AUS/US$1.00 = S$7.00
Thursday, August 2
I had lunch with my friend Leigh (Canal trip 1998) who then drove me to the airport. The plane departed at 3.00 pm and got to Brisbane at 5.00 pm. I got to the motel and met my friend Bill (Canal trips 2004 & 2006), who had arrived early in the morning. We walked down the road and had a pizza, then talked in the room till 8.30 pm. Then a shower and to bed.
Friday, August 3
I got up at 5.30am and after we had breakfast at 6.30am we got a taxi to the airport about 7.00 am. After check in we changed some money into Solomon dollars before going through Customs. The plane departed at 9.45am and we got to Honiara about 1.30 pm.They came in over the south coast to land from the western end and swung in a circle over Henderson, so I got some good aerials
My reliable 2009 taxi driver Stanley Auga met us and drove us to the king Solomon Hotel at 3.00 pm and we arranged to meet him at 9.30 am on Sunday to start exploring. The taxi rate is now S$100.00 per hour. I gave Stan a watch that I had promised him, as the one I gave him in 2009 had failed.
After a dip in the pool we went to the Point Cruz Yacht Club watering hole at 4.00 pm. We were surprised at a S$30.00 entry fee . We met John Innes, who sorted out the entry fee stuff for us. We also met Larry Jones (email friend), who is here on his yacht till September and arranged to show him stuff on Saturday.
We rang Claire Bibby (NZ Police email friend) to meet us at the Kitano Mendana Hotel at 7.00 pm for dinner, but through miscommunication we missed each other after dinner we downloaded the day’s photos to my laptop PC and went to bed about 10..00 pm, but the disco downstairs was thumping away till after midnight.
Saturday, August 4
Breakfast at 9.00 am and then met Larry at 9.30 am. 9.30 am till 12.30 am we were walking - down to the museum, then along Mendana Avenue east towards the Market. Since 2009 a new 2 storey shopping mall has been built here (Hyundai Plaza)with good shops and a nice new air conditioned café.
There were good views across the bay from the balcony and the food was good. After a drink we walked further east towards the Goettge patrol area (12 Aug 1942) and the Matanikau sandbar. The rubbish scattered over the sandbar was as bad as usual, so we didn’t go down onto the sand. We showed the kids photos of the sandbar and 1942 knocked out Japanese tanks. The tide was not low enough to see the turrets of the two tanks from the 22 Oct 1942 attack.
After crossing the bridge to the east bank we went up onto the pedestrian overpass to take some photos and then headed back to the hotel. It was getting pretty hot now. After a welcome spell in the pool we met Larry again at 2.30 pm. Stanley wasn’t available till Sunday, so we just got another taxi from the hotel and drove up to Edson’s Ridge.
The ridge road was as unmade and potholed as usual and the ridge really overgrown, but no boom gate and S$20 fee now as in 2009. We drove up to the final knoll - really overgrown. I thought they might have burnt off the grass for the anniversary, but they had not. Our driver went up ridge road to front, but new gravel had been put on the trail and in parts the traction really bad. The car almost slipped backwards, but he got up to front of the ridge.
We took photos, got some wire from the southern slopes and Bill even found a Japanese shovel head with bullet hole in the long grass near the Sendai Division Memorial. We told the driver to wait for us at the final knoll memorial pyramid while we walked back down the trail too much new gravel on the trail meant we could not find any bullets, so we went back to hotel about 4.30pm.
I had a shower then we went down to the yacht club…no problem with entry this time. We chatted with Larry, then bumped into US consul Keithy Saunders and Bill asked her about the timing of the Aug 7 ceremonies. Afterwards we had dinner at the Mendana about 7.00 pm.
As we left Bill spotted Lt. Col. Joe Mueller from MILITARY HISTORICAL TOURS at the front desk. I have emailed Joe for years and met him in 2008 when I was there and hitched a ride over to Tulagi with his group. We gave him some into on where we had been and he told us that it costs S$100 just to get into Barana village on Mt. Austen now (GIFU/Hill 27). We will go see the Solomons museum guys in Monday to see about relic permits, then go up to Mt. Austen and get stuff. Joe offered to give us ride to the Skyline Ridge Memorial at 5.30 am on Aug 7 morning.
