Solomon Islands Underwater

The Solomon Islands isn't one of the best known countries in the world, and it isn't one of the most popular tourist destinations either, so you're unlikely to find many resort goers lazing by the pool here.   The two groups of visitors who do come here couldn't be more different from each other - World War Two veterans and recreational scuba divers.   I met both American and Japanese veterans who had come here to reconnect with their history, the six months in 1942 and 1943 when the islands, and especially the airstrip called Henderson Field on the island of Guadalcanal, became the focus of the war in the Pacific, a no holds barred fight to the death.

The scuba divers come here mainly because of the reputation of these islands for clear water visibility and big fish, especially sharks.   I myself didn't see any sharks, except perhaps one fleeting glimpse of a large shape which rapidly moved away when I turned towards it, but I did see a number of other fish you might not want to meet, including moray eels and the infamous stone fish, probably the most toxic fish in the world.

I also had a good time photographing some of the more attractive inhabitants of the reef.   As well as the usual fish which you'll find around the Indian and Pacific oceans, the Solomons are home to an excellent array of brightly coloured and patterned nudibranches, which are also known by the less glamorous name "sea slugs".

My interests include both underwater life and military history, which is why I was determined to visit the Solomon Islands from New Zealand before emigrating to the far-off United States.   There are a huge number of shallow water sites around these islands where you can see both American and Japanese wreckage from the war, but I was only here for 7 days, so I restricted myself to the area around Guadalcanal, with one mildly hair-raising day trip in a small fishing boat to the Nggela Islands, more or less directly north across Iron Bottom Sounds from Guadalcanal.   The first area of interest here was Tokyo Bay on the island of Nggela Sule, where the wrecks of a Japanese destroyer and its tender were supposedly located, along with an American tank landing ship.   I couldn't see any sign of the destroyer, but the tank landing ship was beached with the jungle as a backdrop.   The water was shallow and murky, and a local villager had been eaten two weeks earlier by a saltwater crocodile, so I elected not to snorkel this wreck, however I did climb on top and take plenty of photos.   I also visited an old seaplane base on the tiny island of Ghavutu, one of the few locations which the Japanese strongly contested at the start of the Solomon Islands campaign.   As well as interesting invertebrate life on the wharf pilings, there was also lots of wreckage and surplus parts lying on the bottom, about 30 feet down.

Once I was back from the Ngellas I hit two sites along the northern coast of Guadalcanal, the first at Bonegi Beach, where a couple of Japanese freighters were bombed and beached, and the second at Veuru, where a large Japanese submarine was rammed and sunk by two much smaller New Zealand corvettes, the Moa and the Kiwi.   This bow of this submarine was still sticking several metres out of water until 1972, until some #*@$! Australian came along and dynamited it in order to salvage its brass and lead.   I was unable to locate the remains, so this turned out to be a bit of a wasted effort.   The water was also slightly murky and visions of ravenous tiger sharks danced through my head and made me somewhat less than eager to prolong my search!   My visit to Bonegi was much more successful, yielding some marvellous dragonfly sightings, as well as a generally enjoyable time on the wrecks.   The only downside of this was that I totally wrote off my underwater camera by flooding it with seawater, but in the end I even got the cost of this back through my insurance.