Where clouds meet the mountain

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BY BEN BILUA
Gizo

WANT to see this place, go to Hambere Village Stay which is located at one of Western Province’s biggest Islands, Kolombangara.

The beautiful and breath taking view is worthy of your hard earned cash.

Add to its bonus, you can see three unique birds which cannot be found anywhere in the world.

Roviana rail, Kolombangara leaf warbler and Kolombangara white-eye are three attractive birds among others that can be seen on Kolombangara.

Hambere Village Stay also provide activities like Mountain Hiking, Bush Trekking, Diving or guests can just chill at the whitesandy beach while watching seagulls dancing around a school of fish.

Hambere Village Stay single guest houses. One is yet to be completed

There is another good news for Yachts. Hambere has a beautiful bay where yachts can hide during bad weather.

A night costs around $SBD400.00 and includes meals.

I was able to meet the owner of Hambere Village Stay, Venty Maena and his wife Neddy Maena during one of my trips to Kolombagara this week.

Venty Maena is a cool guy to talk to and works hard trying to help with his family needs.

His journey as a tourism operator begun in the latter part of 1996 after a short training with his Australian friend.

“Around early 1996, I met an Australian called Arron Hayes in Honiara and became good friends.

“Arron then took me to Australia where I trained as a tour guide working on parks. I took up an interest in venturing into tourism business and when I returned home, I started my own Village Stay.

Venty Maena and his wife Neddy Maena at one of the single guest house

“I first started with one guest house which I built using local materials – sago palm leafs, bamboo and woods.

“In 1997, I welcomed my first guest at my Village Stay and the feeling was special knowing that I’ve made it,” he said.

He recalled that he was around 17 years old when he established his village stay and the job was not easy given that most of the job are manpower.

“There was no funding from outside, worst still I do the job by myself,” Maena laughed.

He said his passion and interest in the tourism industry was the main driver and motivation towards his tourism business.

The years that followed, Maena received lots of guests with the help of his Australian friend who did the marketing in Australia.

Maena received guests from far and near some of who came from Europe.                  

With the help of Dive Gizo, his village stay became a hot spot for tourists.

After struggling alone, Maena met his wife who become his new partner in the development of the village stay.

“When I met him and later married, I’ve been helping him with his plans and also the operation of the village stay.

Yet to be completed single room guest house

“At times, we share the job, he will accompany the guests to the mountains to see the birds while I prepare foods for our guest at the Village Stay.

“It’s been fun and also benefiting working with my husband as money generated from our business helped us to meet our family needs such as schools fees,” Maena’s wife Neddy said.

She adds that the village stay has also helped schools with stationaries donated by their oversea friends and other people who have financial needs but had nowhere to work for money.

“We also provide job opportunities, people from surrounding communities took turn as tour guides when visitors arrived and in return we paid them like 400 per day.

“We also provide small task such as cleaning around the Village Stay to elderly people and in return we paid them,” Neddy said.

Glamorous as it sound, but Venty and Neddy also fall short when it comes to resources such as Out Boat Motor Engine and boat for transporting guests from Gizo to Kolombangara.

The 2007 major Earthquake which was followed by a deadly Tsunami in the Western Province also caused devastation to the village stay. One guest house was pulled to the ground by the earthquake.

However, the challenges never broke their ambitions.

Their dream finally came true in 2015, when they got an engine and a boat.

“This assistance was made possible with the help of my guests. They made recommendation to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

“Their recommendation was a big push that the ministry provided the engine and boat,” Maena said.

COVID-19 crisis

Like other business, Hambere Village stay is also badly affected by COVID-19.

Maena said visitors’ arrival has dropped drastically.

“We have received local guests but our intake is below average,” he said.

According to the Tourism Officer of Western Province, Zaza Gina, tourism operators in Western Province are not certain what their future holds.

“Our operators are feeling the impact of COVID-19. I’ve visited some of the operators in Munda and overall response is that they are badly affected.

“Some of the operators have undergone redundancy while some of the operators established new policies where employees takes turn to work.

“Like Agnes Lodge, they’ve established a policy where employees can take turn to work. Employees will work for certain period then stayed at home for a month for their turn,” she said.

Another officer, Fabina Lilo said Western Province’ Tourism Department (WPTD) is trying its best to help operators stay afloat during this time of COVID-19.

She said WPTD is looking at establishing a local bubble targeting the local Asian community in the country who have expressed interest to be part of the bubble.

Zaza Gina left and Fabina Lilo right with the owner of Hambere Village Stay Venty Maena in the middle at one of the single room guest house

“So, we are discussing the possibility to create our own bubble. This idea has been circulating within our partners and we are hoping to get thing started by August this year,” Lilo said.

400 per nights and this includes meals

Hambere expecting new phase

For Maena, COVID-19 has not disturbed his ambitions. He is building guest houses while waiting for the border to open.

“I’m trying to improve my village stay so that guests can enjoy fully when they come here. I’ve completed two single guest houses and the other one is still in progress.

“I’m also planning to build another two guest houses for couples in the coming months,” he said.

Maena’s dream is far from over, though he has missed out on the government Stimulus Package.

He and his wife are still following up on some funding from the government to help them improve their village stay.

When asked what he needs for his business, Maena replied with a smile and said, “I need a binoculars for bird watching and camera to help promote his business.

Yet to be completed single room guest house

Meana displayed a true spirit of ambition in the tourism industry.

His brothers were all employed by loggers who operated close to his village but he just stayed at home and looked after his village stay.

As I conclude this feature, don’t forget, if you want to see the clouds meet the mountain go to Hambere Village stay.


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