The diving around Honiara (aka “H-town”), almost without exception, is wreck diving. There are a LOT of wrecks in the waters off Guadalcanal, thanks to a little WWII skirmish known as the Battle of Guadalcanal. In a nutshell, the Allied Forces launched a surprise attack on Japanese forces occupying the Solomon Islands and within six months or so it all went to custard for the Empire of Japan. This was a pivotal strategic victory that led to Japan’s surrender and the end of WWII. History buffs can read more about the campaign here and here.
The wrecks themselves? Well I have only done a handful of the many, many wrecks in Ironbottom Sound (why do you think it’s called that?). You can get an idea of the numbers by looking at this map (though it is not entirely accurate). For context, below is a map of the Solomon Islands.
It is a tech diver’s (and, let’s face it – bloke’s) paradise here, with many of the wrecks sitting in more than 50m of water, some intact and able to be penetrated, and some still with cargo (e.g. motorcycles, tanks, jeeps) on board. The key accessible ones close to Honiara are the ones I have included here. For anyone looking for more historical detail on the commonly-dived wrecks, this is a great resource.
BONEGI I/B1 HIROKAWU MARU
- A Japanese transport ship that was attacked by American dive-bombers and sank in November 1942 (depth 3–57m, location 12.5km west of Honiara, measured from the yacht club)
This is the most-dived wreck near Honiara, probably because openwater divers as well as experienced and tech divers can all discover its charms. I’ve been shallow and deep on this wreck, and have done some limited penetration at around 46m toward the stern. I’m no authority on wrecks and don’t know all the cool terminology to use, but it was interesting to go inside. There were some big grouper and sweetlips hanging out in there, and soft corals and sponges growing on the inside, but I still prefer diving the top 15m because of the fish and coral life on that part of the wreck.
You can always find nudibranchs, many species of anemone fish on and around the wreck in shallower waters (I once counted 14 different species), and there are often big schools of snappers, drummers, fusiliers and trevally hanging out around the masts. I’ve also seen octopus, crown-of-thorns starfish, crayfish and juvenile lionfishes.
BONEGI II/B2 KINUGAWA MARU
- A Japanese transport ship that sank with Bonegi I (depth 0–28m, location 12km west of Honiara right next to B1)
I am yet to dive this because of consistently bad visibility. Apparently it has suffered over the years from earthquakes and other various things that have caused parts of it to collapse. It is now leaking oil as well, so I fear it won’t last much longer in its current condition.
BONEGI III/B3 KYUSYU MARU, AZUMASAN MARU AND SASAKO MARU
- A trio of Japanese cargo ships, locally known as Ruaniu, beached and bombed side by side in October 1942 (depth 7–47m, 39–80m and 58–85m respectively; location 17km west of Honiara)
The vessels have settled just off the beach, in close proximity to each other. I have dived the shallower two of these wrecks, which are frequently plagued by poor visibility (including because of lots of plankton). However, both can be penetrated and both have very nice underwater life. Because of the plankton there are a lot of feeding fishes, feather stars and soft corals.
B-17 FLYING FORTRESS
- Lying on a sandy bottom close to shore, this American B17E Bomber was shot down in September 1942
(depth 14–17m, location 24.5km west of Honiara)
The wreck is generally intact, with only its tail missing (thanks to a botched salvage operation) and a broken wing. Until recently you could even sit in the cockpit, though apparently someone did so a little too vigorously and broke it. It’s still a very cool wreck to dive though; it’s a super easy shallow muck dive, you can see the whole plane at all times, and there are heaps of little critters all over the place. It’s actually my favourite of all the local dives I’ve done here – I’ve seen sweetlips and snappers, nudibranchs, pipefishes, clouds of glassfishes here, and stingrays in the sand.
It seems obvious to say, but these wrecks are changing all the time in response to their environment. Just in the past 6 months the B-17 has been further covered in silt. For an idea of how it used to look, see this blog with photos taken in 1992.
- A J1 type Japanese submarine, beached and sunk in January 1943 west of Visale Beach (depth 3–28m, location 40km west of Honiara at Veura)
She lies at a 90-degree angle to the reef with her stern on the sand at 28m and is a good 20-minute swim from the beach, so save your air and take your snorkel if you intend to dive her. This wreck has an interesting history, which explains why there are big hunks of metal all over the reef adjacent to the wreck.
Apparently some fool tried to blow her up 40 years ago to get access to valuable metals, not realising there were still live torpedoes inside. The resulting carnage is what you see today, and it also fired a table-sized piece of shrapnel into the local village. That being said, it is a very nice dive. The remainder of the sub is recognisable and you can penetrate a good part of it. There are several large air tanks (not torpedoes!) inside and a lot of life in, on and around it. The nearby reef is really nice and healthy. Last time I dived it we had loads of fish schooling around, and I saw several tiger cowries and anemone fishes. I’ve also seen bumphead parrot fish here and large snappers and sweetlips hiding in and under the wreck. Others have seen manta rays here and there are a lot of nudibranchs in the nearby reef, so try not to rush back once you’ve dived the wreck.
I also found some crazy clown fishes on my way back from the sub…
After all this diving, you’ll probably be ravenous. Luckily you can grab some KFC on your way back to Honiara (that would be “Kakambona Fried Chicken”). They also do fish and local freshwater prawns, served with cassava and rice on a banana leaf-lined palm leaf plate. Mmmmmm.
And that’s all from me for now folks… stay tuned for more diving adventures!