Return to Magazine Index

The Aussie divers depart in the 7.5 metre Orca dive boat “Vuselela”.

Aussies Invade Tulaghi

Wreck and Reef Diving in the Solomon Islands

By Andrew Whitehead

Published in Dive Log Australasia
June 2005


The set of twin 88s made me negatively buoyant as I plummeted straight down the mooring line until I reached the engine room skylights at the stern of the USS Kanawha. Neil Yates and I had a brief “Is everything OK?” conversation in sign language, then he led the way down through a big hole to have a quick look at the reciprocating steam engines. Surrounded by a shattered engine room and forcing my brain to work under the effect of nitrogen narcosis, I was pleased to see that my new torch worked well at 55 metres!


I recently spent a week working in Honiara and made sure that I had the weekend free to enjoy one of the best diving locations in the world. Before I left for the Solomons, I had arranged with Neil Yates, who owns and operates Solomon Islands Diving, to spend the weekend in Tulaghi, in the Florida Islands. The trip across Iron Bottom Sound can be a bit wet, so I dressed for a boat ride and wheeled my gear bag around to the Point Cruz Yacht Club at 8 am on Saturday morning.

A weekend in Tulaghi seems to be a popular idea because there were a dozen like-minded people having coffee at the yacht club while Neil and his crew loaded two boats with our bags. Most of these folk were Australians who were part of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), and were looking forward to an adventurous weekend away from their work in Honiara.

It was an exhilarating one-hour ride to Tulaghi over choppy water that is around 700 metres deep and is the resting place for over 40 ships including Allied and Japanese battleships, cruisers, destroyers and freighters. If you are into wreck diving, then Tulaghi is the place to go. Tulagi (the town) is situated on Tulaghi Island and was the original capital of the Solomons before WWII. It was a good choice for the capital because the island helps to form a magnificent natural harbour. Close by lie the American destroyer USS Aaron Ward, USS Kanawha, the New Zealand corvette HMNZS Moa, and four Kawanishi H6K4 flying boats.

We moved into shared rooms at the Vanita Motel which is next to the dive shop within the same wire fenced compound. The divers headed for the shop and Neil quickly organised them for a reef dive at Double Island. The dive shop is well fitted out with two compressors, lots of tanks, twins, ponies, good quality BCDs, regs and tank bands. The group headed off in the 7.5 metre Orca dive boat “Vuselela”, while I stayed behind to set up my gear for a deep dive on the Kanawha after lunch.

USS Kanawha

The big American fleet oiler AO-1 USS Kanawha sits upright near the entrance to Tulaghi Harbour at about 60 metres (200 ft). It was built in 1914, is 476 feet long, 56 feet wide and displaced 14,500 tons. The ship was sunk in 1943 by bombs from Japanese aircraft. As a warship, it was heavily armed with guns on the bow, bridge, midships and stern. Because of the limited bottom time, dives are conducted from the submerged mooring lines on either the bow or the stern. As this ship is an old tanker design, it is well worthwhile studying historical photographs of the ship to get an idea of its layout (

The Dive

In preparation for this dive, I bolted my Poseidon Tech BCD to a pair of alloy 88s which were joined together by an isolation manifold. I then fitted my Scubapro reg to the right tank, and my Poseidon Jetstream left-handed on the left tank. A polypropylene suit was all that was needed in the 28-degree water, and with the sheer weight of the tanks, lead weights were entirely unnecessary.

Neil tied up to the submerged mooring and we dropped straight down to the stern of this massive old ship. The engine room has been badly shattered by bombs, salvage attempts and earthquakes, so it is rather cluttered with catwalks and other unidentifiable bits and pieces everywhere. I tried to look around and take it all in, but it was dark, deep and our bottom time was very short. Neil pointed out a huge broken piston, then we eased over to the starboard side, slid through a narrow gap in the steel frame and moved up into the accommodation area.

Out on the deck at about 48 metres, we were confronted by two 5-inch guns pointing over the stern, a large AA gun above them complete with empty shell casings and a US Army helmet in reasonable condition, and 20 mm AA guns nearby. We drifted forward past the mooring line towards the funnel and briefly examined the area in front of the sterncastle. After only 18 minutes of bottom time, it was time for the long, slow ascent to the surface.

