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Diving Returns to Honiara
in Dive Log Australasia
Where in the world can you drive for 20
minutes from the capital and find a quiet beach lined with palm trees, a shallow
sandy bottom for practising diving skills, coral reef, prolific fish life, and a
large WWII wreck lying on the slope from 5 metres down to 58 metres? You can
find all this at Bonegi Beach west of Honiara in the Solomon Islands.
For the last few years, there has been no
dive operator in Honiara because of ‘the tensions’ in the Solomon Islands,
particularly in Guadalcanal. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon
Islands (RAMSI), although somewhat reduced, is still quite active with an
obvious police presence in Honiara. It would seem that the intervention has been
very successful and has stimulated the economy. Tourist divers are coming back
to what is one of the best diving locations in the world, and it is right on our
I recently spent a week working in Honiara
and found that I would have a free day on Sunday. As a regular visitor to the
Solomon Islands, I like to keep up to date with the dive operators. I had heard
that there was a new operator, Gareth Colman, in Honiara so I gave him a call.
He had some students who were doing their final day in the Open Water course at
Bonegi Beach on Sunday, and I would be welcome to go along.
Gareth picked me up in
his 4WD at the King Solomon Hotel and off we went along the coast road, through
a few creeks, to Bonegi Beach. Even though the local chief extracts a ‘custom
fee’ from each car, this place is very popular with the ex-pats for a Sunday
swim and a barbeque because it is a lovely spot and quite close to Honiara.
I wonder how many of the
ex-pats realise that there is a great big ship about 50 metres from their picnic
spot? The more adventurous snorkelors swim out over the smashed up bow of the
wreck which lies in about 5-10 metres. The soft corals and fish life certainly
make it a delightful place for free diving and safety stops.
We set up camp under the
shady trees and got out the dive gear. I was travelling light with only my
polyprop suit, mask and dive computer. Gareth supplied the rest including an
alloy 88, a pair of boots, and good quality gear. While the students were having
a final run through the theory and getting themselves organised, Gareth and I
got ready for a serious dive to the stern of the old ‘Hirokawa Maru’.
“What’s your plan?”
asks Gareth in front of his graduating students. I had dived this wreck once
before (without a plan) so I made a quick one to show them that plans are
important. We agreed to swim along the wreck to the stern but to only go to 40
metres for a quick look. Very sensible, since Gareth had to do two more open
water dives that day.
The Japanese transport Hirokawa Maru was
sunk in November 1942 quite close to the beach near Bonegi Creek which is about
8 miles (13 km) west of Honiara. It was built in 1940 and was originally about
480 feet long but the bow is now completely shattered. The ship lies on a steep
slope on its port side with the stern section in reasonable condition. The stern
lies in 58 metres which is a little deep for recreational diving. The propellers
were salvaged in the 1960’s.
This dive was going to be a quick
reconnoitre and I did not have a torch, so we swam down alongside the ship in
the sunlight. As it is lying on its port side, the superstructure has collapsed
and is quite a mess of steel sheets and girders. My computer started beeping the
30-metre depth warning as I swam under a large obstruction. We swam past the
stern holds, over the broken-off kingposts, finally to the upper part of the
curved stern of the ship. We had reached 43 metres with 2 minutes of NDC (no
decompression) time left. That was quite far enough for this dive. I pointed
back at an up-angle and we swam back ascending along the hull as we went. NDC
time began to improve.
Gareth took me into part of the engine room
to see a large turbine and other indistinguishable pieces of machinery. There
seems to be a complete break in the hull in front of the bridge and schools of
rainbow runners and barracuda congregate around the high point of the wreck.
After our dive, Gareth put his students
through their skills while I took pictures on the beach. We then had a barbeque
lunch followed by the final open water checkout dive. I joined the group in this
nice little wreck dive on the shallower section of the ship. I would have to say
that these students were very fortunate to have the experience of learning to
dive in such a great place.
forces landed on Guadalcanal in August 1942 and took control of Henderson
airfield. From then on, the Japanese found it very difficult to re-supply the
surviving troops on Guadalcanal by ship and several vessels including the
Hirokawa Maru, the Kinugawa Maru, the Kyushu Maru, and the Azumasan Maru were
lost. By January 1943, the Japanese forces on Guadalcanal only had control of
the northwest corner of the island, a fairly mountainous area around Cape
Esperance, with the US forces moving along the north coast
towards them. The older I-class
submarines were used to bring food, ammunition and medical supplies from Rabaul
and land them at night in Kamimbo Bay. The supplies were usually
carried in a 14 metre landing barge
which was mounted on the rear deck. Many of these submarines were sunk during
these missions. Finally, about 13,000 Japanese army and navy
personnel were evacuated by destroyers over three nights early in February 1943.
Gareth Colman established a dive operation
called Coastwatchers at the Honiara Hotel in mid 2004. Gareth is a PADI IDC
staff instructor who is running courses and dive trips to the popular sites such
as the Hirokawa Maru, Kinugawa Maru, Kyushu Maru, Azumasan Maru, B-17, and USS
John Penn. It is not all wreck diving, because there are some beautiful reefs
around Tasivarongo Point just past Bonegi Beach and at other locations along the
Visiting the Solomons
Solomon Airlines flies from Brisbane to
Honiara on most week days using a Boeing 737-300 which they lease from Air
Vanuatu. The main port of entry into the Solomon Islands is at Henderson Airport
on the island of Guadalcanal, situated approximately 10 minutes drive from the
capital of Honiara. The town is situated on the northern coastline and includes
a small, picturesque seaport at Point Cruz. Scuba diving is available from
Honiara, Tulagi, Munda, Uepi or Gizo, and also on liveaboard cruise vessels
based in Honiara.
While in Honiara, I
stayed at the King Solomon Hotel which is situated in Hibiscus Avenue, on the
side of a hill facing north towards Iron Bottom Sound. There are 60 guest rooms
and self-contained units at various levels on the hill with a cable car to take
you up to your room. Two traditional 'Leaf Haus' lodges cover the foyer,
reception, lounge, gift shop, offices, and also the bar and restaurant which are
popular with both guests and locals. The
area is decorated with many beautiful carvings depicting traditional aspects of
life in the Solomon Islands.
The author is an experienced recreational
diver, a financial systems consultant, technical writer and webmaster. Further
information and contact details can be found in his website www.diveshow.com.au
Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau www.visitsolomons.com.sb
for information on places to stay, and links to many other related websites.
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