Honiara, Solomon Islands kingdom

© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation

19 October 2017

On Wednesday, August 18 at 2pm local time, Tara arrived in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands. It took us only 4 days of peaceful downwind sailing to reach this archipelago.

We’ll remain docked in Honiara for 2 days before exploring 3 coral sites on the surrounding reefs. A new scientific team led by Dr Rebecca Vega Thurber, biologist at Oregon State University (USA), will board the schooner tomorrow to carry out this task until Papua New Guinea.

 

Scents of softwood, wet ground and fresh flowers such as mimosa. A fragrance yet unknown. I was on night shift with Julie l’Hérault, Tara’s chief officer, when she smelled these first scent signals emanating from the Solomon Islands

There were patches of clear sky, revealing beautiful constellations, including Orion. Water temperature was still 28°C and it was impossible to sleep in the cabins without turning the small fans on.

 

4 photo 8_arrivee Tara Honiara_VH
Between sky and sea, Tara arrives at Honiara © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation 

At the first streaks of dawn, the southern part of Guadalcanal, the main island of the Solomon Archipelago, revealed a lush forest cover. Now we saw the source of these nocturnal fragrances. Dominating the thick stretch of vegetation was a mountain range formed by volcanic activity. Some summits were surrounded by small clouds.

All morning we sailed along a significant portion of the 160-kilometer coastline, showing more or less the same landscapes. On the surface of these blue waters with shades of turquoise, probably caused by runoff water, small dolphins were chasing schools of tuna, marine birds flying over them. Honiara, located in a recess, emerged little by little.

Before our eyes, the appearance of the coast quickly changed: cargo ships were docked waiting for wood shipments, barges loaded with logs moored alongside them. Ashore, sawmills were lined up one after another, reaping the benefits of an obviously intense logging operation.

 

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Simple dwellings near the city center © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

After rounding a last point, the city of Honiara (84,520 inhabitants) appeared deep in the bay, partly sheltered from south-easterly trade winds.

The real shock occurred while docking, even though we were somewhat prepared for it. On quays parallel to ours, rusty ferry boats packed with inhabitants from other Solomon Islands were preparing to depart. A little further away, children were carrying loads of supplies on their back to another smaller ferry. Just outside the cargo port, hundreds of half-naked people were wandering among a few pickup trucks.

Between New Caledonia and here, it felt like we were no longer on the same planet. The Solomon Islands are the poorest nation in the Pacific region, and from the very moment you dock in Honiara, you witness this economic distress.

                                                                                                         Vincent Hilaire

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