Exploring WWII ruins, wandering cities, diving shipwrecks, visiting pristine beaches and snorkeling reefs in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu on the trip, Pacifying the Pacific.
Leaving Papua New Guinea, I was on a Air Niugini flight to Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. The landing was so hard we bounced a bit.
With an EU passport, immigration was easy. There is a free entry stamp on arrival.
Country 167 complete!
I had a day and a half to do some sightseeing in and around Honiara. From my hotel, Heritage Park Hotel, I organized a taxi to take me around which was just a regular company from the street.
The driver’s name was also David and he only spoke Pijin which comes from English but is quite hard to understand. Through much difficulty we managed to head north toward the Vilu War Museum.
After driving back and forth, we stopped to ask some people hanging out and a kid just hopped into the car with us. He guided us to the entrance which was off a small dirt road and he even went through the museum with us. An old man named Anderson collected the entrance (100 SBD) and showed me around the collection of WWII planes, cannons, weapons, and bombs. He showed how one of the US fighter plane’s wings could still fold back for storage on an aircraft carrier. Some Japanese cannons were in good condition with the writing clearly legible. These were all items found in the jungle and amassed by his father.
We dropped off the kid and went back south toward Mbonege.
As it was already 6ish, we were racing against time to visit in daylight. We eventually got to the beach and had a quick look at the shipwreck which really isn’t too interesting from above the water.
We went searching for this tank wreck hidden in the jungle but had no luck. Eventually one of the guards from Mbonege took us for a 30 SBD fee. He lead the way with his machete and took us to the small US tank quietly rusting away under a tree. There were a couple of rusted gas tanks but that was about it.
Then we returned to the hotel getting there after dark. Taxis by the hour seem to have a standard rate of SBD 100/hour, so the whole three hour drive cost about SBD 300 or $25.
I went to bed after a tasty chicken fajita dinner and Solbrew beer at the hotel restaurant.
The next day after breakfast I went for a walk to explore town which was difficult with a sore leg.
Right across the street was the National Museum. It was pretty small but had a decent display and description of artifacts. A corner was dedicated to the war effort and the US influence over the area.
I stopped by the Honiara Market but it was quite empty and not really open yet. I found a shop which had tourist shirts and picked one up. A Chinese guy from Guangzhou was the owner and said every shop owner on the strip was from China.
Then I hailed a taxi to go up to the Japanese Solomon’s Peace Memorial on top of the mountain which was about 15 minutes away on some poor dirt roads. Apparently we passed through the driver, Steven’s village and he pointed out his aunt and dads house as we drove by.
Surprisingly the memorial had a SBD 50 fee. Within the walls is a single white minimalist structure where one of the gun placements use to be. A bench is set to enjoy the view of the city below.
Next we visited the Guadacanal American Memorial on an opposite hill. The memorial is very open with large stone slabs describing the battles and events that took place here. A large flag waves next to the memorial plaque with a spectacular view in the background.
And that was it for my Honiara tour. I caught my Solomon Airlines flight to Port Vila, Vanuatu. The A320 was in good shape and the food was decent too. It felt good to get off my feet.
Vanuatu immigration was a bit casual and stamped my passport with a free entry stamp. Most countries get an arrival permit, but some have to pay a fee.
Country 168 check!
I picked up some cash and found my airport transfer to the hotel, Breakas Beach Resort.
The two ladies and driver gave me some great information on Port Vila. Apparently a cruise ship left today and everything would be closed tomorrow as it is Sunday.
After I checked into the hotel and had a swim, I enjoyed the cultural dance show that took place during dinner.
The next day was sightseeing in Port Vila. Getting around the city is easy with the many minibuses that act as public transportation and only cost 150 Vatu (~$1.50) per ride.
The National Museum was indeed closed, but I had a look around anyway. Across the street is the Parliament of Vanuatu. Next to that is a new convention center being built by a Chinese company.
I continued down the street and saw a shop with some shirts. I walked in and found it was owned by a Chinese guy from Heilongjiang. What surprised me is that his local staff understood Chinese because he “never learned English”. I picked up my tourist shirt here before walking passed the Australian Embassy to the main street of the city.
Downtown Port Vila isn’t that spectacular and even less so with everything closed. I walked down the street to see the main market which only had a few fruit sellers. I continued down the street to see the different areas of the bay, some restaurants and attractions. There were still yacht wrecks on the banks of the islands from the Cyclone Pam last year.
Some taxi driver had his car burned overnight, probably some act of revenge. A small crowd gathered to discuss it.
Then I checked out of the hotel and I caught my Air Vanuatu flight to the largest island of the country, Espiritu Santo. Interestingly there was no security for this domestic flight. I mean zero. No metal detectors or baggage checks!
Stepping out of the airport I met Timmy, the owner of a tour company. He took me to the hotel and also offered to show me around the island!
I stayed at Sunrise Beach Resort on a quiet stretch of pristine beach with a private island.
The owner Clare enthusiastically introduced me to the resort and my cabana, which was beautifully crafted sitting on stilts with an incredible view.
The next day I headed to do two dives of the famous SS Coolidge with Santo Island Dive. More on that later.
After the dives, I explored Luganville a bit and had a coffee. Then back to the resort for a delicious local cuisine dinner!
On my last full day, I went for a tour with Jerry from Santo Heritage Tours. Much of the tour was focused on the WWII history. On the way we saw the only prison built by the Americans which housed two Japanese prisoners. From the top of a hill Jerry pointed out the U.S. tower connected to a submarine net during WWII.
We stopped at the beach where the SS Coolidge sank, then explored the wreckage of a B-17 that crashed in the jungle.
Next was snorkeling at Million Dollar Point. This attraction got its name when the US dumped over a million dollars worth of equipment into the sea. Mangled and rusty vehicles, boats, planes, tanks, and arms littered the beach and seabed. Apparently a couple of years after the U.S. blew it all up a guy went in and pulled out 12 bulldozers, fixed them up a bit and they worked. Then he sold it to New Zealand for a hefty profit!
Speaking of New Zealand, we drove to where the Kiwis were stationed during WWII and the foundations of their bar and homes could still be seen along New Zealand Beach.
Jerry then took me to their tour’s exclusive “secret spot” which was a quite cove with a fire pit. We had a great barbecue with some famous Santo beef. The reef was excellent as well for snorkeling.
Right next door is Champagne Beach, a long stretch of white sandy beach which is a favorite hang out of tourists, cruise ship passengers and the local cows that were hanging around in the shade.
Not far was the Matevulu Blue Hole which is accessed via a road that is a repurposed airstrip from WWII. The water was really blue as the name suggested and comes from a spring. A large banyan tree towers above the hole, where a rope swing is set up for some fun jumps.
Our last stop was Luganville where the main American base was located housed some 500,000 soldiers during the war. Today it is the second largest city of the country.
There were several original metal hangars now apparently used for storage by their new owners. The road is also very wide as planned by the military leaders to fit four jeeps abreast.
That concluded the tour and Jerry took me back to the hotel where I had a relaxing evening.
On last day in Vanuatu, I enjoyed the beach and private island of Sunrise Beach Cabanas in the morning after breakfast. Then I checked out and thanked Clare and the awesome team. Back in the airport, I caught my flight to Nadi which connected in Port Vila.
Laid back Vanuatu was a real treat for some history, culture, rest and relaxation!
Next up is a country that needs no introduction, Fiji!