Deep in the South Pacific, in the Solomon Islands, is an atoll called Rennell Island. Like so many other natural World Heritage Sites that have gained UNESCO recognition for their unique biogeography, Rennell faces a dilemma: It wants to realise its high potential for ecotourism, but this can only happen if the infrastructure remains basic and little or no development is imposed on the area’s natural and cultural attractions.
Can this precarious balance be achieved? Can an island like Rennell, which is the highest raised coral atoll in the world, expand its tourism offering while still maintaining its precious ecological integrity? After all, there is more to Rennell’s natural heritage than its inherent value to the environment; it is also Rennell’s main tourism asset.
The Vision of Rennell World Heritage Site Tours
Attempting to strike this balance are the local leaders at Rennell World Heritage Site Tours. They established their tour company with the clear goal of enlightening local stakeholder (including business owners, the provincial government and the national government) about Rennell Island’s potential as a national tourism asset and of turning it into a significant contributor to the country’s economy. They aim to raise Rennell’s profile as a popular destination in the Solomon Islands and in the South Pacific. At the same time, the new tour operator is careful to capitalise on existing infrastructure and attractions so as to leave the island’s special natural conditions as unaltered as possible.
As its name makes clear, Rennell World Heritage Site Tours is a local specialist in adventure circuit tours on Rennell Island, including trips to Lake Te’Nggano World Heritage Site (also known as Tegano and Tungano, the largest freshwater lake in the South Pacific). Their guides are very experienced in the terrain and know how to make each visit comfortable and memorable. They take great pride in exploring the unexplored with their guests, so much so that some of the sites they visit have never even been photographed, meaning their guests may be the first to frame them.
Low-Impact Activities and Lodging
The itineraries of trips organised by Rennell World Heritage Site Tours focus on immersive and low-impact activities. On the Lake Te’Nggano tour, for example, guests enjoy swimming in the lake, interacting with the friendly local people and just enjoying the singing of the birds in the early morning. In fact, given its huge number of endemic bird species, all of Rennell is a prime birdwatching destination.
On the Niupani Village to Tuhugago Beach tour, bush treks lead guests to scenic vista points such as the unforgettable Tuhugago Lookout. Closer to (and below) sea level, adventurous travellers can glimpse the underwater world while swimming and snorkelling in the clean crystal sea at the Tuhugago and Kagaba beaches. Anyone interested in diving can even opt to explore the underwater shipwreck of the US WWII PBY Catalina at Hutuna Village.
On their tours, Rennell World Heritage Site Tours is careful to partner with ecolodges that are owned and operated by local people. Meals consist mainly of fruit and Rennellese local-style cuisine, including the plentiful and fresh seafood. Toilets and bath facilities rely on basic but effective rainwater catchment systems, also used for drinking and cooking.
“A True Natural Laboratory”
East Rennell (Lake Te’Nggano) was listed by UNESCO as a natural World Heritage Site in 1998. It is the only one belonging to Solomon Islands in this subregion of the Pacific, which also includes sites in Australia and New Zealand, as well as two other official sites – Easter Island and Henderson Island – under the auspices of Chile and the U.K., respectively.
East Rennell is described by UNESCO as “a stepping stone in the migration and evolution of species in the western Pacific, and an important site for the science of island biogeography.” Due to the great biodiversity, not to mention its status as the largest insular lake in the Pacific and as the largest raised coral atoll in the world, “East Rennell is a true natural laboratory for scientific study.”