Shortlands

 

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A small area with a lot of WWII history. This was the starting point for the "Tokyo Express" to Guadalcanal via The Slot.

 This cute little islet was not on our C-Map chart, but that was OK as it was still daytime as we motored past. The capt thought it a neat place to stop. The admiral scolded him for even thinking about it.

    We had to sail down the west side of Bougainville, which is filled with uncharted shoals and islands out to 20nm offshore. We had to do it at night. This caused the crew to be especially alert.

  We wanted to visit the Shortland Islands. For the purists out there, the Shortlands are indeed part of the Solomon Islands. However, they are very remote and, more importantly, we needed to make a separate page so things would not get out of hand in cyberspace. 

  This was the starting point for the infamous "Tokyo Express", which hauled supplies from here to Guadalcanal and elsewhere in the Solomons. The area was said to still be littered with Japanese relics.

  These islands are seldom seen by outsiders because there is no way to get there besides yacht and there are no officials to check in yachts. It was at one time off-limits due to incursions of PNG troops looking for smuggled arms and gasoline being sold to the rebels on Bougainville. There were also accusations that the Solomons were aiding the rebels, since Bougainville is really a part of the Solomons and not PNG.

  When we arrived there the next morning we decided to seek refuge at Gomia on the west side. Shortly after anchoring the admiral saw a high-speed Police launch with 8 people zooming towards us. Busted! Jail! Deep doo-doo!

  Fortunately, the Australian leader of the Police crew was quite nice and only wanted to identify us. He had gotten word that we would be arriving with tsunami relief supplies, which made our presence sort of OK. We could breathe again.

That evening the capt noticed a perfect cone-shaped mountain to the north. The admiral thought she saw smoke billowing from the top. Thus we "discovered" the very active volcano named Bagana.

  The next day we proceeded to the village of Nila, on the island of Poporang. We had heard from friends that there was a Catholic mission there which could help us distribute relief supplies.

This was the first place we'd been that had suffered from the tsunami that devastated Gizo. Here they had waves of 3m pouring over their village and crops. They had gotten some supplies but they are very much at the end of the distribution line, with no shipping. Most of their crops and been killed by seawater. They needed everything.

  This was our first foray into the disaster relief business. As the nice folks at FEMA would agree, it ain't all that simple. If you ask the victims if they need things, they will always say "yes". If you ask them to enumerate their losses, they will repeat them even when they have already received replacements. This may mean that some get lots of stuff, some nothing. It takes the wisdom of Solomon to sort it all out.

On the right is the Solomon of the Solomons. He is a young Filipino priest named Father Jerome. He said they handed out assessment forms to every family. They would then track what each family received and ensure that they didn't get the same supplies twice. He then had to defend his actions to the various agencies and NGOs. We didn't envy his position, but we were happy to give our meager supplies into his hands for distribution.

This house is literally sliding into the sea. One of the luckier residences, it was not swept away as were many canoes and other structures. 

 

One thing we wanted to do here was see war relics. Our guide was a prince of a guy named Joachim, who was 2 when the Japanese arrived. Our first display was a pile of old "Pete" biplanes. Nila was a seaplane base and apparently they simply left the Petes here to rot at the end of the war. Many of the villagers still use their wings as garden fences. 

  While touring relics we also visited the recent tsunami relics. This one they called "tsunami camp". It is an old cattle station that they expanded with shelters. After the floods they were afraid to return for a month or more. This is where they all lived. Some still sleep here.

  Our World War II Safari was not deficient of beautiful jungle sprites. These eager children loved to accompany us through the dense bush as well as help those older individuals who were slower than their scouts.

  Back to the war. This is an anti-aircraft gun, maybe 90mm. It still has the ammo boxes lying alongside, along with beer bottles strewn about.

  Here the admiral gets a ride on a Japanese radar antenna. The kids use it as a merry-go-round.

  Here the admiral inspects a large naval gun. We believe this is one of the guns brought here after the fall of Singapore, though we could find no English markings.

    Kids playing on an old sidecar motorbike. They have an entire amusement park in the bush.

