Spending an impromptu week in Guadalcanal of the Solomon Islands and seeing some excellent World War II sights on the trip, Pacifying the Pacific.
I returned to the Solomon Islands because I needed to transit in Nauru and Honiara was the economical choice. I also wanted to explore the Guadalcanal more in depth. This week-long stay allowed me to visit some of the sights I missed on my first trip.
As this trip was extremely last minute, I didn’t have any accommodation planned. This situation is somewhat stressful but there’s a sense of adventure when you don’t know where you’ll end up spending the night.
It was a Sunday and my flight was the last one of the day so the airport was closing up, which meant no wifi, taxis, sim cards to buy, or even people.
There were some airport staff closing up and one guy named Gordon was really helpful. He let me use the airport terminal computers to check my email and with his friend James even gave me lift to the hotel.
This time around, I chose to feature The Honiara Hotel. They were interested in the project and wanted to sponsor my stay.
Located right in the center of town, the humble entrance led to a maze of corridors, restaurants and open spaces. This place was huge and rooms were perched right up the mountain!
The next morning I met with some of the managers, Rose and Derrick who gave me a brief introduction. Eventually at the bar, I met Sir Thomas the mastermind behind this establishment. I use “sir” because he was knighted by the Queen in Buckingham Palace and I say mastermind, because he was with the development of the property from the get-go. What started as a small hotel, has grown to include apartments overlooking the sea, three restaurants, the largest pool in the city, and more! Sir Thomas of Chinese background was also very amicable and I immediately felt at home chatting with him. I learned about the hotel, the royal visits, his family, and some modern Solomons history. Before we knew it we had finished four beers and he had read my palm.
Over the next week, I visited several WWII related sights around the island and also had an action packed day organized by Tommy and the team at Hotel Honiara.
Mbonege I and II
Though I visited this site last time, I didn’t get a chance to witness it underwater, so I had some unfinished business. Though weather was questionable, I made a last minute decision to go snorkeling on my first day. Finally I would use the snorkeling set that has been awkwardly taking up so much room in my packs.
Hoping into a taxi and 30 minutes later, we pulled into the parking. Like last time, some locals magically appeared to collect my S$30 entrance. He also pointed out where Mbonege II was, a few minutes down a high grass road.
The top level of the water was very warm, but this seemed to create some very poor visibility. Diving just two feet down, revealed the wreck and hundreds of fish. The remaining metal hull has become home to a colorful living reef.
Unfortunately while floating around the surf I got stung by an invisible jellyfish on my arm and right side of my body. It was painful but what really worried me was the fact that I couldn’t see it or any others in the area. So my first snorkel was shorter than I had hoped.
At Mbonege II, two American tourists were wrapping up and also complained about the visibility. The second wreck was even more deteriorated than the first. I snorkeled until the sunset.
Tetere Beach Museum
The driver that took me out the day before mentioned some tank graveyard which sounded interesting so I arranged to visit it the next day. He picked me up and we headed east on the main road for about an hour. On the way we passed many fields, villages, and even a bomb disposal zone. The driver explained in pidgin English that even today farmers and villagers regularly get blown up my unexploded ordinance. he told me a story of a guy in his village that thought the tip of a bomb he found would make a good bowl, so he took a metal saw and started cutting out his prize. Kaboom!
Eventually we turned off on a dirt road and drove by forests of palm farms and some oil processing plants until we arrived at the museum. A lady came out of a shack to collect the S$100 entry fee.
Besides a small collection of bottles and metal relics found in the bush, they had an impressive number of rusted out amphibious tanks used for transporting troops, but most of them were in terrible condition with little to no discernible markings. Large trees and bushes were growing through the rusty shells, mangling their structures with their root systems. Nature was taking these vehicles back.
On my way out, one of the guys even sold me one of the canteens from WWII.
Our next stop was an abandoned airstrip built and used by the Americans during the war. It was a few minutes drive from the main road and also happened to be next to the driver’s village. He stopped to show me a Japanese bunker, next to a sports field which was now being used to hold garbage and the remains of a mangled American Willys Jeep.
With no signage at all, the driver turned and drove into the high grass. After a few minutes we emerged on a tar surface that was the airstrip. A section was still being used as a road, but the other side was completely overgrown. He showed me where he hid some bullets and a gun he found before, but his loot was no where to be found.
We took a walk by his uncle’s house which had plenty of WWII cola and beer bottles on a fence. He gave me one of the beer bottles as a gift and then we headed back to the hotel.
