When it comes to war history, the Solomon Islands offer one of the most hands-on experiences in the world.

From 1942, this calm archipelago nation was disrupted by World War II's longest and bloodiest campaign.

Many of the sites and wrecks from this time remain untouched. Relics are being uncovered, and locals still find human remains.

The depths of Iron Bottom Sound host dozens of lost warships and planes that were sunk off the coast of Guadalcanal, and many wrecks around the country are popular dive spots.

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But if staying on dry land is your preference, there are many sites above water that offer a fascinating insight into the country's military history.

US WAR MEMORIAL

Outside Honiara, on a hill with a spectacular view, the US memorial features large plaques that give a good overview of key events and battles from the Guadalcanal campaign.

VILU WAR MUSEUM, Guadalcanal

About 20km west of Honiara, this open-air museum houses an impressive collection of wrecks. Walled by coconut palms are the near-complete skeletons of Japanese and US vehicles, including an F4U Corsair, SBD Dauntless dive bomber, P-38 Lightning and an F4F Wildcat (owner Anderson Dua will happily fold its creaking wings for you).

As a child, Dua helped his uncle Fred Kona collect these relics in the 1960s. The well-maintained space also features numerous plaques, including one commemorating the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

RED BEACH, Guadalcanal

Just east of Honiara, past the Hells Point explosive disposal range and The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (Ramsi) base, is the unspoilt if slightly overgrown dark, sandy beach that hosted the first Allied steps on Guadalcanal.

Code-named Red Beach by the Americans, this spot was the Marines' first landing site on August 7, 1942. No Japanese opposition was waiting on the beach, and therefore there were no casualties.

Until very recently, lots of people lived in this area, but most moved away during the Malaitan conflict. Now there's not much here, which actually makes it feel all the more moving.

ICHIKI MONUMENT, Alligator Creek, Guadalcanal

Not far from Red Beach, this monument commemorates the Japanese men who fought and fell under the command of Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki.

Eight hundred members of the 900-strong Ichiki Regiment's First Element were killed by machineguns here in the Battle of Tenaru on August 21, 1942. They'd attempted to take back the Lunga perimeter, which guarded Henderson Field.

The newly arrived US Marines had been warned of a Japanese attack by local scout Sir Jacob Vouza. Vouza had been tortured and left for dead by the Ichiki detachment, but managed to crawl several kilometres to the American camp, where he passed on valuable information.

This gave the Marines about 10 minutes to prepare their defences, and they subsequently took a clear victory.

Vouza is a national hero, and a monument in his honour stands in front of the Honiara police station.

TETERE BEACH WWII MUSEUM, Guadalcanal

This open-air museum is near the Ichiki Monument and worth a visit because you'll get to meet Vouza's grandson, Sammy Basoe.

Rows of abandoned amphibious landing vehicles rest among massive trees near the beach. Sammy owns and maintains these US vehicles, Coca-Cola bottles and other knick-knacks. But it's when he produces a worn old photo of the legendary US Lieutenant-Colonel Evans Carlson, complete with intact handwritten description on the back, that is most incredible. After Vouza spent 12 days in hospital recovering from his torture he returned to duty as the Marines' chief scout and accompanied Carlson and his famous Carlson's Raiders on their raid behind enemy lines.

GAVUTU, Central Province

This tiny island, which is basically a mound of coral about 500m long, played a key role in the Guadalcanal campaign in the Battle of Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo.

Gavutu is separated from the even smaller Tanambogo by a causeway.

During the battle from August 7-9, 1942, the Allies captured these three islands, where the Japanese had built a naval and seaplane base. It was developed into an American base.

Remains of buildings, storage tanks and underground bomb shelters are visible on the island.

BLUE BEACH, Tulagi, Central Province

US Marines landed unopposed here on August 7, 1942. The entire first wave of landing crafts got stuck on coral nearly 100m out from shore, forcing soldiers to wade through water up to their armpits. Once there they occupied the high ground of the ridges.

The Japanese had invaded Tulagi in May that year, with the intention of covering the flank of their Solomon Islands offensive and provide support for forces advancing on Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Their failure to take Port Moresby left them exposed.

MT AUSTEN, Guadalcanal

One of the three most prominent hills the US forces attacked during the Guadalcanal campaign in their attempt to break down the well-fortified Japanese defence.
The observation point at the top of Mt Austen offers a fantastic view out to sea.

CHECKLIST

Getting there
Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to the Solomon Islands with connections via Brisbane on Virgin Australia and Solomon Airlines. One way Economy Class fares start from $755.

For more information on costs and all-inclusive tours, contact the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau. They can also help out with the best dive spots to see World War II wrecks.

- AAP