Honiara / Guadalcanal,
Known as the "Happy Isles," the Solomons are one of the best-kept secrets in the Pacific. These are islands of great natural beauty from jungle-clad peaks and active volcanoes to dashing waterfalls, misty rainforests, turquoise lagoons, and brilliant coral reefs. The islands’ variety of cultures and customs is also striking; there are blue-black Papuans and chocolate-colored Melanesians, bronze-skinned Micronesians and even Polynesians with fair complexions and light hair. In Honiara, backstreet quonset huts and an occasional, rusty wreckage provide grim reminders of World War II; over 25,000 Japanese and American soldiers were killed or wounded on Guadalcanal, and who can forget such haunting names as "The Slot", "Tokyo Express", Edson’s Ridge, Ironbottom Sound and Henderson Field. Honiara has been the capital of the Solomon Islands since Tulagi was devastated during World War II. One of the last corners of the world to fall under European religious and political control, the Solomon Islands were discovered in 1568 by Mendana, the European explorer, who raised a cross and claimed the island for Spain. The Spaniard found no gold here, but he gave the islands their exotic name to persuade his royal patrons that the islands he had claimed were as rich as King Solomon’s treasure. After his death the islands were virtually forgotten for 200 years until the beginning of the 19th century, when traders began to export mother-of-pearl, turtle shell, sandalwood and copra. The islands gained full independence from Great Britain in 1978. Today 85% of the islanders continue to rely on subsistence agriculture, living much as them did before the white man arrived.