By Jackie Eager
Driving in Honiara is an interesting experience for me. In Australia, I didn’t get my license until I was 27. I didn’t mind the driving so much, just the fact that there were other cars on the road.
I found it hard to deal with the pressure of having to go fast, to always be quick with my reactions and remember the zillion road rules. The impatience of Australian drivers made me nervous: a blast of a horn always felt only a moment away. Where were all these people going in such a hurry? Why was everyone so mean? And so although some may say that driving in Honiara is a bit of challenge, for me it has been a dream.
In Honiara, everyone drives at my pace – slow! In general, the Honiara speed tends to be around 40 kilometres per hour. The gentle pace makes me calm and also gives me the time needed to make good decisions and plan ahead for my next turn or upcoming park.
The slow pace is also good for safety. While there isn’t as much police presence as elsewhere, and two lanes can often turn into three or four, safety is of course still a big issue and you really have to pay attention. Kids play beside the roads and houses are built in valleys which some roads overlook. Pedestrians have priority and often walk quite slowly right in front of your car. Large potholes also keep my eyes open and alert. I got stuck in one recently and my poor little car took a bit of energy to get out. I even yelled ‘Go Car, Go!’.
The horn is rarely used by Solomon Islander drivers. This makes for a nice change from Australia and countries such as Thailand or Vietnam where all you can hear is the loud beeeep resonating from the roads. This doesn’t mean that drivers in Honiara aren’t communicating. There are lots of smiles and nods, and flashes of lights to let people know they have right of way. It’s a much happier driving experience.
There are lots of interesting things to see on the roads. With the port in the centre of town, you sometimes see large containers being transported around. There is heavy moving equipment making their journey from work-site to work-site and then other fun random stuff like trees on the back and trays full of smiling faces.
I am a fan of public transport and Honiara has a system up and running. The main public transport is local buses. These small buses weave in and out of the traffic and congregate around the bus stops, particularly around the Central Market. Bus drivers are very confident individuals and will sneak into a break in traffic even if you think a bus could not possibly fit there. It is best to give them the space as they are going to go anyway!
Another group of confident individuals are the taxi drivers. Taxis are paid per kilometre so I tend to let them in so they can get on their way. The dark tinted windows can be a little intimidating but every time I’ve caught a taxi, I’ve had a lovely chat with the kind driver.
Here are a few tips that I have learnt which make my driving experience even better:
- Make friends with your ‘inside air’ button. Sometimes there are fires near the road or cars blow out black smoke. Learn where the button is and click it quickly when smoky-ness appears.
- Make or bring CDs to keep you company while stuck in traffic. You may naively think, as I did, that there won’t be much traffic in Honiara because it’s not that big a place but this is very wrong (very, very wrong). I spend much of my week in traffic singing along to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Greatest Hits and So Fresh 2002. I have also chosen to decorate my car with a pet Dalek to amuse me in the traffic.
- Lower pressure in your tyres for a smoother ride (I don’t know much about this one but my husband just yelled it out).