In one way Tetepare Island only comes to life once we arrive. On our boat trip from Munda in the Solomon Islands’ Western Province we make a few stops, one of them is to pick up food for our meals and another is to pick up a local woman who will cook our meals for us.
In other ways Tetepare Island has been well and truly alive even in the absence of people. After getting off the boat at the jetty, we make our way up the crushed coral walkways, avoiding spider webs strung across the paths where we can and brushing them away from our faces when we don’t catch a glimpse of them in time.
This island is known by some as the Solomons’ “last wild island” as it has no inhabitants, has been spared from major logging operations and is part of a conservation program to ensure its resources are harvested sustainably.
The place is literally crawling with animal life.
Whatever direction you head in, there is rustling beneath the leaf litter on the ground.
The most visible culprit for the rustling is what people who live nearby call ‘siso’ which are large lizards that look similar to Australian goannas but have a dark coloured body with yellow splotches on their back.
These reptiles are said to represent the last humans who lived on the island.
Our guide tells us that it was a combination of “disease; gossip and headhunting” that led the island’s population to dwindle.
While there are no longer any residents on the island, the lizards that remain are to be treated with respect.
Local kastom says that if you upset the lizards, you will bring rough seas to the area.
They also warn visitors not to cut the leaves from the elephant ear plants otherwise you will likely become cursed.
Sections of the island had been used as a coconut plantation and for running cattle in the past but neither exist anymore; the forest is reclaiming the earth where the plantation once sat and there is no cattle farmed in the Solomons today.
It is not only on the land that Tetepare’s treasures are kept.
Sitting on one of the island’s beaches, we were kept engaged watching young black tip sharks patrolling the shallows, waiting for a quick feed to come their way as large fish rounded up a school of smaller fish.
The island is best known for its turtle-monitoring program, which keeps track of the movements of nesting leatherbacks and their eggs, working to make sure the eggs go on to form baby turtles in an effort to boost the flailing numbers of the endangered species.
Unfortunately our timing didn’t match up with the turtles’ to be able to see them on our trip.