We arrived in the Solomon Islands early afternoon and took a taxi straight to our hotel: quite basic and a fair way out of the town centre on a hill. It was evident immediately that the roads were of a similar state if not worse than PNG; the main road from the airport into the city was one giant pot hole and every other road running off it was a dirt track.
Local maps didn’t appear to scale and it was clear that Google had never properly mapped the city – so we mistakenly attempted to walk into town. Over an hour later we were both dripping in the 33c+ heat and 90% humidity. Honiara the capital doesn’t have much in the way of a town centre. More a strip, constantly jammed with traffic and lined with local stores. No western shops and limited brands. Using our ‘not to scale’ map from the hotel we headed to the islands only dive centre/shop: Tulagi Dive, although we only found it after stumbling upon the Tourist Information centre next door.
We met the staff and they took down our contact details, telling us they would call us in the morning if we were able to dive. They had had so much rain lately the viz was awful, so we would only go out if it was a rain free night.
While in town we also hired a car from Economy rentals. Cheap compared to PNG but the car was much older and more basic. But it was a 4×4 at least.
We drove through the town and towards the beaches. The road was littered with pot holes and difficult to navigate. The first beach we came to was pebbly (as we would discover they all are) but had some beautiful views of palm trees and the tranquil turquoise sea.
It was getting late we headed back the way we came and stopped for dinner at the Coral Sea Resort. A brand new restaurant, casino, pool and soon to be hotel complex. Dinner was reasonably priced and we both had steak and enjoyed the view. As darkness came we drove back to the hotel although with the traffic it took along time.
We received a call early in the morning to say that diving was on and to be at the dive shop at 8:30am- lucky we had the car! The dive shop was bustling with activity and after sorting out equipment and proving our advanced certification we were off.
It was just ourselves and the dive master and local helper. Their large flatbed truck bumped along the potholes and we passed the beach we had visited the day before. We pulled in at the site of two beached WWII Japanese wrecks; locally referred to as Bonegi 1&2.
First we dived number 1. A deeper dive and this ship couldn’t be seen above the water. It sat in water from 5 to 50m. Perfect for us. Our dives would be shore dives something we hadn’t done since we first learnt to scuba dived back in Egypt. After flapping around in the shallows trying to put our fins on we began. Careful of the shallow coral, we didn’t want to cut ourselves in these tropical waters, as infection would rapidly set in. The wreck was clear and well preserved. Hundreds of types of fish and coral covered the wreck and the bomb damage could be clearly seen. A huge hole ripped through one side to the other where a torpedo had damaged her. We descended to 35m and looked inside. Trucks, tires and ammunition could be seen. We dived through small gaps and holes and both dived well. A brilliant first dive.
Wreck 2 was just down the beach. This one was still visible above the water with engine clearly viable. She sat shallower to 30m. Again perfect for us. After a break on land and some biscuits we entered the water. This time we had to be on the watch for rays and to make sure we didn’t stand on them, their barbed tails would pierce skin easily. I tried out my new go-pro style (far cheaper) camera from 3SIXT as it said it could be taken up to 30m. However within 5m the housing had blown and it filled with water. Frustrating but nothing I could do. Hopefully the warranty will cover it!
We descended and around 14m I discovered I hadn’t done my fins up properly as one came off. The diver master assisted in retrieving and reattaching. Bomb damage was clear again and several artifices remained, from cylinders to a toilet and even a femur! The fish life again was beautiful with nemos among the many other types. We also did see several rays sitting on the bottom, eying us carefully. We also did a fun underwater handstand and quick decent down the side of the boat. Again a spectacular dive. Both very reminiscent of our time 3 years ago in Chuk Lagoon diving Japanese wrecks.
Dives done we returned to Honiara, organised more dives for the following day and drove to the airport to pick up our friend Mike White. He had flown out from the UK via Australia to join us for some island hopping. He was in good spirits and after checking him in at the hotel we went back to the coral sea for sunset, dinner and drinks.
The following day again we were up early to dive. Mike W our friend doesn’t dive but would accompany us and snorkel instead. This time we had a local dive master. We headed further west than the day before to the sight of an American B-17 bomber. It sat at 20m down. The viz today however was dreadful. Paddling out the viz was 0m, we had to hold hands so we didn’t loose each other. Once we got down to the bottom however it was much better. The bomber was plane to see, still with her propellers and cabin where the pilot sat. It didn’t take long to explore but again there was lots of fish life covering the wreck. Including some that flashed if you went to near! Our new DM (dive master) didn’t do much guiding so we were left to ourselves as he played with the fish. We explored in around the bomber and finally once we got his attention signalled to go home.
Back on the surface Mike W had been snorkelling and for a beach walk. We headed back to the Bonegi 2 for our second dive where the snorkelling would be much better for Mike given the depth of the wreck and fish life present.
Again our DM led us down to the wreck, but was more interested playing with fish than showing us around. The Viz was half of what it was the day before. After a brief circumnavigation we explored around the shallower parts ourselves. Mike even came face to face with a reef shark! I typically missed it. In 50 dives I’ve still not seen a shark!
After another successful dive we surfaced and dried off. Mike W enjoyed his snorkelling and we said goodbye to our DM. We had flowed the truck in the car this morning so we could head straight out rather than returning to Honiara.
We enjoyed some time on the shore and Mike flew the drone capturing some stunning shots of the wreck in the shallows. Next we planned to drive and explore the island for the next two days, we would soon see just how mad the roads would get and what secrets lay hidden in the jungle.