Boating Day Trip
Then the next day the hotel team organized a boat tour for me. This included a boat ride to a resort area about an hour’s drive from town followed by a tour of Savo island.
With Tommy’s nephew, we drove to a small “dock” near the hotel where we loaded up and boarded the boat. We picked up some more friends at a marina where sailboats were anchored.
Then we headed along the coast, fishing and sighting dolphins on the way. I actually pulled out a decent sized mackerel and we saw a large pod of dolphins swimming with local fishermen in their tiny canoes. The dolphins were very playful and were flipping out of the water which I never saw before outside of a water park.
Finally we got to the beach which use to have this popular resort with a bar and pool. It was burned down during the “troubles”. Apparently militants took over and lived there, violating the women and children from the nearby village. After they left, the villagers burned it down so they couldn’t come back to live there. It’s a sad story to what must have been a great resort addition to the Honiara scene.
Tommy was happy to show us the waterskiing and kneeboarding they had available. We all did a few rounds with varying levels of success. I was glad I managed to slalom ski.
After a picnic lunch, we headed to Savo Island. This small volcanic is just off the shore of Guadalcanal and possibly can be active.
Our first was to check out the megapode field. These megapodes are birds that lay eggs almost their entire body size (reminds me of the kiwi). They come out at night and dig these large holes and lay their eggs, then in the morning the locals dig them up and eat or sell them. We bought a couple and they were twice the size of chicken eggs.
Then we went to the north side of the island and docked at a village. We disembarked to climb to a volcanic hot spring in the vicinity. Our local village guides lit some coconut husks and led us about 15 minutes into the jungle. As we walked, village children started joining and soon we formed a sizable group.
Once we arrived at this temperate spring, locals torches which they used to “light” the water and create a reaction where everything is smoking. The stream was pretty hot but bearable. Some people seemed to be washing their fruits in the water.
After that we headed back. We got back to the hotel and I had a few minutes before getting ready for dinner.
The hotel prepared a massive feast of fresh seafood, including the mackerel I caught, and local cuisine accompanied by traditional dancing shows by two separate groups. It was truly a spectacular evening with my wonderful hosts and new friends.
Secret WWII Collection
I heard rumors about this WWII collection of artifacts from taxi drivers and other locals, so I asked Derrick from the hotel to take me. He’s never been before either, but knew who to ask. We set out with Rose to pick up a few items for the hotel. We drove by the Sol Brew factory so I snapped a few pictures.
Then we hunted down this mysterious location. Driving around near the port, Derrick pulled over to ask people several times before we ended up at this gated compound where police officers were busy loading bombs into their car. We chatted with one officer and he said we could park where their Bomb Disposal truck was. I cautiously entered what looked like a small warehouse to discover a treasure trove of war relics.
A man who introduced himself as Keith seemed to be in charge and gave me an introduction of the place. Originally from Australia, he’s been here his whole life and has been collecting artifacts ever since. He now has people hired to head into the jungle with metal detectors and the bring back any items of interest. Eventually he’d like to display the collection in a museum.
I wandered through the sorting piles of bullet shells, grenades, rifles, guns, helmets, and other odds and ends. He even had a tank that looked brand-new! He explained that it was in a bog, so it was really well preserved. He sandblasted it, painted it and he’ll soon add an engine to make it run like new. He pointed out where a large round went into the tank and blew up a bullet storage causing an explosion inside.
He also had cannons, pieces of planes, and boats. He explained that he use to have a lot more including working machine guns, but during the troubles, his guns were seized by the authorities. He’s determined to get them back.
Sensing my excitement, he said he would show me his other collection. It was a good 30 minutes away with traffic and was located at his residence.
Keith unveiled this room with glass casing of all his prized possessions. The collection included everything you can image from WWII used by the Americans and Japanese. From dog tags to spy cameras, and old Suntory whisky to a complete fighter plane, he had it all. I marveled at the items and imagined the previous owners using them 70 years ago.
We thanked Keith and headed back. I stopped in town for a quick haircut then enjoyed dinner on my last night with my Solomons family.
The next day I was headed back to Nauru and onto the Marshall Islands.
I’m glad I had another chance to visit the Solomon Islands and especially glad that I chose to stay at the Honiara Hotel and meet such a great group of people. The islands have much to discover and my second short stay allowed me to uncover just a few more hidden gems.