Our last stop in the Solomons: probably one of the most stunning islands in this island nation. The biggest island in the group is called Mono and that’s where the main (and only) village is situated, home to approximately 500 people.
We had already checked out of the Solomon Islands in Noro, near Munda, but we knew from other cruisers that the local police in the Treasury Islands doesn’t mind yachts stopping here for a few days when en route to Papua New Guinea (PNG). In fact, they are keen for yachts to stop here because they would like to become an official point of entry and exit for the Solomon Islands.
We approached the Treasury Islands early Friday morning and dropped anchor in front of the village on Mono Island. One by one the villagers came out to the beach and the jetty to see the yachts that arrived. We had sailed across from Liapari with our friends from Rampetamper, a trimaran with a Dutch/New Zealand couple onboard. It was a calm overnight passage and even though there was not much wind it was from the right direction and we managed to sail all night without having to turn the engines on.
As we approached the beach by dinghy, we heard tens of children screaming and playing in the background and we later found out they were having a sports’ day. A guy in a fluorescent yellow vest was waiting on the beach and introduced himself as Roy Junior and told us he would show us around. First stop was the police station where the one policewoman in charge (the other two police officers had gone away to the nearby Shortland Islands for the day) wrote down our details in the visitors’ book. Next stop we went for a walk to the other side of the village to see the chief and ask his permission to stay. Beautifully kept gardens and well maintained huts made for a tidy and pretty village. Chief Benjamin welcomed us inside his hut and asked us to sign his visitors’ book too. He assured us we were free to explore the area and anchor inside the lagoon. He promised there would be no trouble and said there were only good people in this village.
After lunch Roy came with us in our dinghy across to nearby Stirling Island where we trampled through the dense tropical rainforest to see some of the WW2 planes that crashed here, anti-aircraft guns, and lots of rusty old metal. These islands were the stage of a major battle from 27 October until 12 November 1943. Operation ‘Goodtime’ was the codename for the invasion by New Zealand and American troops of the Treasury Islands, to retake it from the Japanese occupiers. New Zealand provided the fighting men and America the air, naval and logistical support. The allies succeeded with relatively few casualties and captured this strategically important area close to Bougainville and PNG. A radar station was installed and the success of the operation helped to improve the planning of subsequent landings in the Pacific. We saw the massive airfield, 2.2 kilometers long, big enough to land a jumbo-jet and still used today.
It was a lot to take in in one day, so much WW2 history and so many things left behind, still intact 75 years later. Amazing. It must have been tough for the soldiers to not only deal with the combat situation but also the heat, the humidity, mosquitoes, malaria and other tropical diseases.
In the afternoon we weighed anchor and navigated our way into the lagoon of Stirling Island, just a couple of miles away from the village. The well-protected bay, dotted with many tiny islets, had the most stunning crystal clear water. Probably the clearest water we’ve seen since the Tuamotus in French Polynesia. And this is why: The Treasury Islands are one of the few islands in the Solomons that have resisted the temptation to sell up logging rights to one of the big Chinese logging companies. This area is logging-free and therefore the water is still crystal clear, the dense tropical rainforest is intact and there is no pollution or damage to the environment. And the islanders intend to keep it that way.
I was surprised. It’s the first time I met a community of Solomon Islanders who actually think about future generations and care about the environment. The villagers are self-sufficient for the most part. There is plenty of fish in the strong currents around the village and the tropical climate makes it easy to grow fruit and vegetables in the gardens just outside the village. The community gets some income from copra trading and in return they buy essentials like rice, flour and sugar from a supply ship that comes by every three months.
The attitude to religion seems different than most other villages we’ve visited too. Even though there are only 500 people, there are 5 different denominations represented, each with their own church. But the underlying feeling is one of tolerance. Not everyone belongs to a church. It’s ok to be an atheist too. I like it here already. It’s so different from any other villages we’ve seen; the people friendlier than anywhere else we’ve been.
After a good night’s sleep we woke up to the stunning lagoon of Stirling Island. The water was flat calm and we heard many different birds, frogs and other animal noises: the sound of paradise. We decided not to swim inside the lagoon. The locals said it was ok during the daytime but they also tend to worship crocodiles and we prefer not to risk it so we took the dinghy out to the pass to go snorkelling. There’s no need to scuba dive here as the visibility is amazing. Perhaps 40 or 50 metres! The corals are stunning, there are plenty of fish and the whole area is pristine and untouched.
Roy lent us a book about the history of the Treasury Island and Operation ‘Goodtime’ in particular. It was a fascinating read and from this gesture alone I could tell he is very proud of his island and its history. I really hope they can preserve it and keep it as it is: stunning and untouched.