Tuesday 1 November 2022

From On Board: Heritage Expeditions in Melanesia - Kolombangara Solomon Islands

#expeditioncruising .

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(Pic: Fiona Wardle/Heritage Expeditions)

Lukim Yu (Goodbye) Papua New Guinea, hello Solomon Islands.

After a week in the paradise of PNG, we now enter the northern districts of the Solomon Islands with a landing at the lush volcanic island of Kolombangara.

As with so many islands in this region, it saw its fair share of action in WWII. Japanese occupied the island and built an airstrip but were forced off in October 1943 as the tide of the Pacific War turned against them. Many air raids were conducted against the Japanese facilities prior and in the afternoon our snorkelers investigated a well-preserved US fighter (Grumman Hellcat #25839) in just 10m of water and three kilometres or so from the southern shore. This plane was lost in a famous 1943 air battle involving more than 100 aircraft.

Wreck of Grumman Hellcat lost in 1943 (Konrad Richter)

The morning saw us piled into local trucks and transported up into the virgin rainforest that caps the volcanic peak. Famous WWII coastwatcher, Reg Evans, remained here throughout the war and was instrumental in saving the future President of the USA, John F Kennedy, when his PT-109 was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer heading for Guadalcanal.

Heading up the mountain aboard local public transport (RE)

Today Kolombangara exists on logging. In a pragmatic compromise, the lower areas of the island have been cleared for timber plantations growing valuable trees like mahogany and teak, while the higher reaches have been preserved in their natural state for people like us to come and enjoy. To this end, a wilderness lodge has been constructed for bird watchers and nature lovers to stay overnight and we sat and enjoyed the view while some hiked into the jungle or went spotting for new bird species to add to their lists.

Tomorrow we head for the nature reserve island of Tetepare.

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