take a deep breath... Dive!
Espiritu Santo, more
commonly known as
Santo, is the largest
island in Vanuatu with
an overall area of some
4000 km2. It owes
its name to Queiros
who, convinced he had
discovered the Austral
the country “Terra
Australia del Espiritu
Santo” back in 1606.
Further along the east-coast road, don’t miss the Ri Ri River Blue Holes where locals will take you on dug-out canoes, Matevulu, and Jacquie’s, nor the wonderful aspect you get just before veering off towards Champagne Beach. The northern part of the island is quite magnificent and the islands known as “Dolphin” and “Elephant” are quite distinctive. A bit further on, you will find Champagne Beach and Lonnoc Beach Bungalows, which has its own beautiful beach. After stopping off at Little Paradise Restaurant at beautiful Port Olry, you can continue your drive north right up to Sakao Peninsula or alternatively, join up with the road to Big Bay (Matantas).
The descent towards Matantas Bay is spectacular. Travellers are advised to drive slowly through the village, and stop at a small place called Bay of Illusion Bungalow, where you can have lunch and walk to the bay. They can take you on a tour to the “Queiros” statue erected in 2006 to mark the 400th anniversary of his discovery, and to Vanuatu’s model national park, the Vatthe National Conservation Area.
This is a true eco-tourism destination, with various activities and basic accommodation available. It is host to more than 85% of Vanuatu birds.
For the most part, the population lives along the coast or on the small offshore islands.
Dominated by Mount Tabwemasana (1879m) the western coast is wild and mountainous, difficult to access, as opposed to the eastern coast, which can easily be explored.
Luganville is Vanuatu’s second urban centre. Whilst it may not be the administrative capital, nevertheless, with the new international airport, not to mention the thousands of hectares
of richarable land, it stands a very good chance of becoming the economic capital of Vanuatu one day.
Air Vanuatu offers international flights to and from Brisbane (2 & Half hour) once a week and domestic flights from Port Vila two or three times a day. It takes approximately 45 to 75 minutes to fly from Vila to Santo depending on the aircraft. Copra, cattle farming, fishing, coffee, cocoa and vanilla remain the major resources of the island, with a growing tourism sector.
Million Dollar Point
The most spectacular sight as to be “Million Dollar Point“, where the Americans simply dumped all their gear and equipment into the sea at the end of the war - lorries, bulldozers, trucks, containers, forklifts, and all have come to rest, both close to the surface and down to a depth of 40 meters plus, just off the beach.
SS President Coolidge
For those who are keen wreck divers, there is even better on offer: a visit down to the SS President Coolidge, once a luxury liner, converted to a troop carrier for the war effort by the Americans Forces, which sank when it hit two of their very own mines on
the 26th of October 1942.
At the time of the drama, it was carrying 5000 men on board, only two of whom lost their lives. This massive 200 meter long vessel now rests at between 20 and 70 meters’ depth. The holds are still full of war equipment and vehicles. Ammunition, helmets and rifles still haunt the passageways while crockery and china chase around the kitchens…
sunsets. Sit by a pool and watch the tropical sun set in the west. Follow James Mitchener’s footsteps and explore the relics that were left by the American troops at the end of WWII which inspired the book and the movie South Pacific.
Enjoy Santo beef and fresh seafood in fine restaurants, Tanna coffee and pastry in a local café or play the pokies and enjoy a cool beer at the club.
The 2300 ha protected virgin forest extends right down to the beach of Big Bay where Captain de Queiros landed his ships in 1606. You can follow the road from Turtle Bay to Fanafo to visit Jimmy Stevens’ village and Vil Vil cultural village.
Road to Tassiriki
Drive on past Coral Quays Resort, where the tarsealed road becomes a coral dirt road – you might require 4WD – past Vanuatu’s largest cattle farm “Milai plantation”, then more cattle farms and coconut plantations, over rivers and creeks – some of the bridges may be a bit dicey. Stop alongside a black sand beach where some dug-out canoes lie, and across the water, you will see Tangoa island. Swimming here is not recommended, sharks are known to lurk around this area.
