In the end we decided to spend only 5 days in Vanuatu, as our time and budget is becoming increasingly tighter. The main reason for us to come here was to dive the SS President Coolidge – a fascinating WW2 wreck nearby the main town of Luganville.
Unfortunately when we first got here, Stef had bit of a cold and couldn’t dive, so the first two days we spent exploring some other places. We met Carsten (from Switzerland, in search of volcanoes) at breakfast on the first morning, so we shared a taxi to go to Million Dollar point for some snorkelling. It’s so called for the millions of dollars worth of material disposed there by the Americans at the end of WW2. Santo (and nearby Efate) were important military bases in the battle for the Pacific – with up to 500,000 soldiers vs the native population of 60,000 in the whole of Vanuatu. The bases played an important role in the battle for Guadalcanal, athough the activity was fairly short-lived, as the main theater of war quickly moved much further north. So there were vast amounts of stored equipment and munitions here when the war came to an end, which needed to be disposed of under “Operation Roll-up”. They tried to sell their remaining equipment to the British and the French, who wouldn’t pay any money for it, so eventually they just dumped it all into the sea – jeeps, six-wheel drive trucks, bulldozers, semi-trailers, fork lifts, tractors, bound sheets of corrugated iron, unopened boxes of clothing, and cases of Coca-Cola. Thursten Clarke described it: – “built a ramp running into the sea and every day Americans drove trucks, jeeps, ambulances, bulldozers, and tractors into the channel, locking the wheels and jumping free at the last second. Engine blocks cracked and hissed. Some Seabees wept. Ni-Vanuatu witnessing the destruction of wealth their island would never see again, at least in their lifetimes, thought the Americans had gone mad”. Ironically, the bulk of the surplus, an estimated 90 percent, consisted of civilian items – it’s a shame the Americans didn’t give this away to the Vanuatuans rather than dump it.
But it does create a fascinating dive and snorkelling site, and we found some interesting bits and pieces on the shore as well.
Stef and one of the many Jeeps dumped at Million Dollar Point:
Diving to one of the tracked vehicles – I think a bulldozer of some sort:
The next day we were still not up for scuba diving yet, so we shared the cost of a tour with Carsten along the eastern side of the island. This area has some very nice beaches (Stef thinks that Champagne Beach and the beach at Port Olry are the best in the world). We stopped to look at a coconut drying plant, at the beaches and at the Blue Hole. Snorkelling at the beaches was pretty good – great hard corals off Champagne Beach and at Port Olry we saw two turtles (one of them was huge) and a black eagle ray. The blue hole was a very beautiful spot as well, at a calm spot in the forest, with deep clear water great for swimming. All of these places were very quiet with few visitors, and we were lucky to have great weather.
Stef getting some sun:
Port Olry – restaurant where we ate lunch by the beach:
Swimming at the Blue Hole: