Go West. young man

Go Travel The Pacific - - Solomon Islands - Munda -

• Ly­ing be­tween Pa­pua New Guinea and Van­u­atu, the Solomon Is­lands have a trop­i­cal cli­mate, with an av­er­age day­time tem­per­a­ture of 28degC. The best time to visit from April to Novem­ber, when the weather is drier.

• The re­gions are linked by air, thanks to a net­work of airstrips built dur­ing World War 2. Be­tween is­lands, boats are used, with the bet­ter re­sorts of­fer­ing trans­fer ser­vices from Munda.

• Solomon Air­lines has daily flights from Bris­bane to the cap­i­tal, Ho­niara, and on to Munda. In June, a Syd­ney- Ho­niara ser­vice be­gins: early flights from New Zealand will connect to the Syd­ney ser­vice.

• The coun­try is one hour be­hind New Zealand ( two hours dur­ing NZ Day­light Sav­ing).

• Elec­tric power points use the same three- pin plugs as New Zealand.

• The cur­rency is the Solomon Is­lands dollar, worth ap­prox­i­mately 17c NZ. There are ATMs in ma­jor towns and re­sorts take credit cards but it is ad­vis­able to carry enough cash for your needs when vis­it­ing smaller is­lands.

• Tip­ping is not ex­pected and not

en­cour­aged.

• As in all trop­i­cal re­gions, it is sen­si­ble to take pre­cau­tions against malaria. Con­sult your GP, ide­ally a month be­fore trav­el­ling, to get the most ap­pro­pri­ate tablets and to check if other med­i­ca­tions or vac­ci­na­tions are rec­om­mended.

The Aus­tralian mu­seum in Syd­ney has a fine ex­am­ple of a tomako with a beau­ti­fully pat­terned and carved fig­ure­head, whose role was to look out for dan­ger and keep away the sea spirit ( ke­soko).

Less than 3km away across the Ro­viana La­goon is the area’s largest is­land, New Ge­or­gia. The cen­tre is the an­ces­tral home of the Ro­viana peo­ple and the 13th cen­tury Bao com­plex with its basalt pil­lars can be vis­ited as a full- day tour from Agnes Lodge.

A word of warn­ing: if you visit Skull Is­land or any other shrine, do not han­dle the skulls, as this brings ex­tremely bad luck. You may, how­ever, like to run the palm of your hand gen­tly over the wa­ter in the large iron bowl by the land­ing point on Skull Is­land, as this will en­sure calm wa­ter on your re­turn jour­ney to Zipolo Habu.

I tried it but didn’t run my hand across the en­tire bowl, so we bumped a bit on the last part of the jour­ney.

The high- speed 24m “mos­qui­toes”, with a crew of about a dozen men, ha­rassed the much larger en­emy ships 109 dur­ing the World War 2 cam­paign in the Solomon Is­lands.

On the night of Au­gust 2, PT109 was in the Black­ett Strait, near Munda, when the Ja­panese de­stroyer Ama­giri came out of the dark­ness and hit the small ves­sel, cut­ting it in half and killing two of the crew.

Came the dawn and the sur­vivors were cling­ing to the bow, which was still afloat. Lieu­tenant J. F. Kennedy, a prize- win­ning swim­mer in his Har­vard days, was in­stru­men­tal in get­ting his men to safety, even pulling a badly burned sailor by hold­ing his life vest strap in his teeth. They swam for hours across a 5.6km stretch of ocean be­fore land­ing on a de­serted is­land, Plum Pud­ding, since re­named Kennedy Is­land.

The tiny is­land, not far from Gizo, was de­serted and, more im­por­tantly, had no fresh wa­ter and few co­conuts, so Kennedy took to the wa­ter again, hop­ing to lo­cate an­other PT boat in the Fer­gu­son Pas­sage. He was out of luck, so re­turned to Plum Pud­ding, rest­ing on Le­o­rava Is­land on the way back as he was close to ehaus­tion.

Then came an­other danger­ous swim, as the group re­lo­cated to Olasana Is­land. There, they were found by two Solomon Is­lan­ders, Biuku Gasa and Eroni Ku­mana, who were scouts for the Al­lies.

Gasa showed Kennedy how to scratch a mes­sage on a green co­conut.

Kennedy wrote: “Nauro Isl na­tive knows posit he can pi­lot 11 alive need small boat Kennedy.”

Gasa and Ku­mana took the mes­sage to their Al­lied con­tact and eight days af­ter PT- 109 went down, its sur­viv­ing crew mem­bers were res­cued. Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marines Corps Medal for his brav­ery and lead­er­ship, as well as a Pur­ple Heart ac­knowl­edg­ing the in­juries he re­ceived.

The world’s most fa­mous co­conut was not forgotten: it sat on Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s desk at the White House dur­ing his pres­i­dency ( 196063). To­day, vis­i­tors to the John F. Kennedy Li­brary and Mu­seum in Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, can see it, although the word­ing is ob­scured by the cloudy plas­tic in which the co­conut is en­cased.

And Ama­giri? She sank off Kal­i­man­tan ( Bor­neo) in 1944 af­ter hit­ting a mine.

In April 1943, just be­fore his 26th birth­day, the man who was to be­come the

youngest pres­i­dent of the United States, took charge of PT- 109.

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