Solomon Islands Secrets: WWII Relics to Explore
Perhaps you’ve heard of idyllic Solomon Islands for its lush forests, stunning beaches and friendly people. Maybe what draws you to the islands is its offer of ecotourism? There are many reasons to visit Solomon’s 6 major islands and the 900 smaller ones that are strewn in Oceania.
For those who love history, Solomon Islands offers yet another great reason for a visit. It is home to the most amazing collection of war relics from the 2nd World War. Not many know that Guadalcanal was the arena for the bloodiest battle in the Pacific. A campaign that lasted six months and cost thousands of lives started with the landing of the Allied forces on 07 Aug 1942. It wasn’t until February the following year that the entrenched Imperial Japanese army was overturned.
The attrition campaign was fought on land, in the sea and in the air. For the first time since the start of the war, the Japanese lost their foothold on one of its territories to the Americans. In the wake of the raging conflict, the wreckage lay scattered as sunken and buried relics in Solomon’s oceans and jungles.
Today, avid divers and jungle explorers are greeted with American Stuart Tanks, Japanese cannons and US fighter planes gathering rust and integrating with the surrounding nature. In fact, a stretch of water at the southern end of Guadalcanal is called the Iron Bottom Sound. This name given by the Allied sailors describes the Savo Sound area where dozens of sunken ships and planes line the bottom.
Some of the most popular WWII relics to explore on Solomon Islands include:
- Kinugawa Maru – The Japanese Imperial Navy transport vessel was beached in 1942 off Tassafaronga Beach. The engine block breaks the surface while the stern rests in 85 feet of water. The remains of the hull have been transformed into a cathedral seascape rich in colourful soft corals.
- Hirokawa Maru – Another Japanese military transport, her bow list just beneath the surface and is accessible by diving and snorkelin. The stern hits the bottom at 190 feet.
- Moa – The New Zealand Bird-class corvette is found at the back of the Tulagi Harbour. It is 15 degrees to port in 135 feet of water. While the wreck is largely in tack, it is not always visible due to the silty bottom it sits on. A highlight would be the 4-inch deck gun on the bow and charge racks on the stern.
- USS Aaron Ward – Located on the Tulagi side of the Iron Bottom Sound, the 341-foot US Gleaves-class destroyer sits upright in 230 feet of water. This is one for naval gun fans – with guns still standing at action stations, as if ready for battle. Two five-inch gun turrets are found in the forward and the aft along with a 20mm and 40mm antiaircraft guns. The stern of the Aaron War is bent upward.
Local Barney Paulsen has been collecting war memorabilia – from hand grenades to dog tags – for this Peter Joseph WWII Museum in Munda, on the Island of New Georgia. The collection is named after Peter Joseph Palatini, the American soldier whose dog tag was among the first discoveries of Paulsen.
The open-air Vilu War Museum, on the other hand, is a great place for visitors to inspect up close Japanese cannons and wrecks – such as a US fighter plane. It also has a number of plaques, including the one commemorating the HMAS Canberra.
The jungles are home to many undiscovered wrecked planes, stranded tanks and amphibious tractors. On land, vegetation has taken over these abandoned war relics – hiding Solomon’s secrets deeper in the heart of its jungles.
Tours and Activities
WWII Tours in Gizo
For those interested in history and the legacy of World War II in the heart of the Solomons, from Gizo you can visit an American tank, a Japanese Gun Fort and partially submerged shipwrecks.
Go West Tours
Based at Agnes Gateway Hotel, Go West offers fully guided half and full day tours throughout the area. Off the beaten track adventures, cultural experiences, historical site visits, fishing and charter trips. You can also design your own experience.
World War II Site Visits
For those interested in war history, the Munda area is a goldmine. See an American M5 Stuart tank, the Japanese coastal defence battery at Enoghai, the anti-aircraft battery above Munda airfield or snorkel the wreck of the Kashi Maru.
Honiara City Tour
Discover the capital of the Solomon Islands and surrounds on a tour of the city. Vist Point Cruz, the Coast Watchers Memorial, the Honiara Central Market, China Town, the US War Memorial, National Parliament, the National museum and more.
Tulagi Tours & Travel
For first time visitors to Tulagi and with so much to see and do, it is best explored with a local guide. Tulagi Tours are not only well known for their informative World War II walking tours of Tulagi, but they can also organise visits to the surrounding islands, village visits, cultural tours, cultural entertainment, fishing charters and more.
Battlefield tours in Honiara
Some of the most brutal World War II battles took place on the northern face of Guadalcanal. Visit Bloody Ridge, Red Beach, the Vilu War Museum, Betikama school relics, the American War Memorial, Tetere beach, The Thin Red Line, Honiara golf course (previously a US Airstrip), and the Japanese War Memorial (Mt Austen). Tours of both the Western Battlefield and Eastern Battlefield are also available.
National Museum and Cultural Centre
The National Museum is modest but still worth a visit, for a taste of the history of the Solomon Islands. With exhibitions that traverse history and the diverse cultures that make up its almost 1000 islands, you can view old photographs, currency, weaponry and find out more about the history of World War II and the missionaries, both of which are core to the current national identity and way of life.
Peter Joseph WWII Museum
During World War II, Munda was a vital military airfield base and remnants are scattered throughout the region. You can visit two small private museums of WWII relics. One is the Peter Joseph WWII Museum and the other is further east. Both are walkable from Agnes Gateway Hotel and accommodation in town or easily accessible by taxi.