Monday, August 5
Breakfast at 7.00 am. Cold breakfast at the King Solomon is now $$75.00 and the hot breakfast is S$100.00, up from $45 and $75 in 2009. Stanley came at 9.30 am and we meet Larry again.
We drove west to Vilu museum near Cape Esperance. They had built an entrance building and had photos on the walls this time. Anderson remembered me from 2008-2009 trips. It was sad to see some of the aircraft really starting to crumble – the P38 Lighting wings are really bad, but the Wildcat wing still folds! On the way back we tried to find the pile of plating from KYUSYU MARU on the beach near Doma, but could not spot it – maybe its been collected and sold to the scrap dealers at last?
We stopped at Bonegi beach (S$30.00 entry) and looked at the wreck of KINUGAWA MARU, vowing to come back another day and swim out to it. Then we drove down the trail across the road to Sherman JEZEBEL on the old firing range (it saw action at Roi-Namur in Feb 1944). It was pretty obvious people had been trying to pry pieces of metal from the rear and engine deck to sell for scrap.
Being masochists we then huffed and puffed hiking up the hill past the tank to the 1943-45 US rubbish dump. Ah, I can feel the melting suntan lotion now! This is likewise being “excavated” by people looking for metal to sell and smashed coke and beer bottles were everywhere.
I did get one decent 1944 coca cola bottle and then we hiked through the jungle to the next hill overlooking the beach. A magnificent hot clear day and a great view over the bay and east towards Lunga Point. At this point it was damn hot, so we beat a sweaty retreat to the taxi and back to the hotel. I was feeling a bit light headed from all the sun, so I didn’t have lunch.
After a session of recuperation in the pool we met Stanley at 3.00 pm. Larry came with a Portuguese yachtie friend and he got in the back as we headed east to Alligator Creek. In 2009 there was a big gate across the west bank beach trail, but a S$20 fee got you in. This time there was a sign saying “BEWARE OF WILD DOGS” and we could not get in. In 2009 they were building a bar on the west bank of the creek, but I was now told it’s a private Chinese bar not open to the public. So we crossed the bridge to the east bank and drove down to the beach and west towards the Ichiki memorial. A lot more land cleared and huts build here than in 2009. We emerged onto the beach just east of the sandbar.
It was a magnificent day with the sun shining on the water. Recent rain meant that the sandbar was cut by the creek, so you couldn’t easily get across. Larry and his friend only had sandals on, so they went across. The area of beach on the west bank that has been cleared in 2009 had been let overgrow again. They reported that the bar people wondered how long before somebody evicted them!
When we got back to the highway we stopped across the road at the gate that is the entrance to the Hells Point ammunition dump. The dump blew up in November 1943 and its still an off limits area, with Ordnance still being blown on the beach regularly. Recently they excavated 5 Stuart tanks from the 1943 blast crater that had been dumped there in 1945.
We could clearly see 2 of the Stuarts 200 yards down the road, so Larry and his friend walked down to see if there was anyone they could ask for permission to take a photo. Security politely but firmly told then that it was an off limits area, but that if you had an appointment you could see the tanks. Something to arrange for another day.
Back to the hotel, shower then to the yacht club for a Coke or two. We chatted to John Innes again, then went to Mendana for dinner. Saw Joe Mueller and his tour group, so I lent him some photo folders I had to show his guys. While we were having dinner a lady came over and asked was I Peter Flahavin. She was there with her son and mother and had emailed me a few years ago, so it was good to meet her.
Back to hotel to download the days photos. I had a call from Claire Bibby and we arranged to meet at 2.30pm tomorrow. I had been trying to call her mobile number with no luck. I later worked out that you had to dial “9” on the hotel phone before the number.
Tuesday, August 6
After breakfast Bill and I walked down to the museum to see what the position was with relic permits. Lawrence Kilko the new museum boss was away studying in New Guinea, but a lady called Rita told us that if we brought a list of stuff to them with the items on Wednesday permits were not a problem (S$50.00 fee). That set our mind at rest and now we could start relic hunting!
