Solomon Islands’ Expedition: the camp

Valevahalo was the main camp for our recent Solomon Islands’ expedition. Sited at about 800 m above sea level, it is deep in the jungle of the northern foothills of Guadalcanal’s Mount Popomanaseu. I was there for eight nights, with two additional nights at a satellite camp at the nearby Haviha River.

Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Valevahalo camp, central Guadalcanal. Looking down on the sleeping quarters from the helipad. The Chupukama satellite camp was on top of the ridge at left. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

For background on the expedition, see Te Papa blog post: Expedition to the Solomon Islands; or listen to interview with Radio New Zealand National.

Valevahalo was a village of the landowning Uluna-Sutahuri tribe. It was abandoned in the 1970s, as people moved to the lowlands seeking opportunities from the ‘modern’ world. It was a poignant return for several of the elders in the expedition – they had grown up in Valevahalo, and not returned since.

Cutting a helipad was an essential part of establishing a camp at Valevahalo. Many flights were needed for transporting all of us, our camping and collecting equipment and supplies, and the specimens we collected. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Cutting a helipad was an essential part of establishing a camp at Valevahalo. Many flights were needed for transporting all of us, our camping and collecting equipment and supplies, and the specimens we collected. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

The Camp

Camp Valevahalo was quite something. Accommodating over 40 people, with an impressive range of facilities. The hard work of camp construction had been completed before the main science team arrived.

Part of the main sleeping area at Valevahalo. “Beverley Hills” is on the ridge in the background, and the kitchen down the other side of that ridge. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Part of the main sleeping area at Valevahalo. “Beverley Hills” is on the ridge in the background, and the kitchen is down the other side of that ridge. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Under one of the sleeping tarpaulins. Some slept on the underlying tarpaulin; others in tents. Mine is the white tent at right. Note the hanging washing. Blue sky was only occasional, so it was a challenge getting clothes dry. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Under one of the sleeping tarpaulins. Some slept on the underlying tarpaulin; others in tents. Mine is the white tent at right. Note the hanging washing. Blue sky was only occasional, so it was a challenge getting clothes dry. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Pressing ferns at Sam’s tent in “Beverley Hills” on the ridge between the main sleeping tents and the kitchen at Valevahalo. Behind us are presses, containing plants between newspaper and cardboard, being dried over a gas burner. Photo © Matt Renner, used with permission.

Pressing ferns at Sam’s tent in “Beverley Hills” on the ridge between the main sleeping tents and the kitchen at Valevahalo. Behind us are presses, containing plant specimens between newspaper and cardboard, being dried over a gas burner. Photo © Matt Renner, used with permission.

The camp kitchen had inbuilt running water. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

The camp kitchen had inbuilt running water. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Inside the camp kitchen. Note the locally-made furniture. Breakfast was porridge (with crackers). Lunch, which was taken while out collecting, was crackers with tinned fish, spaghetti, or (my favourite) creamed corn. Dinner was a large amount of rice with a topping of canned fish or meat mixed with instant noodles. Cooking was gas-powered. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Inside the camp kitchen. Note the locally-made furniture. Breakfast was porridge (with crackers). Lunch, which was taken while out collecting, was crackers with tinned fish, spaghetti, or (my favourite) creamed corn. Dinner was a large amount of rice with a topping of canned fish or meat mixed with instant noodles. Cooking was gas-powered. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Valevahalo camp’s main water supply. The kitchen was just downstream. Also the dishwashing area, laundry, and at-times-none-too-private shower. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Valevahalo camp’s main water supply. The kitchen was just downstream. Also the dishwashing area, laundry, and at-times-none-too-private shower. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Sturdy wood steps made tractable the traverse of the mud sides of the ridge between the camp’s kitchen and the main sleeping area. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Sturdy wood steps made tractable the traverse of the mud sides of the ridge between the camp’s kitchen and the main sleeping area. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Camp construction extended even to a laboratory, neighbouring the main sleeping area. The mess belongs to the herpetology team, who were also known to leave bags containing snakes hanging around. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Camp construction extended even to a laboratory, neighbouring the main sleeping area. The mess belongs to the herpetology team, who were also known to leave hanging around bags containing snakes. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Valevahalo camp was equipped with a diesel generator. It was run between 5 pm and about 9 pm, providing electricity to recharge cameras, phones, and computers. There was also electric lights in select places. This cord provided lighting to the laboratory. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Valevahalo camp was equipped with a diesel generator. It was run between 5 pm and about 9 pm, providing electricity to recharge cameras, phones, and computers. There was also electric lights in select places. This is a junction in the extension cords providing lighting to the laboratory. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Although wary of making fieldwork toileting a recurring theme of Te Papa’s blogs (http://blog.tepapa.govt.nz/2015/01/16/antarctic-blog-2-camping-at-79-degrees-south/), this is the males’ toilet. The females’ toilet was much superior, in being roofed and not stalked by a varanid lizard. The bulk rice diet meant some people were not as familiar with this facility as they might have been – a 6 day absence being one rumour! Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Although wary of making fieldwork toileting a recurring theme of Te Papa’s blogs, this is the males’ toilet. The females’ toilet was much superior, in having a roof and not being stalked by a varanid lizard. The bulk rice diet meant some people were not as familiar with this facility as they might have been – a six day absence being one rumour! Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Te Papa blog post about fieldwork toileting in Antarctic conditions.

Sleeping quarters at the Haviha River satellite camp. We spent two nights here, accessing higher elevations than available immediately around Valevahalo. A ground matting of tree fern fronds kept us separated from the mud. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Sleeping quarters at the Haviha River satellite camp. We spent two nights here, accessing higher elevations than immediately available around Valevahalo. A ground matting of tree fern fronds kept us separated from the mud. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Living conditions

Our position in the tropics was offset by the elevation. I found the temperature mild, but the locals and Fijians were sometimes cold.

We were, however, all damp. Moisture hung in the air, when it wasn’t falling from it. In my perpetual dampness, I pondered what it must have been like to live here. Of course, the high rainfall is a significant factor behind the high diversity of plants and animals that had brought us to Valevahalo.

Gumboots were de rigueur for several of the international participants. Here, Sydney Botanic Garden’s Matt Renner models Honiara’s finest, choppered in midway through the expedition. Rain and grey skies meant tramping boots festered. Matt was also a patron of Honiara’s milliners. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Gumboots were de rigueur for several of the international participants. Here, Sydney Botanic Garden’s Matt Renner models Honiara’s finest, choppered in midway through the expedition. Rain and grey skies meant tramping boots festered. Matt was also a patron of Honiara’s milliners. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Rain meant mud. And the mud was a physical and mental drain. The hill above the camp earned the names “Heartbreak” and “A###break” for its respective ascent and descent. Fortunately, the weather cleared for our last few days.

It was important to not deprive US Geological Survey’s Adam of the “Least Clean” award. With Valevahalo’s shower often busy serving also as the water supply and laundry, some of us sought other washing opportunities. Here, I take a dip in the Vuvula River. Photo © Matt Renner, used with permission.

I thought it important to not take home the “Least Clean” award. With Valevahalo’s shower often busy serving also as the water supply and laundry, some of us sought other washing opportunities. Here, I take a dip in the Vuvula River. Photo © Matt Renner, used with permission.

Conditions were otherwise very comfortable, which was great because the work was hard and long. Good company, well fed, intriguing surrounds, serenaded to sleep by a chorus (verging on cacophony) of calling frogs, and few mosquitos (although I kept taking my anti-malaria antibiotics; last pill today). I saw only two leeches during the entire trip (with no bites), no stinging plants, and no snakes (except for those in captivity). I thoroughly recommend the Valevahalo eco-tourism experience!

More information

Te Papa blog post: Expedition to the Solomon Islands, with background.

Te Papa blog post: Solomon Islands’ Expedition: the ferns.

Interview with Radio New Zealand National.

Posts from the American Museum of Natural History about the expedition.

The expedition on Twitter.

4 Responses

  1. David Hutchinson

    Your fern-identification skills will be honed even finer than before Leon. Thanks for the Interesting post.

    Reply
  2. Jonathan Richmond

    Those pesky herpetologists with their hanging bags of snakes and weird accents! They will always lack the class of fern biologists. Always.

    Reply
  3. Michael Sundue

    Can’t wait to see photos of all the ferns you collected!

    Reply
    • Leon Perrie

      Hi Michael,
      It’ll be a while before I get them onto the museum’s website, but I’ll send you a dropbox link once I’ve finished naming them. There are a few I can’t do, so your help would be much appreciated!

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