We climbed hand over hand up the mooring line with a deep stop at 18 metres. During the 22 minutes of decompression, we used a 40 per cent Nitrox mix to flush the Nitrogen from our tissues. As an additional safety precaution, there were two oxygen regulators on long hoses which dropped down from a big bottle on board the dive boat. On the surface, we handed all the gear to Dillon in the boat, climbed aboard and hydrated ourselves with a litre of tank water. Although we did not need to use the safety equipment that had been put in place before the dive, it was reassuring to know that I was diving with a very professional operator.

Tulagi Hospitality

The big group of Aussie divers went out again for another reef dive while I set about dismantling and washing my gear. In order to avoid gear problems from salt corrosion, I always take 120 ml of SALT-X Concentrate on these trips. I added the SALT-X to 8 litres of water in a bucket, soaked my regulators, power inflator, gauges, reel, torch and knife for a few minutes to remove any accumulated salt, and then hung them up to dry. SALT-X can be used repeatedly and some of the other divers took the opportunity to try this excellent product.

We enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in the patio garden at Vanita’s followed by a buffet-style dinner in the restaurant. The dinner conversation ranged from wrecks, WWII, caves, buried treasure, to sharks, fish, and the famous Twin Tunnels that we were to dive on Sunday morning. One of the resident geologists pointed out that they are actually naturally formed ‘shafts’ in the coral reef, not lava tubes or tunnels at all.

While I was tucking into banana pancakes, cereal and fruit from the breakfast buffet, Neil Yates arrived to inform us that those who wanted to dive the Twin Tunnels had better be at the dive shop by 8.30. This hardly caused a ripple as people continued to eat everything on the table. There is one good thing about a ‘Continental’ breakfast before going diving. You can eat as much of this cold food as you can manage or until the supply runs out, whichever comes first. Everyone would agree that Annette and her staff looked after us very well for the two days we were there.

Twin Tunnels

I arrived at the dive shop on time to find that the crew had already assembled my gear and loaded it on the boat. On this trip we went out past the Kanawha to a submerged mooring on top of a large pinnacle in deep water. The mooring line is attached to the reef at about 12 metres near the entrance to one of the vertical shafts. The second shaft is close by, making the Twin Tunnels look like two holes in a bowling ball. We dropped down the nearest tunnel which ended in a cave full of red Soldierfish at 34 metres. We explored the cave with our torches for a few minutes then exited through a large opening in the reef wall. This vertical wall explodes with fish life when there is a slight current running. We then ascended the wall and explored the reef along the edge of the abyss.

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, 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 I 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.

Wednesday is the day when a local group perform traditional island dancing in the courtyard after dinner. On these nights, the Mendana puts on a seafood buffet in the large air-conditioned Capitana Restaurant. Since the hotel is Japanese-owned, the delicacies included sushi and sashimi. I 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.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Solomon Islands are one of the best diving locations in the world. If you are looking for an adventurous holiday, then try spending some time in Tulaghi with Neil Yates of Solomon Islands Diving. I am sure that you will find that he is a very professional operator. Annette and her staff at the Vanita Motel will look after you very well during your stay in Tulagi.

The author is an experienced recreational diver, a financial systems consultant, technical writer and webmaster.

Contact details

Neil Yates, Solomon Islands Diving / Tulagi Dive, PO Box 1798, Honiara, Solomon Islands. Ph: (677) 32131/ 32052/ 24184,
Vanita Motel, Tulagi, Central Province, Solomon Islands. Phone: 677 32052
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
King Solomon Hotel, Hibiscus Ave, Honiara, Solomon Islands. Ph: 677 21205, Fax: 677 21771
Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel, Honiara, Solomon Islands. Ph: 677 20071 Fax: 677 23942
The SALT-X range of products are available directly from Salt-X Australasia, Ph: (07) 3824 5115 or order on the website
Further information about diving in the Solomon Islands and the author’s contact details can be found in his website

Web sites

Details about the dive sites around Tulagi are available on the Solomon Islands Diving website Historical photos and details about the USS Kanawha can be found at
Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau
Solomon Airlines website for information on places to stay, and links to many other related websites.

Return to Magazine Index


Home News Scuba Diving Articles Author Contact Links