We then walked to Pt. Cruz to see the Coastwatcher scouts memorial unveiled in 2011. There were two New Zealand Navy ships in the docks now, as well as the US destroyer USS SAMPSON moored offshore. Bill checked in at the US Embassy, then back to hotel to meet Stanley. Stan came at 10.30 am and we went to Ranadi (behind Kukum beach) to see Anders Markwarth’s military museum (S$150.00 entry fee). He has a great selection of stuff and we will come back on Friday to see more.
Next we drove to kukum beach and out onto a new pier under construction near Lunga point for photos. Afterwards Panatina Plaza Shopping centre for lunch (love those beef and egg rolls) and back to the hotel. A USAF flight crew where checking in at the desk, so the USMC Commandant and Pacific Fleet Commander were in town. We jumped into pool for a while and then met Clair Bibby in the foyer.
After Claire left we walked down to the t shirt shop near the market and got a couple of 70th anniversary shirts, then back to Hyundai plaza to get some money out and get some camera batteries for Bill. Back to the hotel for a shower and then down to the yacht club as usual.
While we were having a drink a guy handed us some Guadalcanal battle tourism surveys that he said Australian student Courtney Leigh was handing out. As soon as he said the name I knew who she was, as I have emailed her over the years and sent her DVDs of Canal info. So after introductions she had a chat with Bill and I and then we went to the Mendana and had dinner together dinner. She was trying to hand out the surveys to the tour groups there, so I introduced her to Joe Mueller to give surveys to his group. Joe confirmed that we could hitch a ride with his group at 5.30 am up to skyline ridge.
Wednesday, August 7 – 70th anniversary of the landings.
We got up at 4.00 am and went down to the Mendana at 5.20 am. There was a great cool breeze blowing through the foyer. We met Joe on time and got up to skyline at 5.45 am to get a good parking spot. It was still dark but a glorious cool breeze and stars twinkling in the sky. Bill was picking out constellations.
We watched a brilliant sunrise. As it became light everyone started to arrive. We caught up with John Innes, Courtney, Claire and Matt McLachlan (Aussie tour operator) and his dad . When the US Pacific Fleet commander and his entourage arrived they did a brief ceremony awarding the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal to his female Communications officer.
The ceremony went off fine. The fleet Commander, USMC Commandant, US Ambassador, Solomons Prime Minister and John Innes all spoke. The Marine band was excellent and the cool breeze was there throughout. Veterans present were 4 Solomon Islands scouts and a Navy survivor of the destroyer USS CUSHING.
After the ceremony Claire dropped us in Honiara at the Coastwatcher Memorial, as a ceremony was due there at 10.00 am to unveil plaques listing all the scouts’ names. We had drinks at the Lemon Tree café (Very nice).After we watched the ceremony there we went back to the hotel and pool.
We met Stanley at 1.15 pm and went up to Mt. Austen. Two carloads of US sailors were there too. After looking at the relic tables (pretty sparse selection compared to 2009) we walked up hill 27 and took some photos. Very clear day. Yes, we indeed got screwed the s$100.00 “entry fee”. I ended up getting 4 Japanese toothbrushes, 2 Japanese belt buckles, a coke bottle and 8 Japanese Arisaka rifle rounds for S$300.00.As we were leaving I got .50 cal round.
We went up to Mt Austen lookout for more photos. Great view across the former Marine perimeter. As we drove back down we stopped again at the US Army star at the village turn off road to take a quick photo. A villager sold me a brass plate for S$40.00 that turned out to be a data plate from the wheel strut assembly of a Type 21 Zero fighter.
We drove down to the Japanese memorial. Now all “enclosed” with walls after some villager tried to steal the bronze statue in 2009 to sell for scrap. They want a S$50 entry fee now, but the caretaker let us in for free. Back to the hotel for more pool therapy and then to the Mendana to change some money at the counter. Afterwards the yacht club as usual - saw Courtney, Larry, John and Matt. Back to Mendana for dinner and said hello to Joe Mueller. Stanley coming at 9.30 am tomorrow to drive to Tetere.
