Scenic Sohano

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

The magnificent panorama from the top of the limestone cliffs of Sohano Island. At the foreground is a wooden catamaran moored at the private dock of Sohano Ocean View Apartments.

December 2012:  This was my third visit to Papua New Guinea and I was really excited because a week in Bougainville was part of the itinerary.  Once the center of a long and bitter civil war (see Bougainville the Brave), the now Autonomous Region of Bougainville beckons adventurers to the region with its emerald islands, blue lagoons and white, sandy beaches.  I also considered myself in luck because the office arranged for my team to be accommodated at the Ocean View Apartments at Sohano Island, a small island situated five minutes away from the regional capital of Buka.  While the small inns and hostels in Buka are not so bad being situated along the scenic shores of Buka strait; staying at Sohano Island was like having an island of your own.  I was joking with the team that there can be a small civil war in Buka and we will still be sleeping soundly at Sohano Island.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

At the entrance to the Buka Passage, at the fork between the main Bougainville Island and Buka Island, is the small island of Sohano. The small island can be seen from the restaurants and hotels in Buka, the autonomous region’s capital at the other side of a 300-meter strait.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

A leisurely five-minute boat ride on the emerald waters of the Buka Passage brought us to this small dock and covered stairway that leads up to the island and the place where we were going to stay.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

The Sohano Ocean View Apartments. Hexagon-shaped and homely, it’s a work in progress but is by far the best accommodation one can find in Bougainville. It has four ultra-modern apartments and seven well-furnished rooms. The balconies provide a breath-taking view of the Buka Passage,the Bougainville and Buka islands and the outlying reefs and atolls.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Ralph Christen, a local enterprising businessman with a vision, is the owner-developer of the Sohano Ocean View Apartments. The son of a Swiss gentleman who used to work at the Panguna mine, Ralph gave up a career as a chef in Switzerland and came back to Bougainville to help with developing the tourism industry in the region.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Boosting its huge tourism potential is Sohano Island’s cultural and historical significance. The fact that the island was the administrative center during World War II and the colonial years is not surprising. Any military or colonial administrator would have chosen the island outright due to its strategic location, the peaceful neighborhood, and the fantastic scenery.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

During World War II, the Japanese took over the island and used it as a sea-plane base from which air support was provided to heavy battle at Guadalcal (the Solomon Islands). Near this sea-plane relic is a war memorial erected by the Japanese in memory of the soldiers who died in the Solomons Campaign. The sea-plane relic is poised as if it was ready to stage an air attack on the island of Buka.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Centuries old rain trees cover a trail that goes around the island. Every part of the trail provides a stunning view of the surrounding waters, reefs, and islands. Below the island’s limestone cliffs are pristine beaches with occasional fishermen’s cottages and boathouses.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

A boathouse on the serene morning waters of the Buka passage

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

The waters around the dock of the Sohano Ocean View Apartments are also perfect for fishing, snorkeling and swimming

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

A breakwater was constructed near the apartment’s dock to provide boat access to the other residents of the island. In this photo, a couple waits for a boat on the breakwater while another man watches.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Within a few minutes a motorized passenger dinghy arrives to pick up the couple.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

On some other days, the breakwater becomes a platform for local kids who want to play in the inviting waters of the Buka Passage.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

On a clear day, the island’s surroundings can be viewed for miles from the top of the limestone cliffs or the balconies of the apartment. The outlying islands, reefs and atolls hold a promise of a great fishing, swimming and picnic adventure that is easily accessible to the residents and guests of Sohano Island.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

That promise is renewed everyday by the golden sunrise that greets islanders and reminds everyone of the infinite possibilities that the future holds for the island.

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