Friday 20 September 2013

The Island Hopper - Honolulu to Chuuk

A few times a week United airlines runs a somewhat bonkers flight affectionately dubbed "The Island Hopper" from Hawaii out towards Asia. It definitely feels a bit weird to be in a short-range 737 jet over the middle of the Pacific Ocean -  but sure enough the little specs of land pop up on schedule and the plane screeches to a halt on the tiny runways. You get to walk around for a while - then it's back on the bus!


We somehow lucked out onto a private tour of Pearl Harbor for newly stationed Navy sailors led by a senior officer from the base.  The last civilian tour boat leaves at 3:00pm and we didn't even show up until almost 4:00pm, but a friendly National Park ranger set us up with the USN tour at the last minute.  The Navy official at the dock said that "as taxpayers, you are entitled to come on board".  We kind of stayed quiet at that point.

We sailed passed the giant USS Missouri which had been utilised in 4 different wars, and had been attacked by one lone 14 year old Kamakaze pilot towards the end of WWII. This was particularly interesting for us as we had made a special visit to the Kamikaze airbase museum in the small village of Chiran, Japan in April. The pilots are hailed as heroes in Japan, each one commemorated with one of over one thousand stone lanterns lining the streets of Chiran. On the tour we found out that the captain of the USS Missouri at the time, realising the horror of war, gave the young Japanese pilot a full military naval burial. I wonder if he has a stone lantern in Chiran? Our final destination on the tour was the USS Arizona Memorial. This was a simple and fitting tribute, covering the wreck, to all of the Navy sailors who lost their lives in Pearl Harbor. This included the names of men from the same family. Since this defeat the US Navy no longer allows family members to work on the same vessel.

Early the next morning, we got on board UA154 at HNL.

Majuro - Marshall Islands

After about 5 hours in the air, the first land we see is a giant set of 3D glasses... Then the tiny sliver of a runway comes into view. Yes - it's in the second picture...  This is a seriously small island - and it's the capital of the Marshall Islands!  More importantly, the guy in the shop at the airport was selling home-made breadfruit chips!  (I've been on a mission to have breadfruit since reading Michener's Hawaii decades ago!)

Kwajalein - Marshall Islands

Super secret giant US military base island - home of all kinds of missile defence systems and other hush hush programmes.  Apparently.  Nevertheless, there's certainly lots of important and expensive-looking golf ball radomes and military equipment around.  At this stop, you can't get off the plane and armed military staff come on to search all carry on bags...

Pohnpei - Federated States of Micronesia

Yes, that's a crab running through the departure lounge. Awesome!
Plus, a man to greet you off of the plane with umbrellas in case of rain!

Chuuk - Federates States of Micronesia

Arrival! Truk lagoon is a handful of beautiful volcanic islands in a big shallow turquoise and blue bathtub ringed by coral reef.  A real counterpoint to yesterday's visit to Pearl Harbor, this bathtub is the final resting place for scores of ships from the Imperial Japanese fleet following Operation Hailstone in Feb 1944.  It was also our stop to get off the bus...

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