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Vanuatu - Espiritu Santo and Aore

Published Mon 25 July 2011 10:08 (+1000)
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After the Tanna trip to see the volcano we headed on to Espiritu Santo, a popular tourist spot up to the north a little way noted for its beaches and snorkelling.

Espiritu Santo

Colorful fish in the coral at 'Secret Snorkelling Spot'
Colorful fish in the coral at 'Secret Snorkelling Spot'
A blue lagoon
A blue lagoon
Thunderstorm rolling in around Champagne Beach
Thunderstorm rolling in around Champagne Beach
A local man with crabs for dinner
A local man with crabs for dinner

This big island has had a colorful century, after its protected deepwater port made it an essential base for the americans in WWII. Their military still maintains an involvement in the region, but not so much as the tourists, who go there in droves by plane direct in from other countries, and on cruise ships visiting for the days and unloading hundreds of tourists onto the beaches as a more modern-day invasion force.

It's still a really nice place to visit though, at least when the beaches aren't full of daytrippers. There's still a good amount of coral and aquatic life to see snorkelling, as well as excellent diving spots and lots of blue lagoons to visit.

And the beaches are excellent, very scenic (we caught a thunderstorm rolling in after we got there which looked great), if you don't mind some noisy groups with radios.

Beautiful school of fish at Million Dollar Point
Beautiful school of fish at Million Dollar Point
Cool fish swimming past ruined WWII hardware
Cool fish swimming past ruined WWII hardware
WWII tank being slowly reclaimed at Million Dollar Point
WWII tank being slowly reclaimed at Million Dollar Point
Dumped WWII debris littering Million Dollar Point
Dumped WWII debris littering Million Dollar Point

The former military presence has left one of the more unusual tourist attractions at a place now known as Million Dollar Point. The story goes that when the war was over and it was time for the forces to go home, they didn't want the expense of shipping the mass of hardware – tanks, bulldozers, you name it – back to America, nor did they want to drown the home industry that had made it under an excess of cheap war surplus.

So, they offered it to the local government to keep for cents on the dollar. But the government of the day, figuring they weren't going to take it home anyway, decided they could just pay nothing and keep it once the Americans were gone. Of course, this didn't quite work out – they lined it all up at this beach, put a brick on the accelerators and let go the brake, and lines of equipment marched itself into the sea.

A few bulldozers were dragged back out, cleaned off, and after a new battery they were back to working order again. But the rest of it is just rusting away in the water or washed up in parts on the beach, and it's now an interesting snorkelling and diving attraction.

It was definitely worth a visit. I don't dive, and whereas you really need to be a diver to see the big shipwrecks like the Coolidge, you can easily get in on Million Dollar Point with just a snorkel.

There were a lot of colorful fish to see there too – not as much coral as the ‘Secret Snorkelling Spot’ the daytrip guy took us to, but almost as many fish – so it's worth going to even if you don't find the hardware bit interesting.

The logo from a crashed bomber's hull
The logo from a crashed bomber's hull

There's other traces of the former military presence across the island – we stopped by the side of the road to see the remains of a bomber than ran out of fuel coming back to land at base and crashed in the jungle (the locals pulled a few out alive, but some of the crew died).

On a happier note the American military is still involved in the region, subbing in at the hospital and building buildings for schools and so on, which is cool.

Aore

Aore Resort
Aore Resort
Noisy-ass warship parked off our balcony
Noisy-ass warship parked off our balcony
A break in the clouds on Aore
A break in the clouds on Aore

So this is good, and one of their helicopter carriers was in port doing joint exercises with the Kiwi ship and some French, which is all nice.

Except that they parked their bloody boat directly off our balcony and then left either the choppers or the barges turned on almost 24 hours a day which really did not work with the whole relaxing little island thing that Aore normally gives you.

So yeah, Aore. Nice island which has a resort type place on it (not much else that you can visit – there are some private plantations) which has a nice bit of beach, lovely bungalows, great food (not too badly priced actually) and good snorkelling immediately off the shore in front of the bungalows – again not too much coral but quite a few fish. And the people in charge are nice.

So I'd happily recommend that as a nice place to go for a few days. Just hope that there isn't a munty big helo carrier in port at the same time, or at least not 2 so that one has to park in the water instead of by the wharf.

And the day-tour that they organise (along with other options) to go snorkelling, see Million Dollar Point, go to the blue lagoon, Champagne Beach, and make a couple of interest stops above works out pretty well.