Guadalcanal

Overview

Introduction

About 90 mi/145 km long and 30 mi/50 km wide, this large island is the political and financial center of the country. The capital city, Honiara, is a compact seaport on the banks of Iron Bottom Sound (named for the large number of warships sunk in the area during World War II).

The Solomon Islands National Museum suffered a number of break-ins during the period of instability from 1999 to 2003, but work is under way to reassemble the collection. The outdoor section is still a good place to see examples of the thatch-roofed houses native to the country. If a cruise ship is in port, stop by the park next to the museum for a glimpse of traditional dancing and stroll down Mendana Avenue (the main street). Later, make visits to the botanical garden, the Melanesian Church (great singing on Sundays), Kakambona Village and Chinatown. Honiara's vegetable market on the way to Chinatown is wonderfully colorful, and it's possible to buy genuine handicrafts direct from the producers at some of the stalls. And don't hurry: Take time to absorb the atmosphere, too. Taxis can be hired for visits to villages, World War II battle sites and Mount Austen, which offers a beautiful view of Guadalcanal and nearby Savo Island.

The Solomon Islands' peace memorial is located directly above the Mataniko River, overlooking most of the World War II battlefields in Honiara. The memorial is a simple and sobering dedication to all who lost their lives on Guadalcanal during the war. Both the U.S. War Memorial, which marked the 50th anniversary of the war, and the parliament building, a gift from the U.S. government to honor the Solomon Islanders who died assisting the Allies, offer striking views of Iron Bottom Sound.

Other World War II sites on the island include Henderson Field (now Honiara International Airport), where battles raged on the airfield's perimeter while U.S. planes took off and landed; Hell's Point, where 800 Japanese soldiers were killed in a banzai attack; and Kukum Airstrip. All of these can easily be visited in a day's drive.

Mount Makarakomburu (8,000 ft/2,450 m), the highest point in the Solomons, is not far from Honiara. The adventurous may want to climb it, but be forewarned: It's a very hot, wet trek. Somewhat less arduous are guided hikes to the Mataniko and Tenaru waterfalls, among the South Pacific's most spectacular. The caves along the slopes above the Mataniko River still contain the bones of Japanese soldiers who died there during World War II.

The rusting hulks of World War II ships have made Iron Bottom Sound a popular dive destination. Dive operators based in Honiara will ferry snorkelers and scuba divers to the sunken ships. (Be aware that there are sharks in the area.) Plan two nights on Guadalcanal. 65 mi/105 km southwest of Malaita.

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