Thursday, August 8
Breakfast at 8.00 am and then waited for Stanley.Stanley came and drove us east to Tetere beach. We saw the 30 plus Amtracs and a lot of WW2 coca cola and beer bottles for sale...no relics for sale unfortunately. I could see that they had dragged 2 Amtracs across the road and broken them up – more metal for the scrap dealers at 50 cents a kilo.
We walked west along the beach to the mouth of Gavaga creek and showed Bill a sketch of the battle site in the sand. When we got back to the Amtracs Matt and his tour group along with Courtney turned up. It started to rain and I thought the weather might turn, but it was over in 15 minutes. We drove back to Panatina Plaza at kukum for lunch ,then back to the hotel.
Bill and I got our relics and list together and went down to the museum. We met Edna the secretary (I had not seen her since 2006) and gave her the items etc to organise permits to be picked up on Friday afternoon. Back to the welcome pool again for a dip.
We met Stanley again at 2.30pm and drove out to fighter strip one and up onto one of the hills on the on southern side. There we net Aubrey and family and showed them some 1942 photos of the area. He showed us a US canteen and cup, but that was all be had found. The view from here gives you a different perspective of Edson’s Ridge, the strip and Henderson and the NZ camp area. We checked out the terrain and took photos for about 20 minutes.
After a shower back at the hotel we headed down to the yacht club as usual. It was awash with New Zealanders and Americans (ship crews). We sat with Matt and his Dad, Courtney and Darren and his wife and had a good chat. John Innes told us he was heading a party to go over to Tulagi/Gavutu etc on Sunday at 7.30 am, so we are interested in that. Not sure how much it will cost though.
As usual we went to the Mendana about 7.00 pm. It was smorgasbord night at $225.00 each (AUS$32.00) per person. Of course when you pay up you feel obliged to pig out at the buffet…so we did – yum! I saw Joe Mueller ad lent him a Canal WW2 photos book to show his guys. When we were full it was back to hotel for photo downloads ad chat till 10.15am..(burp).
Friday, August 9
Stanley came at 9.30am and this morning we went down to the “coffin corner” October 42 battle area east of Edson’s ridge. The road bad, so we didn’t get all the way down it to the Briggs outpost. However where we stopped was good, because they were cutting some trees between us and the 200 yards north to the 1942 jungle line (there are palm trees now in the then open field the Japanese charged across). I was not sure if it would be all overgrown since my 2009 visit, but it was pretty easy to traverse.
We walked across field to jungle, stepping over some cut down trees and piles of coconuts and got to the jungle line where the 7th Marines and the 164th Infantry had been dug in. Walking east along the line we found the entrance to the supply trail leading north towards Henderson where the two 37mm guns had been dug in. Going a bit further east Bill spotted a Japanese canteen with 95% paint cunningly hiding itself in a pile of coconuts…really a great find – “it looked different” said the forward scout.
We looked around a bit more then hiked back to the car. We took photos of Tenaru school (US hospital area during the war) and another Ichiki Unit memorial as we left. After coffin corner we went and saw the radio tunnels under lunga ridge (needs lighting!), then back to hotel for a swim in pool and a chill out.
We met Stanley again at 3.00 pm and went to Edson’s Ridge again. On the trail near the final knoll we met two kids who sold us some stuff who sold us some stuff (a .50 cal case for Bill and 2 coke bottles, Marine eagle-globe-anchor cap badge and a 1940 New Zealand half penny coin for Pete). They walked with us down to the trees where the New Zealand camp rubbish dump is….lots of broken bottles lying about and you could see big pits where people had been digging things up. scattering of rusted beer cans, commwire reels, ammo tin remains etc. I was worried the kids would cut their feet on the glass, but they were okay. I found a half melted coke bottle here that I kept.
Then we took a new road bulldozed between the Lunga river and ridge for logging. It extends to the south out in front of Edson’s Ridge. We stopped at a ridgeline about 1 km south and got a magnificent view. probably a view the Japanese got as they closed from the south. I was told the new road winds further east and comes out to join the road near the Briggs outpost at coffin corner.
