The sights, sounds and characters of a busy Saturday morning in downtown Honiara encapsulate in a single snapshot what it is I love about travel in the Solomon Islands. A continuous parade of buses and brightly coloured vans whizz past pilled high with pikininis and their mamas heading off to the central market. People mill around outside shops chatting animatedly while they chew their morning betel nut before spitting the remnants onto the ground, adding to the sea of bright red splodges. Schoolgirls giggle in groups as they shuffle past me, making my teenage son blush and turn a slight rosy hew as he quickly glances at his feet. Every second person is on their mobile phone, making plans and catching up on the latest news around town. It’s true, I could stay all day and watch the goings on in this buzzy place but I am leaving it all behind for a while and finding a slower pace just a little further out of town. Bonege I and II seem to be the place of many names depending on who you talk to, locals call it Mbonege, divers seem to know it as B1 and B2 and the more casual snorkeling novices, like myself just say Bonege Beach. Either way I was certainly looking forward to my first swim in the Solomon Islands just a short but bumpy drive West of the capital, through the White River region. As with many beaches of the Pacific Islands a small entry fee is payable upon arrival to the family who own the land and maintain the beach. In a complex yet simple system the size of your truck seems to determine what you pay but that also seems to be slightly interchangeable for snorkelers, divers and taxis. I could almost feel the warm sun on my skin and the tropical breeze in my hair until my ears pricked up at the overly casual mention of just one word, crocodiles! Apparently after heavy rain they like to pay a visit to the local waterways and beaches, but the owner of this stretch of beach reassures me that his beach doesn’t get them. ‘Yes, the beaches this side and that side’ he persuades waving his arms around, ‘but not mine, we keep them away’ he finishes with a sweet gappy grin. I am certainly less than convinced especially with my two children chomping at the bit to get their swimmers on but I decide to throw the ridiculous amount of caution I am known for back home out the window and hope the travel gods have got my back. As far as white sandy beaches go Guadalcanal isn’t really known for them but when it comes to coves, war relics and hidden treasures you will find them dotted all over the place, no to mention the plethora of colourful marine life that draws in divers from all over the world.

I love to experience new adventures with my family but when it comes to exploring the deep blue I’ll admit I am a big chicken so rarely get to encounter life under the surface. Countless ships, planes and tanks lay where they fell decades ago during the War of the Pacific and with so many of them resting just metres from the shoreline this unique stretch of coastline has become like a window into history accessible to all. The decaying twist of rusting metal partially submerged by the morning tide gives this place an eerie beauty and you can’t help but think about what went on here all those years ago. What was once a large Japanese ship no doubt full of young eager troops is now home to almost every tropical fish species imaginable and we are lucky to have this grand old relic all to ourselves. I am proud to say that I overcame my fear of what lies below and even managed to forget about the crocodile situation long enough to enjoy the underwater garden that has encased the ship over its time sitting in the shallows. Yes, it’s true that I used a pool noodle to keep myself afloat and every time something touched my leg I practically walked on water but I did it, I snorkeled in the Solomon Islands!

As quiet often happens when you are travelling you get chatting to other travellers as you exchange stories, tips and advice. That is exactly how we found ourselves at Bonege in the first place when we were lucky enough to be invited to tag along with a large group of new friends from all over the world now living in Honiara. After a morning spent wandering along the shoreline, exploring the wreck and getting to know each other we had worked up quiet an island-sized appetite. As we sat together under the shade of a little thatched hut we cracked open fresh coconuts and in true Australian style fired up the barbecue. The irresistible smell of sausages cooking seemed to lure more and more people to our little beach picnic and pretty soon we had friends from the United States, Tonga, New Zealand, Samoa, The United Kingdom and Canada all coming together for a traditional Aussie lunch on a beach far from home. As the day rolled by there was more snorkeling, more swimming, some fun on the beach and to my relief, still no crocodiles! Bonege is the perfect place to reflect on days gone by and become immersed in a more laid back version of Honiara. The people who call the outer villages home take great pride in showcasing their little patch of paradise and sharing it with divers, snorkelers, families and history buffs. It’s the type of place you can do as much or as little as you want and I found myself happy just to sit and watch old friends and new from all different nations and backgrounds come together to share a meal, have a laugh and relax in the sun. On our way home we stopped to share our food with some of the locals and once again our global beach barbecue added some more new friends to the mix.

As written for Pacific Island Living Magazine

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