Finding Tank Beach
It takes two hours to drive to Tetere. It doesn’t actually, but that’s how long it took us to drive there.
We started off with a photo.
Now, there are two well known World War II museums in Honiara: Vilu and Tank Beach. Vilu has a variety of planes, canons and other war paraphernalia, and Tank Beach has a whole bunch of tanks.
Mum was sure it was the one, “without the planes, and there were lots of plants on them.”
Righto. We were off to find Tetere.
Go past GPPOL 1, past GPPOL 2, and then it’s a road about 50 metres from the beach on the left, and then turn right.
We head east to GPPOL, which is a nice drive past the palm plantations. We’re Sunday driving so it takes us about an hour to reach the Oil Mill. As we go past the Oil Mill we see two Aunties walking down the road.
“Let’s ask them for directions.”
“Morning. You know where me findem Tank Beach?”
“Yes! Me going to beach today too. Me kam show you.”
The Aunties work at the plantations and today is their day off. It’s a stinking hot day so we don’t mind giving them a lift to the beach. We only had one seat left but they both want to ride in the boot.
We drive straight, and then right, and then left, and then left again and then…
“Aunty are you sure this is the right place?”
“Yes. Me very sure.”
We’ve just turned down a muddy road where the trees have been cut to leave a vast, muddy opening. We can see the ocean but no car access to get to it and it doesn’t look like a likely place for a museum. We drive between a set of wooden shacks where a bunch of Malaysians are peering at us from their porches.
It’s a logging camp.
“We hia nao.”
“Aunty, this looks like a logging camp!”
No reply from the boot.
“Ya., you can walkabout lo coast for accessem beach.”
“Aunty, this not the right place.”
She looks a bit dejected like I didn’t trust her. I feel bad but she folds, “Ok, we go nara way.”
We reverse out of the logging camp and Aunty tries again. We go back out and retrace our steps until we come to another right road.
“Aunty is this the road?”
“Yes this is the road! Go stret!”
We’re going through bush. It feels like the right way this time and we take a series of turns before stopping outside a gate. The security man opens the gate for us. Beyond is a gated complex with a few houses that look like rich people own them. It doesn’t look like a place to keep tanks.
“Aunty, what is this place?”
“That’s my uncle. We’re wantok.” Aunty points to the security guard who has opened up the gates for us.
“We can’t just drive in, we don’t even know who lives here!”
We stop midway through the gates and start reversing. Aunty is waving her hand out the window to get Uncle’s attention who hasn’t seen her sitting in the boot. They say something in dialect and Uncle confirms “You go nara side. Tank lo there.” He points to the opposite direction Aunty had pointed.
I’m losing my temper now. “Aunty… me no like for go lo logging camp. Me no like for go lo house blo strangers. Me like for go lo Tank Beach. Beach with tanks. Like this one.” I show her the photo of a tank.”
“Ohhhhh.” Realisation hits her.
“Ok, me takem you lo Tank Beach.”
We’ve reached an understanding. Really it was my fault, I should have made sure we were both on the same page. Back we go again.
Back, back, back and we reach the road we thought we should have taken when we first started. It’s heading towards the ocean and we know we’re on the right track.
The dirt track turns into sand and the beach unfolds before us.
We all get out of the car and stretch our legs. Aunty looks pleased with herself. We wanted to go to the beach, and she has delivered. We are now at the beach!
We look left, we look right – there are no tanks in sight.
Aunty pipes up, “Tank Beach over there.” She points over to the distant horizon.
That’s it. We’ve been driving around for nearly two hours, I’m grumpy, starving and have decided we’re all going back to Honiara because there aren’t any tanks in Tetere.
I’m polite. “Thank you for helping us Aunty. Mifala go now.”
She makes a move to jump back in the car.
“No, no Aunty. Me go back lo Honiara. You stay hia.”
We scramble back into the car in case Aunty thinks of another reason to jump in and we hightail it outta there.
