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Bonegi Beach is very popular with the ex-pats in Honiara.

Diving Returns to Honiara

By Andrew Whitehead

Published in Dive Log Australasia
April 2005


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 back door!

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.

Bonegi Beach

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.

Hirokawa Maru

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.

The Dive

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.

Some History

American 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 coast.

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

Web sites:

Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau

Visit for information on places to stay, and links to many other related websites.

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