The charm of the Solomon Islands goes beyond cheery smiles, waving palm trees and laid back ambience. WWII tourism takes you under the sea for a history lesson.
(Images courtesy of Gerald Rambert)
With the advent of dark tourism: empty prison tours, walks through defunct death camps, murder sites and . . . well, just about anywhere that pain, suffering, death and destruction have put their mark on the earth’s surface are now popular locations for the instagrammer generation of travellers. Planting a big smile in the middle of a frame with barbwire or prison bars in the background make for a boatload of likes for their ‘brand’.
But something a little softer and less likely to hit the digital top of the pop charts is under the water.
All over the world there are wonderful dive sites for those who don the black to dive deep. Close to Australia, just three hour’s flight away are unspoilt gems, the Solomon Islands.
Many of the islands are not easy to access except for private charters or the slow and steady – and rustic banana boats, so best to discover the islands and dive sites with those in the know and in comfort.
Solomon Islands Discovery Cruises is a company that has an inclusive itinerary which is about diving, snorkelling, relaxing and visiting islands and discovering the local culture and traditions – ‘kastom’.
Wreck diving is at a premium, and the echo of WWII resounds here in many ways, mostly underwater and the watery graves are a benign destination these days.
When the tide of the war turned in WWII, many Solomon Islanders became ‘scouts’, who were the eyes and ears of the allies. Prior to the Guadalcanal campaign of August 1942, the Royal Australian Navy activated a network of coast watchers. The coast watchers were Europeans who remained behind enemy lines to radio information about Japanese naval and ground forces and aircraft.
Coast watchers remained concealed.
When the US Marines landed on Guadalcanal more Solomon Islanders offered help as scouts and carriers. There are stories of bravery, loyalty and skills to be told and one of them is when scouts ensured the rescue in August 1943 of a future president of the United States, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was commander of patrol boat PT-109 which exploded and sank when a Japanese destroyer hit it. An Australian coast watcher and two islanders saw the explosion and found Kennedy and his 10 surviving crew and reported to the Aussie coast watcher who arranged a rescue. An act of divine providence that saved the future president of the USA? Maybe, and maybe one of many such incidents throughout the Pacific.
Scuba diving in the Solomon Islands is a dream for enthusiasts. Not only are there vast swathes of unspoilt and beautiful coral gardens to enjoy, marine life of myriad colourful and plentiful critters, but an ocean-full (not quite) but relatively crowded with WWII relics. Planes of all fighting denomination, artillery, barges and detritus of army, air force and navy equipment that was jettisoned by the Japanese and the American forces when they left or were driven out. So many ships close to the surface and many planes are waiting to be explored. This manmade underwater ghost life has joined the deep blue and is now home to many species of fish and other marine life that has taken up residence, found a good breeding ground and created a deep, watery neighbourhood that divers are fascinated with. There are many shallow wrecks that are suitable for snorkelling too.
Not in the region of Dark Tourism, wreck diving is all about the letting the light in.
The writer was a guest of Solomon Islands Discovery Cruises and Solomon Airlines. http://www.divemunda.com/solomon-islands-discovery-cruises