We drove back to the foot of the right flank of Edson’s Ridge (on the Lunga) and took more photos. As we went up to the final knoll again I could see kids waving coke bottles, one dated 1946, but we didn’t get any. On the way back to Henderson Stanley drove us down to the Lunga, gave the car a quick wash and showed us the remains of the US bridge pilings behind Betikama school.
Back to the hotel again and down to the yacht club as usual. We chatted to Matt, Courtney and to the son of the navigator of the Cruiser USS QUINCY. We had the Japanese dinner menu at the Mendana Hotel and had a chat to Joe Mueller till 9.00 pm, then back to hotel to download photos and scrub our relic finds.
Friday, August 10
After breakfast at 8.00 am we headed down to the museum to get our relics permit from Edna and John. It was no problem adding the previous day’s purchases. Bill even found fired .30 case lurking in the gravel in front of the museum steps! Stanley picked us up and we first went to Panatina Plaza shopping centre to get some money and to Ranadi for another look at the Markwarth collection.
Lots of good stuff – everything from helmets, canteens, mess tins on up through pistols, rifles, machine guns, artillery and US and Japanese aircraft parts, the star being the recovered early model Start tank with the two Japanese 37mm shots through the left side.
After militaria overload here it was back to Panatina for lunch, then the pool for a spell. At 2.30 pm we set off to Lunga beach USN supply base remains – concrete hut slabs and metal and wood pier remnants from 1943-45. Next we went up onto Lunga Ridge near Stan’s house to see the remains of the metal base to the Japanese radar set the Marines captured on Aug 7.Stanley’s brother had a nice Nambu machine gun he found in the Lunga years ago, so we had a good look at that.
His neighbour came over and showed us two USMC dog tags he dug up near his garden. He wanted S$100.00 each, so we got them. The names were PARTRIDGE and BROWN. Partridge was a mechanic at Henderson in August 1943 ad survived the war and we are still looking for info on Brown.
Then a drive to the bend of the Lunga river to match up the well known Canal photo of the patrol wading across and back to the hotel. At the yacht club we chatted with Courtney, Larry and a lady whose father had been in the 11th Marines artillery regiment in 1942.
We reluctantly decided not to go to Tulagi with John on Sunday, as it was going to cost S$1300.00 and we had to watch our dough. We caught up with Claire Bibby and went over to the Mendana for dinner. Claire and three JPAC guys (searching for US remains) joined us. They were checking out a few potential spots, including a swamp where a P38 Lightning fighter went down in 1943.We have to go to Panatina on Saturday morning to check our flight at the Solomons Airlines office and see if Stanley is available on Sunday.
Saturday, August 11
Breakfast as usual (we talked to aircraft enthusiast Malcolm in the dining room ) then got a taxi out to Panatina Plaza to check our Tuesday flight out. No problem – the flight leaves at 1.00 pm, so be there 11.00 am. After buying some peanuts and fruit & nut mix we went back to the hotel. We dumped our bags and walked down to Mendana for bill to change money, then to the Lime Tree Cafe near Pt Cruz for an air conditioned break. Bill had a big iced coffee.
After that we wandered east towards Matanikau and had lunch at the Sea King restaurant overlooking Matanikau sandbar and the Goettge patrol battle site. I thought the lemon chicken was very nice. I didn’t think that a few hours and days later (medic!) - burp...nice breeze on the balcony.
A sweaty walk back to the hotel ( the T shirt shop was closed – damn!) and then a dip in pool. I returned to room for a photo download and nap. Later we will walk down to see the war photos exhibit. We have to get onto Stanley and see if he is available to come over tomorrow, as we are not going to Tulagi. I tried to ring him a few times, but could not get him. Yacht club and dinner at the Mendana as usual.
Sunday, August 12
I rang Stanley again, but no answer. Courtney and Larry picked us up at 9.30 am in her Suzuki four wheel drive and we set off for Tambea beach near Cape Esperance. They finished sealing the new road in April, so instead of it taking 3 hours in 2006 it took about 40 minutes - the bridges are also being rebuilt up the coast.
