The Solomon Islands – or ‘Hapi Isles’ as they have long been known – are considered a true paradise on earth.

 

 

Hard to believe then that 75 years ago this sun-kissed, tucked away corner of the earth formed the backdrop for two events which were to have a major impact on world history.

These two events were the battle for Guadalcanal in August 1942, one of the bloodiest of the Pacific campaign, and the rescue of a certain US Navy Lieutenant, John F. Kennedy, who survived to become the most famous US President of them all.

During the six-month war of attrition between Japan and the United States for control of Guadalcanal in the then British Solomon Islands, Allied Forces came perilously close to defeat.

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Credit: Kirkland Photography

Had Guadalcanal fallen, the Japanese would have succeeded in their objective to isolate Australia and cut it off from American aid, exposing the country to a possible invasion.

Elite Imperial Japanese Army troops, many of who had fought the ANZACs on the dreaded Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, arrived on Guadalcanal on 08 June 1942, to construct an air base which was intended to play a major role in plans to cut the US-Australia line of supply.

But two months later, US Marines in their first overseas action following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, landed to wrest control of the airfield that today is still known as Henderson Airfield.

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The ensuing six-month Guadalcanal campaign proved to be the turning point of the Pacific war and by February 1943 the Imperial Japanese Army had suffered immense losses, some 30,000 casualties, while the Marines lost less than 2,000 of the 60,000 deployed during the campaign.

Ship and crew losses on both sides, including the loss of HMAS Canberra with almost all hands, were terrible but perhaps the most significant factor of all was the near destruction of the Japanese naval aviation force, a circumstance which was to play a definitive role in the eventual defeat of the Japanese as slowly and inexorably they were pushed back to Japan.

So where does a future President of the United States fit into this story?

Kennedy’s vessel, PT-109, a motor torpedo boat used to harry Japanese shipping, was cut in half after being rammed in the dead of night by a destroyer and the survivors managed to swim to safety on a small sandy island called Plum Pudding Island, today known as Kennedy Island.

From here they swan to nearby Olasana Island where they hid before being rescued by two Solomon Islanders who, carrying a message from Kennedy carved on a coconut, risked their own lives to paddle for 14 hours through enemy territory to find help.

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Kennedy never forgot his saviours and the coconut shell with the carved message encased in wood and plastic was used it as a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office for the rest of his short and remarkable life.

Today the coconut sits behind a glass case in the Smithsonian Institute.

Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the battle for Guadalcanal and the corresponding 100th anniversary of JKF’s birth. Plans are already underway for a very special commemoration. The event will hold even greater significance for the people of these ‘Hapi Isles’ who take immense pride in the knowledge their home is the place where freedom for the Pacific was hard fought for and ultimately finally won.

The Solomon Islands of today is a far cry from 1942 but in recent years an invasion of a different kind has slowly and surely been taking place – this time by steadily increasing numbers of international dive enthusiasts who are discovering for themselves just what makes these ‘Hapi Isles’ such a mecca for lovers of the underwater world.

For these islands their unspoilt coral reefs, literally teem with huge numbers and varieties of marine life.

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Credit: Kirkland Photography

Add to this the literally hundreds of shipwrecks and downed aircraft that litter the seabed, so much so that in one area just a short journey from the country’s bustling capital of Honiara has been renamed ‘Iron Bottom Sound’.

In reality and the one thing that makes the Solomon Islands’ dive potential so unique is this amazing mix of WWII wrecks, technicolour coral pastures, steep walls, shallow reefs, tunnels, drop-offs, and a veritable pot pourri of demersal, reef and pelagic fish which literally swarm these bath warm waters. Definitely ‘no wetsuit required’.

Most of the known accessible diving in the Solomon Islands is on Guadalcanal and the Western Province – the region to the northwest of the archipelago.

But each and every inch of this South Pacific paradise offers something for someone.

 

The 2017 Solomon Islands Dive Festival

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A celebration of the magnificent diving experiences the Solomon Islands has to offer the international dive community, the second annual Solomon Islands Dive Festival will take place in the country’s Western Province from 02-07 October 2017.

Hosted locally by Dive Gizo, SIDE Dive Munda and SIDE MV Taka, dive excursions, cultural activities, photographic competitions, and workshops have all been combined into one very special event with focus given to two of the Solomon Islands’ best dive locales – Munda and Gizo.

The festival also features the opportunity to experience a liveaboard dive boat aboard SIDE’s  renowned MV Taka.

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Credit: Kirkland Photography

Getting involved in this year’s event has never been easier thanks to two of Australia’s biggest dive tour operators Allways Dive and Dive Adventures, both of which have released all-inclusive, value-added six- night packages inclusive of the following:

FLIGHTS

Return flights flying Solomon Airlines ex-Brisbane to Gizo and Munda via Honiara plus all transfers.

In GIZO

-Two nights twin accommodation at Rekona Lodge or Gizo Hotel, breakfast and dinner

-Attendance at the festival’s opening ceremony, dinner at PT109 restaurant with kastom sing sing and dance

-Three tank dive day with Dive Gizo with tanks, weights, dive guide and BBQ lunch

-DAN seminar

SIDE LIVEABOARD DIVE BOAT – MV TAKA

-One night twin Standard cabin (shared bathrooms) on board with all meals and sailing from Gizo to Munda

-Up to four dives with tanks, weights, dive guide and kastom fees

-Photography workshop

-(Upgrades to a twin deluxe cabin with private en suite available for an extra $50 per person)

MUNDA 

-Two nights twin accommodation at Agnes Gateway Lodge

-Two tank dive day with SIDE Dive Munda with tanks, weights and dive guide

-Kastom lunch at Hopei Island and WWII Museum visit

-Marine biology focused seminar

-BBQ dinner with kastom dance performance

-One tank dive day with tank, weights, dive guide plus Skull Island visit

-Cocktails and winner of Photo Competition announcement

-Closing ceremony and dinner

-One extra night twin accommodation at Agnes Gateway Lodge, Munda (no meals included)

For full information please contact Allways Dive on (03) 9525 6986 or Dive Adventures on 1300 657 420.

For more information on the Soloman Islands, visit www.visitsolomons.com.sb today.

Will you be celebrating 75 years of South Pacific freedom in the Solomon Islands next year?

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