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in Dive Log Australasia
A few days in Honiara, Solomon Islands, can
provide an opportunity to enjoy some fabulous wreck diving at what must be one
of the best shore dives in the world. My friend Don and I were spending a week
there to do a little IT consulting with the weekend free to entertain ourselves.
When we arrived, I contacted the local dive operator, Geoff Allen, to arrange
for tanks and weights and received some unexpected news. Lindblad Expeditions’
small cruise ship National Geographic Endeavour would be in port on Sunday
morning with seventeen divers who wanted to see the famous Bonegi wrecks.
Diving in the Solomons is always an
adventure and one soon learns to be flexible, accept what comes, and grab any
opportunity that comes your way. Apparently, a group of photographers on the
ship wanted to dive on the Kinugawa Maru, while the others were keen to see the
deeper Hirokawa Maru. One of the divers was the world-famous underwater
photographer David Doubilet who has shot more than 60 stories for National
Geographic magazine since 1972.
On Saturday morning, Don and I collected
our four tanks, volunteered to assist Geoff on Sunday in guiding all these
divers on the wrecks, then drove 13 km west to Bonegi Beach for a quiet
double-dive with basic rations from the supermarket for lunch. Apart from a few
inquisitive locals, we had the place to ourselves. We decided to dive to 30
metres on the Hirokawa Maru, then on the shallower buried wreck of the Kinugawa
Maru after lunch.
The Japanese transport Hirokawa Maru was
sunk in November 1942 with its bow on the beach near Bonegi Creek. 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.
We only had to swim a few metres before
finding remnants of the smashed-up bow section of the ship. Heading down the
slope, we found the wreck lying on its port side. The superstructure has
collapsed and is quite a mess of steel sheets and girders. We swam towards the
stern as far as the broken-off kingposts, then turned back as we were getting
close to 30 metres. This part of the ship is quite spectacular because the deck
drops vertically to the sandy bottom far below.
I switched on my torch and swam into the
hold in order to examine the marine life that grows under the side of the ship.
Heading for shallower water, we swam into part of the engine room to see a large
turbine and other indistinguishable pieces of machinery. There is 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. This ended the deeper
part of the dive. We then spent about half an hour in and around the bow
wreckage for a total dive time of 47 minutes.
After lunch, we drove along the track to
the western end of the beach where the remnants of the Kinugawa Maru are clearly
visible close to shore. This ship was sunk at the same time as the Hirokawa. It
was originally 437 feet long but much of the ship has been removed for scrap
metal so it is fairly broken up. We dived to the stern then up along the highest
point of the hull where there were varieties of anemonefish and a large
While we were enjoying the day at Bonegi
Beach, Geoff Allen finalised the arrangements to handle the big group of divers
who were about to descend on us from the high seas. We all met on the wharf
after breakfast on Sunday, together with a bus, a van, and a truck to carry
their dive gear. In a well-practiced manoeuvre, the seventeen scuba units were
lowered into the truck on two special palettes for the trip to the wrecks.
After the briefing on the beach, most of
the divers went to the Hirokawa while Tim, Luke and I stayed with the
photographers. I introduced myself to David Doubilet and said that I would show
him around the Kinugawa Maru. David first wanted to see the architecture of the
ship so I guided him over to the seaward side and down to the stern. Here, he
photographed Jenny his assistant who posed with a small bright torch near the
rudder while I hovered nearby holding two of his four cameras. An hour later, we
walked up the beach and handed the cameras over to some crewmembers from the
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
with the US forces moving along
the north coast towards them.
desperate move, the Japanese navy used at least eight of the older I-class
submarines 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. I-1 and I-3 were sunk
near Cape Esperance during these missions. I-1 is a well-known
dive wreck near the village of Tambea. I-3 was torpedoed about three miles off
Cape Esperance where it is around 300 metres deep, and no one knows where it is.
This brief history is used as some of the
background material for my new adventure thriller entitled “SOLOMON QUEST”. In
the novel, underwater adventurer Jim Lawrie is lured to the Solomon Islands by
an offer to explore a newly discovered wreck. Jim meets his match with the
feisty Rene Armstrong and life gets very dangerous as he struggles to uncover a
secret that has rested on the sea floor since WWII. The book is available from
the author and selected bookshops in Brisbane. Details are available on my website www.diveshow.com.au.
Geoff Allen has taken over the dive
operation called Coastwatchers at the Honiara Hotel. Geoff will be 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 currently flies from
Brisbane to Honiara on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays using Boeing 737
aircraft. Visas are not required by visitors from Commonwealth countries and the
United States. 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.
On this trip we stayed at the Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel
which is set amongst tropical gardens right on the beach.
The hotel is about two minutes from Honiara's
government and business offices, and next door to the Point Cruz Yacht Club. I
had a beach room complete with balcony and a glorious view of Point Cruz, Iron
Bottom Sound, and the Florida Islands on the horizon. All rooms are
air-conditioned, come with full tea and coffee making facilities, fridge, direct
dial telephones and TV. My room had a
queen-size bed and a single bed.
Since the hotel is Japanese-owned,
the large air-conditioned Capitana Restaurant provides
Japanese and western-style food. We enjoyed a drink in
the afternoon at the Raratana Terrace Cafe with
stunning sea views and cooling sea breezes. The hotel also has a tour desk, gift
shop, cashier, safe deposit facilities, large car park and a guest laundry.
There is a swimming pool near the Raratana Terrace Cafe with outdoor lounges and
umbrellas, and a panoramic view of Iron Bottom Sound.
The author is an experienced recreational
diver, financial systems consultant, and writer. Further information and contact
details can be found in his website www.diveshow.com.au
Geoff Allen, Coastwatchers, Honiara Hotel,
Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. Ph (677) 73672.
Solomon Airlines, Mendana Avenue, Honiara,
Solomon Islands. Ph: (677) 20031 Fax: (677) 20232, Email via
Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau, Mendana
Ave, Honiara, Solomon Islands. Ph: (677) 22442 Fax: (677) 23986
Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel, Honiara,
Solomon Islands. Ph: 677 20071 Fax: 677 23942
King Solomon Hotel, Hibiscus Ave, Honiara,
Solomon Islands. Ph: 677 21205, Fax: 677 21771
Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau
Visit www.solomonairlines.com.au for
information on places to stay, and links to many other related websites.
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