Go West. young man
• 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
• 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.