November 15, 2013 – Luganville, Vanuatu (Island of Espiritu Santo)
This is probably the last of our ports with any significant tie to WWII. Known simply as Santo during the war (and today), this was a major island for gathering troops and materiel on the way to and from battle, for R & R, and for repair of ships and planes. It was more of a staging, warehouse and repair location rather than a battle station.
Formerly known as the New Hebrides, it was run for over a hundred years jointly by the French and English in a strange form of government called “Condominium” whereby there was one set of laws for French nationals and one for British nationals – two police forces, two sets of courts, etc. I wonder which side of the road they drove on?
They achieved independence in 1980 and chose the name to Vanuatu (VAN – oo – AH-TOO). As in New Guinea and The Solomons, the people are Melanesian.
Unlike those two countries, this appears to be much more prosperous and civilized. We received no “pickpocket” or other safety warnings, which is always the sign of a safe place to visit. Sally and I have a running joke about these places – she asks me if this is a place she should come and look for me if I run away from home? This is! Guadalcanal and Rabaul, not so much.
Santo was the home of James Michener during WWII, and it was here that he wrote Tales of the South Pacific, later made into the musical and movie South Pacific.
Today we had selected a swimming tour – first to one of the many “Blue Holes” on the island (shown above) and then on to a beach resort called Velit Plantation.
En route we drove through miles and miles of coconut plantations – grown and harvested for the copra, or meaty inside of the coconut. The coconuts are gathered after they fall, the husks and shells are removed and then they are dried in kilns near the fields. The dried copra is trucked to processing plants where it is pressed to obtain the coconut oil.
A drying kiln at the edge of the field.
Remains of one of our WWII airfields.
And remains of one of the engines from one of our planes. Note the rotary piston arrangement.
At our first stop, one of the blue holes, we headed into the water.
A great white whale sighting! That is skin – not a T shirt.
What a swimmin’ hole. You can just see those Marines coming off the forward islands and diving in here.
We dried off, loaded on the vans and headed out to our next stop – Velit Bay Plantation, about a half hour further north up the coast.
Velit Bay is a fairly new beach location that a young couple from New Zealand is building – so far they just have a beach and a bar – but that was more than enough for us.
We snorkeled for a while – nothing to see, but it gave us a chance to try out our gear. On past trips, Sally has had to find someone to snorkel with, or stay on the boat, since I have had a real problem with the masks that are usually available leaking and making it difficult for me to stay in the water. Last year, in preparation for this trip, we went to a dive shop and I got fitted for a good mask and snorkel tube – it worked perfectly with absolutely no leakage. From here to the end of the cruise is snorkel and beach time.
Anytime is beer time – in this case it is the locally brewed and extremely tasty “Tusker” beer.
Back to the ship for a quick snack, and then we engaged a local guide/taxi to take us to the “Million Dollar Point” which we had heard was an interesting site. At the end of the War, rather than bring everything home, the military dumped millions of tons of equipment into the ocean at what is now “Million Dollar Point”. They built a paved jetty out into the bay, and drove, carried, and shoved the tanks, jeeps, and trucks off the jetty. They then blew up the jetty. It is now a tourist and dive site, and after each storm, there are new pieces of rusted vehicles on the beach. As destination, it was disappointing and the war relics are few and far between – it is not as if they are piled up – just a few pieces here and there. The locals charge $5 per person to visit the site – more to dive the site. It wasn’t a total loss as they do sell Tusker beer there.
An axle(?) in the surf.
Sally on the remains of the jetty.
After a quick shopping stroll through the vendor tents – we re-boarded to head for Fiji.