THE Pacific is calling.
Warm crystal-clear water, blue-sky days and humid afternoon breezes, trees heavy with fragrant frangipani blooms, lonely stretches of white sand fringed by palm trees, coconuts with a straw, a hammock in the shady corner of a garden, legions of smiling locals.
Fiji, New Caledonia, Tonga, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands.
Wait, what was that last one? The Solomon Islands?
The fledgling nation of Pacific Ocean islands a three-hour flight from Brisbane – both Virgin Australia and Solomon Airlines fly to Honiara from the Queensland capital – is taking tentative steps into tourism with a couple of comfortable hotels and just enough activity on offer to keep travellers entertained.
1. Heritage Park Hotel, which occupies a waterside plot once the governor’s estate, is Honiara’s most agreeable accommodation option with many of the comfortable island-style suites offering a view across Iron Bottom Sound and an alfresco restaurant with extensive menus.
2. The Breakwater Café – beside the Heritage Park Hotel, on the capital’s rustic marina – is open from early morning until late afternoon and not only serves the settlement’s best breakfast, delicious fruit drinks, and lunchtime baguettes but is the address expats visit for coffee.
3. Wander Honiara’s main street and visit the buzzing Central Market which is not just a popular place for local ladies to buy provisions – aisles are packed with fresh fruit, veggies and fish – but the spot to collect modest souvenirs.
4. Guadalcanal, the island that’s home to Honiara, was the scene of a bloody World War Two campaign that took the lives of 30,000 Japanese and 7000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
Learn about the six-month struggle by visiting the Guadalcanal American Memorial and the nearby Japanese monument, wander manicured gardens and military relics at the Vilu War Museum, snorkel the wreck of the Hirokawa Maru, and stand on significant battlefields around the island’s airport Henderson Field.
5. Those with an interest in military history can join Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours’ guided visit to Guadalcanal timed to coincide with the anniversary of the American landing on August 7 and the loss of the HMAS Canberra two days later.
6. Tulagi is 32km across Iron Bottom Sound – a channel named because so many ships and aircraft went down there during the Guadalcanal fighting – with Neil Yates from Tulagi Dive offering trips to the idyllic destination for those travelling in a group or boasting an ample holiday budget.
An excursion can include a stroll around Tulagi which was the Solomons’ colonial capital, lunch at a café in the settlement JFK was stationed during 1943, a visit to naval vessels beached around Florida Island, time diving on wrecks or snorkeling a coral reef, and a stop at Gavutu Island’s former flying-boat base.
7. Neil can also arrange an outing for those with more limited funds to spend hours on a Guadalcanal beach and snorkel around wrecks of Japanese naval ships where coral and tropical fish have made a home in the rusting hulls.
8. Local guide Chris from Destination Solomons not only offers guided tours around Guadalcanal but can plan an overnight jaunt to nearby Savo Island including a stay in a simple waterside lodge, a hike around an active volcano to bathe in geothermal ponds, and a traditional meal cooked on hot rocks.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ESCAPE ON SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2015