On our way back, there is a lone tank sitting in the middle of a block of palms and we stop there to try and recreate the photo.
“It’s the only tank here! It’s gotta be the one.” But it’s not. It’s too big, far too tall and there is only one of them. The Tank Beach Mum and Dad went to had heaps of tanks, “At least 20!”
We head home and are halfway through GPPOL 2 when we decide, let’s just give it one more crack. We drove all the way out here, and there is at least one tank here so we must be close. We ring our friends who have been there before for the third time that morning for directions. They are exactly the same, except he mentions there being long grass on either side of the road. Every other road in the Solomon Islands has long grass on either side of the road so that’s not very helpful.
We take our bearings again from the Oil Factory and drive straight. We go past the lone tank, a road that is ten metres past that, and then another road that we hadn’t noticed before because there was long grass on either side that looked so nondescript and non-museumy that we had completely missed it before.
“Does that look like long grass on either side to you, Babe?”
We go “down the road with long grass on either side”, and then keep going until we “reach a clearing on the left with a house in the middle,” and then “continue for about fifty metres”.
We come to a cleared space and a sign. Tetere Beach!
As we finally see the sign for Tetere, Aunty has appeared in front of us from a fork in the road – the last person I wanted to see. I scream out “She followed us!” but then quickly realise that was ridiculous. She was probably checking the way to assure herself she knew what she was doing. I guess the old bird kind of knew where she was going all along just not how to get there in a car.
We pile out and there are tanks everywhere. The things that strikes you with tank beach are the huge trees going over and through them.
Dad corrects me for the millionth time, “They’re not tanks. They’re Amphibious Landing Crafts.”
According to various internet sources, they are Assault Amphibious Vehicles/Landing Vehicle (LVTs), Tracked/AmTrak/Alligators/Gators. The Americans were big on them from 1941 to 1945. They would consist of six people per vehicle – commander, gunner, loader, driver, assistant driver, a machine gunner. So in a sense, a type of tank.
Sammy Basoe greets us, grandson of Solomon Islands war hero Sir Jacob Vouza. He pulls out a very well-thumbed clearfile folder with pages and pages of information.
“I would like to authorise you about this place.” I think he meant ‘inform’ but I love the impliations of being ‘authorised’ at a museum so I don’t mention it.
Sammy explains the story about Tetere and why the AmTraks here. Japanese were camped nearby, a group of American marines landed in these AmTraks and many Japanese were killed. After the end of the Battle of Guadalcanal, the Americans moved on to another island and left the AmTraks here.
We tell him our stori and Mum tells him when she came, the trees were a lot smaller and there was stakka grass growing everywhere. We show him the photo we want to recreate. “Me like for findem diswan tank for takem picture.”
Sammy likes our stori very much and we go around taking reference from the photo and pointing at possible AmTraks.
The windows on one looks just right and the tree growing through it looks exactly 25 years older.
I ask Sammy if I can sit on top and he seems surprised I’m even asking. I am after all, ‘authorised’.
When I get back home I look closely at the photo and I realise… I don’t think we got the right AmTrak.
The Dets in Less Words
Drive east of Honiara. The drive will take around 45 minutes to an hour. Go past the palm oil plantations of GPPOL 1, past Tetere Police Station and you’ll come to a big fork. Turn left/north at the fork to start heading towards the north coast. You will then go past GPPOL 2 where you’ll see the Oil Refinery Factory to your right. Keep going past the factory straight down the same road and keep an eye out for a lone AmTrak on your left. Go past that AmTrak and look for the second road on the left – there will be long grass on either side. Turn down that road, past a small clearing with a house in the middle on the left. You should reach your destination on the right about fifty metres from the house in the clearing. If you ask locals where Tank Beach is, a lot of them won’t know what you’re talking about. Honest – we asked about half a dozen. Ask at your own peril, or be smarter and ask for ‘house blo Sammy Basoe’ not Tank Beach!!!
$100 per person