The island of Espiritu Santo has a rich WWII history. Thousands of U.S. troops were based here at the height of the battle for the Pacific, along with all the ships, infrastructure, industry and paraphernalia that goes with 100,000 soldiers.
Much of this they dumped at the end of the pier, a dive site now known as Million Dollar Point.
We dived here first, with Santo Island Dive among upturned tanks, jeeps, discarded weapons, and random large pieces of debris, now all covered in corals and algae.
It’s an incredible sight. Incredible to think that such a large quantity of equipment was simply dumped at the end of the war – too expensive to ship home. Then of course there’s the world-famous wreck of the SS Coolidge.
Our second dive was completely different. A beautiful coral garden named Cindy’s Reef. It sits off the point of Aore Island between five and 30 metres, equally beautiful at both ends of the scale so it’s a good one for a simultaneous dive and snorkel, with divers at 20 metres and kids a safe distance above.
The next day it’s the big one for us, the Coolidge, with local Coolidge legend, Allan Powers Dive Tours. It’s only 50 metres from shore, so it’s easily accessible as a shore dive, but at its shallowest point it’s 20 metres deep so it’s not suitable for snorkeling.
The first thing I notice about the Coolidge as it hoves into view is that, well, it’s MASSIVE. On this first dive we only manage to reach Cargo Hold 2, less than halfway along the ship.
On the way we pass a 3-inch gun with unused ammunition piled next to it, a few jeeps and a tank in the hold, a vertical row of washbasins and a barber chair amongst other random debris.
Most people stay for a week and dive each day for several consecutive days – getting deeper each time and seeing more of the ship. It’s everyone’s goal to kiss “The Lady”, a portrait sitting at 40m metres in the old ballroom.
Sadly I didn’t get to meet the Lady – but if you do, apparently the tradition is that you don’t kiss her – you kiss her horse’s bottom.
Santo of course has other, more kid-friendly, treasures worth exploring, that don’t lie beneath 20 metres of water.
Heading north through coconut plantations, our first stop is the Riri River for a peaceful paddle up stream through slightly turquoise water in a dugout canoe, shaded by the surrounding rainforest.
Further upstream, there’s a small jetty, picnic tables and – to every kids’ delight surely – a rope swing. We could be here a while.
A little further up the road we find an even richer shade of blue at the Blue Hole. And another rope swing.
Further up the coast there are a several picture-postcard beaches worth a visit. The first, Champagne Beach, is a popular day trip for visiting cruise ship passengers (so avoid those days) and further along is an even more beautiful stretch of coastline at Port Olry.
Clear shallow water laps a white sandy beach and there’s a little restaurant serving lobster for lunch, which you can take your time over while taking intermittent dips in the sea.
Where to Stay:
Beachfront Resort – as the name suggests, on the beach, with pretty little thatched bungalows and a lovely restaurant in which to sit and gaze at it. Tel: (678) 36881
Aore Island Resort – a short ferry ride across from Luganville, this quiet retreat is extremely picturesque and as an added bonus has a gorgeous little day spa where I treated myself to a relaxing facial on my last day here. Tel: (678) 36705