After a look around Tambea (very overgrown and no sign of the relics and memorial we saw in 2006) we drove back past Visale Church and went to Bonegi beach. Here we spent 30 minutes snorkelling around transport Kinugawa Maru. We nibbled peanuts and fruit and nut mix as we drove back to Honiara, stopping at the HMAS CANBERRA memorial opposite Rove police station.
We got back to the hotel at 1.20 pm and had a quick shower. We were able to ring Stanley, so we got up to Edson’s Ridge about 3.00 pm. Bill and I walked to the front of the ridge and down the trail to the east to the Oct 42 battle area. I wanted to show him the foxholes and rifle pits I saw here in 2009. However now it was really overgrown, sweaty and swarms of mosquitos...aarrggh!!
We retraced our steps to front of ridge and found the Japanese shovel head. As we walked back along trail to the taxi near final knoll I took a photo of it at the spot on the trail where the well known photograph of the four dead Japanese was taken. There were no kids in sight selling relics today. We went up to the memorial pyramid and found a broken 1941 dated coke bottle in the grass and metal tent peg.....
As we drove off and got near Vandergrift’s CP one kid appeared with a coke bottle, US Army lapel insignia. We asked him did he have more at his hut and he took off running towards it as we followed in the car. His shorts started to come off, so he just threw them away and kept running! He and his friends had more coke bottles, so I got the 1946 dated one I had seen previously. One villager had a sterling silver US Army West Point class ring that he said he found near the Lunga..he wanted $1000.00 for it. We could not see any date or name on it.
Then it was back to the hotel for shower then to the yacht club to chat with John, Courtney and Larry. Courtney, Bill and I went to Mendana for dinner. No Joe Mueller, so they must have gone (they had). We chatted to the JPAC guys, then back to the hotel.
Monday, August 13
Claire Bibby rang early and said ring Rex at Hells Point to make an appointment to see the Stuart tanks. I did so and he said to come around about 4.30 pm. After breakfast we waited for Stanley to come at 9.30 am. He came at 10.00 am and explained his brother had locked his keys in the car. We drove up to Hill 66 behind Pt. Cruz for photos and the great view. The front line was here between November 1942 and January 1943. We found the fin off a 60mm mortar shell. The road down the hill again was pretty rough. We were afraid the taxi would get stuck, but Stanley’s superior driving skills got it down without damage.
Back into town for lunch at the Lime Lounge (nice burger) then a dip in pool. Next stop was a visit to the Fisheries office above the sports ground to meet Daniel Koroi and his father. His Dad is the son of Solomons scout Daniel Pule, the right hand man to Coastwatcher Martin Clemens, who always spoke highly of him. We had good chat on their great balcony with stunning views of the bay.. a very pleasant afternoon.
By now it was about 4.00 pm, so we headed down to Hells Point to see Rex and the 5 Stuart tanks. He was not their, but his second in charge Michael let us take photos of them...brilliant to get a close up look at them. The engines and front drives are missing, but still great sights! We took our photos then back to the rooms for a quick shower and down to you know where.
We chatted to Larry and Courtney. We were leaving tomorrow, so we have her a “care package” of mosquito repellent, suntan lotion and a good sun hat Claire came over and she, Bill and I had dinner at the Mendana. Another chat to the JPAC guys re their search for the P38 in the swamp. At the start of the week you feel you have so much time and then suddenly its almost over and you have to go home again – but you don’t want to! Courtney came over and we said our goodbyes to her and Claire. A final time back to the hotel to download photos and pack everything away.
Tuesday, August 14
We checked out of the King Solomon Hotel at 10.00 am and Stanley drove us out to the Airport. We gave us each a nice gift of carved wooden canoes and we gave him some t shirts and other stuff. Really a great guy to drive you around.
After check in at the airport we went through Customs, but of course they made us open our bags to check the relics and the permits, but that was all sorted okay. The plane left on time about 1.00 pm and we got into Brisbane about 3.00 pm local time. After a pizza down the road we savoured the cooler temperatures and I slept pretty well. I flew back to wintery Melbourne on Wednesday morning and was back at work on Thursday…sigh…another trip over!