This small but wiry eleven year old deftly scaled a 90 foot palm tree and quickly liberated some fine coconuts! Our 68 year old guide said his wife asked him last year not to continue to take part in this high wire act. 

  The next day we motored off to the notorious island of Ballalae. It was here that hundreds of British civilians from Singapore, along with POWs from same, perished while building an airstrip for the Japanese. This airstrip was used by their planes flying from Rabaul to Guadalcanal.

  This is one of many plane wrecks that litter the island. This one's on the beach.

  The airstrip is still in use, at least in theory. This is the main terminal. If you look closely you will see the admiral seated in the departure lounge.

  The admiral hopes the airport in Gizo is better equipped. There has been a lot of decoration by volunteers, many of them soldiers from neighboring Bougainville.

  Here's the terminal sign. It's fallen and can't get back up. The capt tried to raise it but it's heavier than it looks.

  This is the only memorial to all those who died here, erected to the POWs. The British civilians have been simply forgotten.

 

  Here's one of the plastic crosses, for a Donald Miller. It says, "To my darling husband - Always in my thoughts - Your loving Nora". Like many lost cemeteries of the South  Pacific, this one is fast disappearing from neglect.

 

It's not obvious from the above, but the grass here is waist-high. One of locals is paid to mow it and has a tractor to to the job, but he doesn't seem to get around to doing the work. As a result, the airline will not fly in, thus forcing the inhabitants to take a dangerous ride in an open boat across 25 miles of open ocean to get to the field at Stirling Island. It's the islands, mon.

  If you look hard you can find interesting stuff alongside the runway. This is a "Betty" bomber, still on its landing gear, but otherwise showing its age. 

If you ever wondered what the flight deck of a Betty looked like, here it is. The Solomons has declared war relics to be national treasures but are a bit remiss in treasuring them. The seats have trees growing in them. We wanted to spend more time searching for hidden national treasures, but the poor capt's feet gave out and we had to retreat back to Nila. 

 This is the admiral with Ebby on the left, Teresa on the right and little "Junior". Ebby is the local teacher who has developed a strong interest in earthquakes. We gave her a National Geographic with an article on quakes - she was thrilled. We think the Solomons has the nicest people in the South Pacific and the Shortlands has some of the nicest people in the Solomons. Maybe their isolation is a blessing.

  During our stay there we experienced at least 3 earthquakes, one of which was almost magnitude 5. Our friend Ebby, above, worried about us and came out at 2AM with a flashlight to see if we were OK. We don't blame the people for being jittery.

  We needed to make headway towards Gizo and therefore set sail for Mono Island. It's actually in the Treasuries, but we thought we'd just add it to the Shortlands page.

  This is the capt with the local chief, John Goldie. The village of Falamae was hit hard by the tsunami, with 4m waves that floated off all their canoes and many houses. The villagers built a new village far up the hillside where they sleep at night. Despite their hardships they gave us a warm welcome and made us feel very much at home for the few days we spent there.

  This is the grave of the previous chief. Note the decorative use of WWII beer bottles in the border. The villagers make much use of their relics. Many houses have US bomber fuel tanks for their water storage.

  This is a shot of the some of the dwellings in the new village. Building this whole new town has become their main occupation. 

  Simple but functional. Obviously, nobody locks their doors in this neighborhood.

  Everybody wanted their picture taken. This is a proud mom. We will be printing a pile of photos to send to them. Most have never had family photos.

  This is a much better runway, built without slave labor. It's the former US strip on Stirling Island. The locals keep it mowed with machetes and the airline flies in every Wednesday.

  This is the tail of a US Navy TBF Avenger. It's become a natural planter in the jungle. The US base at Stirling was built to harass the Japanese in the Shortlands and Bougainville. There's very little left beyond some strong American building foundations and the runway. 

  Our visit to Stirling was cut short by constant heavy rains. We really enjoyed the visit to Ballalae, however, and were most impressed by the friendly goodness of the villagers. 

  When we returned to the boat it was covered with plague of small flies. This was perhaps an ill omen for our next passage, which was back to Gizo.

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