airport informed me on my way back to Southland. But I told them exactly what I'm telling you now: I did it because I could.

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If you haven't guessed it by now, dear readers, I should probably inform you that I basically live for adventure and seeing new places. Even just a day in a South Pacific island country that sees only about 25,000 international visitors per year – and which was wracked by instability in the early 2000s that was so severe international military forces including New Zealand intervened – promised just that.

Hanging out with Brother Jonathan, left, and Brother Eddie, right, of the Melanesian Brotherhood in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
BEN MACK/FAIRFAX NZ

Hanging out with Brother Jonathan, left, and Brother Eddie, right, of the Melanesian Brotherhood in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

How does that saying go? Carpe diem, right?

Seize the day, sure.

So I seized an opportunity, and I don't regret it.

Southland Times reporter Ben Mack.
JOHN HAWKINS/FAIRFAX NZ

Southland Times reporter Ben Mack.

Yes, yes, I could have stayed in Southland for Easter. But I hadn't travelled overseas since first coming to New Zealand in February 2015 – an excruciatingly long period of time for me. Seriously, it was getting to the point where it was either go on some madcap jaunt to a place people normally didn't go, or you'd find me on an island somewhere off the coast of Fiordland talking to a basketball while wearing a sombrero.

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Not an ideal look for a reporter who'd like to maintain some semblance of respectability.

There isn't a part of my trip that I regret. I met some amazing people, such as members of the Melanesian Brotherhood, a fraternal Anglican order of young men who make vows including not owning possessions, celibacy, and not drinking, smoking, or chewing the near-ubiquitous narcotic betel​ nut (which prolonged use of can literally turn your teeth red). Hanging out with Brother Jonathan, Brother Thomas, Brother Daniel, Brother Junior, Brother Eddie, and Brother Simon after meeting them by chance at the hostel (Chester Rest House) I was staying at was something I will never forget. When they invited me to dinner on Saturday night – telling me I was the first white person they'd done that for – after I'd randomly decided to buy them a fish from the bustling Central Market, I was truly moved.

And the dinner – and subsequent late-night conversation that I will fully admit was one of the deepest I've ever had – wasn't all. Going with them to All Saints Anglican Church the next day on Easter Sunday – in a structure not too dissimilar from a barn or shearing shed, but at which literally thousands of people from throughout the capital of Honiara and even further afield flocked to – was an experience I will never forget. It certainly was not where it was as if an occult hand had pulled me in and gotten me caught up with yet another shady organisation with rather obtuse motives (as has happened to me before).

It's experiences like the above that are what travel is all about, I reckon. It's not visiting exotic places or seeing esoteric things – it's the people you meet.

And guess what? That's also why I'm in Southland.

Yes, I do truly think the scenery here is very unique, and very pretty. But more importantly, I love the people, every one of whom has a story to tell and who could teach me more than I could ever possibly learn.

Funny, that.

So while it's nice to battle off to parts unknown every now and again, it's even nicer to come back to a place like Southland, because the people are so nice.

They really are.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering how I coped with the tropical heat in the Solomons: most locals wore T-shirts.

I still wore long sleeves.

P.S. I'm on leave for the next while, so this column will be on hiatus until I'm back. I'm not planning on spending my time away in Longyearbyen​ or Yamoussoukro, but one never knows…

 - Stuff

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