After Tangoa, you will drive over several rivers, including the Wylapa, but crossing the Navaka river could be difficult as there is no bridge and there are many pebbles at the bottom. Observe the flow of water, it is up to you to decide whether to cross to the other side or turn back. If you are able to cross the river, there is a beautiful pebble beach at Ipayato village, you can ask permission to visit. It will
take approximately two and half hours from town to Tassiriki village, the gateway point for the west coast, accessible only by boat. The village women make pretty woven baskets.
Take a boat ride to Wusi village, famous for its pottery, then further north to Karepua village to climb Vanuatu’s highest mountain Tabwemasana. These villages have no phone connection, so the only way to contact them is by coconut telegraph.
Some Historical Facts
Because of its size and its strategic geographic location unmatched by the other islands of Vanuatu, Espiritu Santo became a major military base for the American Forces during the Second World War.
Literally an advanced post for access to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, Santo boasted several airstrips, four hospitals, with significant port facilities in Luganville, and row upon row of Quonset Huts!
Some thirty film theatres were counted at one time! There are still lots of reminders of the American presence even today, both in Luganville itself and all over the island: aircraft wrecks in the bush (the American army is still looking
for remains), airstrips, antisubmarine cables,warehouses, prisons.
There are different types of accommodation in Santo, as comfortable resorts & hotels with restaurant, or motels with cooking facilities…
On the way out to
For keen divers, you simply cannot miss out on a dive on the famous wreck of the SS President Coolidge. This 200 m long American luxury passenger liner converted into a troop carrier sank in 1942 after hitting one of its own mines as it was about to enter the Segond Channel with more than 5000 troops on board. Now declared a Marine Reserve, it is famous throughout the world as being one of the most accessible ship wrecks anyone can explore.
Another divers’ must is Million Dollar Point, where the Americans dumped thousands of tons of equipment and machinery into the sea at the end of World War II. Don’t forget that Santo offers world-class reef dives close by.
As you drive east, you will come across Million Dollar Point then Santo Golf Club in the Bay of Palekula. If you drive north from Luganville, you will pass the Agricultural College, Surunda Plantation, then the VARTC (Vanuatu Agricultural Research & Technical Centre), specialising in the plantation of cocoa and coffee, both sold commercially.
James Albert Michener
This US Navy Lieutenant Commander who was assigned to the South Pacific as a naval historian, drew inspiration from his surroundings to write his famous book “Tales of the South Pacific“, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948.
It is about love stories in war-torn times, that of a young Marine and a beautiful Tonkinese, daughter of Bloody-Mary, and of Nurse Nellie and a French plantation owner, Emile De Becque (his hexagonal house still stands today, and belongs to the plantation owner’s family). All set against the backdrop of a paradise inspired by Espiritu Santo island. The story met with huge success in the Anglo-Saxon world and was even turned into a famous musical movie, “South Pacific”.
Fanafo et Jimmy Stevens
You can also visit the custom village of Fanafo, home to Jimmy Stevens, the head of the Nagriamel movement who refused to accept that Espiritu Santo island should be part of Vanuatu at Independence. He was kept in prison until 1991. Jimmy Stevens then returned to Fanafo where he died in 1994.
Enjoy the black sand beach, amazing rain forest, birds and orchids of Vathe Conservation Area, Vanuatu’s only national Park - marvel at the bird life in the Loru Conservation Area and learn about the uses of plants and trees in traditional life.
Grab a rod and challenge the Marlin, Tuna, Wahoo and other exciting fishes in our tropical waters or just sit on the boat with a line over the side.
Looking for good contacts... ?
Map of luganville
Map of Santo
Ride a horse through cattle and coconut plantations, along creeks and sandy beaches. Take a journey to your own secluded island or sip Champagne on a sunset cruise. Trek for a few days to the mountains in the remotest part of the island, stay with people in a traditional way of life that hasn’t change for thousands of years. Lay on the fine white sand and swim in the blue water of Champagne Beach, voted the best beach in the South Pacific. Visit Port Orly, the
Espiritu Santo has a wonderful range of activities...
So much to do !
Watch and learn as the ladies prepared, dye and weave their wonderful mats and clothes from the Pandanus Palm and get into the rhythm of the beating drums in the traditional way of Pentecost island in the Vil Vil cultural village ; also witness unique water music from Banks island in Leweton cultural village where the people will love to entertain you with their traditional dances and songs. Enjoy a shell of kava with expats and locals as the