The Battle for Guadalcanal Ended 72 Years Ago Today, Here’s How to Visit

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The Thin Red Line. Galloping Horse Ridge. Edson’s Bloody Ridge.

Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands was one of the fiercest Pacific battles of WWII, stretching from 7 August 1942 to 9 February 1943.

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Though jungle has re-grown, much remains as one of the most poignant WWII sites to visit. I had the opportunity in September 2012, booking it in an all-night frenzy when a last minute Australia business trip materialized. It was just after 70th anniversary commemorations and subsequent honeymoon stop by the new British royal couple. It remains one of my greatest travel experiences.

This post will focus on logistics of travel to Guadalcanal and subsequent posts will explore the WWII remnants and memorials, and the stirring Thin Red Line hike.

How to Get to the Solomon Islands:

Air service to Honiara is limited and expensive. Virgin Australia’s service from Brisbane is most reliable option. I flew it when the Virgin Australia Airpass still existed. The pass is gone, however Virgin Australia has now harmonized all flights under airline code VA which allows award booking from partners like Singapore Air, Delta, and the other Virgin airlines.

I flew both Solomon Airlines (to Port Moresby) and Air Niugini (PNG domestic flights) and they are expensive, difficult to ticket and customer service is languid. Fiji Airways is an option for those who have very flexible schedules. Solomon Airlines is the only option for domestic flights, which for tourists is mainly for nature tours such as to UNESCO-listed East Rennell. Also requires a flexible schedule.

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Solomon Airlines Check-In

Where to Stay:

Only a handful of hotels operate on the island and there are few sub-$100 options. I stayed at Honiara Hotel, which has a Tiger Balm Gardens-style swimming pool. Visit Solomons maintains an accommodation list. Don’t expect luxury from any.

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Do You Need a Guide?

In almost all cases I say no. For Solomons I did go with a guide as many of the war sites are in land controlled by clans where you need to negotiate access. Walk-ups may not always be welcome, though I could not get a definite sense of this. A guide can have the connections to get you in, however I learned the hard way that a guide’s clan affiliation can also make it difficult for some sites just as it facilitates other sites.

I booked 2 day trips with Destination Solomons Travel & Tours and had a dispute with the first guide who cut out Edson’s Bloody Ridge without explanation, then disappeared for the day when I was on the Thin Red Line hike, leaving only the driver. The next day I insisted on going to Edson’s Bloody Ridge and the agency tried to charge me additional. It was never satisfactorily revolved money-wise, and a hassle to be arguing when the itinerary and money was pre-agreed. I had only selected that company because it was the only to respond. It appears more companies currently operate.

Budget now operates a rental car location at Honiara Airport so self-drive may be an option.

There are also primarily US and Australia-based tour companies that specialize in taking veterans and military buffs on full-blown tours from their home countries, with prices to match.

Do You Need a Visa?

Nationals of roughly half the countries on the world do not need a visa in advance, including major Western nations, see the full list here, and also those that do need visas.

Is it Safe?

The 1990s saw civil strife. Since 2003 the Australian-led RAMSI mission has established stability and the situation has now been good for years. Should things flare up, my understanding is this is clan rivalry and not targeted at foreigners. There is no travel warning from the US Department of State.

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RAMSI Mission

In my visit I felt safe and welcome. The usual precautions are necessary, particularly at night due to petty crime from high poverty.

How is Honiara?

Fairly typical South Pacific city. Bustling. The usual markets and such. Lots of RAMSI and NGO expats.

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Honiara Port

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Honiara Central Market

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Vouza Memorial to Anti-Japanese Resistance

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Car Wash

Can You Interact With Locals?

Of course!

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Is This a Betel Nut Country?

Oh yeah.

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[…] Guadalcanal remains a vivid tribute to the lives lost and lives saved at this momentous battle. See here for how to visit. I will devote a separate piece to The Thin Red […]