Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Honiara
On a trip to the Solomon Islands for the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Battle of Guadalcanal (August 1992), I was lucky to dive a number of the sites around the country's capital of Honiara. I say lucky, as of the last time I visited (October 2001), you could dive only one site, the wreck of the USS John Penn. See later comments.
Covering over 800,000 square kilometres, the Solomon Islands are the third largest archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean and consist of 992 islands, atolls and cays. The earliest occupation of the Solomons dates back to about 4000 BC when Melanesians arrived.
The first contact with Europeans came on 7 February 1568 when Spaniard Don Alvaro de Mendana Neyra (Mendana) sighted Santa Isabel Island. He named the islands Yslas su llamen de Salomon (Solomon Islands). He returned in 1595 with four ships but got lost before discovering Santa Cruz. Mendana died of malaria and after 10 weeks of troubles, the expedition left. In 1606 a Portugese, de Quiros, (Mendana's chief pilot in 1595) missed his target of Santa Cruz and discovered the Duff Islands. After discussions with locals, he went searching for the Great South Land but instead discovered Espirito Santo in Vanuatu.
In the 1890s the Solomons came under British control and this lasted until April 1942 when Japan seized the country.
In July of that year, US reconnaissance planes reported that Korean labourers were building an airfield on Guadalcanal. The completion of the airfield would have given the Japanese a strategic foothold to enable them to attack further south into what is now Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji. Seeing the problems this would cause, the US decided to take action and at daybreak on 7 August 1942, US Marines (supported by US, NZ and Australian warships) stormed ashore at Red Beach. Over the next six months so many vessels were sunk in the waters off Guadalcanal that it was renamed Iron Bottom Sound.
After the War, the colonial capital of British Solomon Islands moved to Honiara from Tulagi and Honiara grew up around the on independence, the Capital became Honiara.
Since I first visited Honiara in the mid-1980s, the town had not changed much when I again visited in 1992. However, when I visited in October 2001 there was a huge change. The road from the airport, previously a single lane road in both directions was now a dual carrageway for most of the way. There are also about three round-abouts in the town and the eastern side of town has expanded greatly, with shops extending on the south side of the road opposite the markets. In town, the former one way roads have disappeared and the four lanes continues past the Mendana Hotel. One thing to note is that the underpass built to cross the road is not used, like underpasses in most parts of the world, it is closed as it was obviously used by less desirable parts of the population for very questionable purposes.
There is a new International Terminal that was donated by Japan. It is very nice but note that it does not open until about 90 minutes before a flight. However, the Domestic Terminal at the old International Teminal is pathetic. It stinks, it is dirty, it is filthy, it is putrid it is (put any word you can think of here). Under no circumstances should you ever think of entering the toilets or staying more than 30 seconds here.
Both the Mendana and King Solomon Hotels look nice and the food in both is good, although you cannot always get what you order. In 2001 and 2009 I stayed in the King Solomon and it was nice. Both have pools and air conditiioned rooms. However, there were big problems with reliability of electricity in 2001 but in 2009 there was no problem. Not sure what it is like now.
In the late 1990s a problem arose when the natives on Guadalcanal decided that they were sick and tired of people from the island of Malaita coming to their island and taking their jobs and land. The Guadalcanal people took to attacking the Malaitians and in the ensuing violence, a lot of people from both sides were killed. In addition, this became an excuse to attack others and there was a huge amount of looting etc. The final result was a coup of sorts and the departure of virtually all non-native people (most evacuated by the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy). Since then the place has quietened down a bit and the Australian and New Zealand Governments have brokered a peace deal that is sort of working. There was an International Peace Monitoring Team present in Honiara in October 2001, but even then it was impossible to travel west of Honiara.
In mid-2003 Australian and other Police and Defence forces went into the Solomon Islands at the request of the Government and it appears that the situation that previously existed has now changed and it is calm again.
I understand that there is now a dive operation on Guadalcanal. Until early 2004 you could not even visit the area where the wrecks around Honira are located. Since the Australian, New Zealand and other Pacific Island military forces regained control of the country (at the Solomon Islands invitation) and especially the area near the wrecks, the situation has changed. Hopefully the peace will remain. Unfortunately, I have no further information.
Despite this, I have included details on some of the dives around Honiara in the following home pages.The dives include the Kyusyu Maru, Hirokawa Maru, Kinugawa Maru, I-1 and Bessie the Jap Basher.