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Vanuatu

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Espiritu Santo

Santo is Vanuatu's largest island, 4010 km2 in size and is fascinating in its diversity. Santo has Vanuatu's highest mountains; Mt Tabwemasana, over 1700 m., rises out of dense vegetation covering an entire chain which runs along the full length of the island on the western side. The southern and eastern parts of the island are quite flat, covered with plantations and fine grounds for cattle grazing.

Santo is on average 2 șC warmer than Port Vila. Divers are drawn to Santo by its famous wrecks and spectacular marine life. Santo is reknown for its particular political history with cargo cults, resistance movements, and rebellions at the time of Independence. Due to its size and its mountains, Santo has the greatest expanses of original rainforest home to interesting birds and beautiful orchids. Huge Kauri trees still grow in the southwest mountain forests.

Santo was the first island in Vanuatu to be discovered by Europeans in the 17th century and later was a favourite place for foreign settlers. It was also famous as a military base during World War II, where up to 100 000 soldiers were based.

Luganville

In Luganville, the second biggest town in Vanuatu, there is a quieter pace of life. This is a country town in many ways but there are good accommodations, reasonably priced, mainly Chinese restaurants, and interesting general stores, banks and government service buildings. The American Army left behind many buildings, some still in use today, several airfields, all of which can be visited and three scuba dive sights unequalled anywhere. During the war the 30,000 ton liner "President Coolidge" sank in Santo Harbour after striking a "friendly" mine and still lies structurally intact and basically untouched in between 20 and 60 metres of water. "President Coolidge" is the largest intact shipwreck accessible to scuba divers in the world. The destroyer "USS Tucker" lies outside the channel and "Million Dollar Point" is the place where war surplus equipment was dumped.

During World War II, James A Michener, then a lieutenant in the American Army, was stationed in Santo. Such was the effect of this place on him that here he wrote the legendary Tales of the South Pacific from which sprang the musical South Pacific. From Santo, Michener would gaze across the sea to a volcanic island, often with its summit shrouded in cloud and dream of "Bali Hai". On a clear day the sight of Bali Hai, or the island of AMBAE still beckons the imagination of the romantic soul.

The small industries centre is of interest to landlubbers as is the large experimental plantation and farm. There is a Melanesian-style bungalow for visitors to stay in near famous "Champagne Beach" in the north, and year-round one to 10 day guided history and nature walks are available.

Big Bay Conservation area was the first National Park created in Vanuatu and is a must if you travel outside of Luganville. Champagne Beach and numerous small islands lend themselves to long holidays.

Communities in Santo have well preserved their culture, for example in Fanafo, where the charismatic Jimmy Stevens led the Secessionist movement in the 70's. Custom and a traditional way of life have also remained particularly strong in the Sakao peninsula and all along the west coast.

Diving & Snorkelling

There are many interesting dive sites. There are several wrecks, the President Coolidge, Million Dollar Point and pristine dive sites on the east coast and near Elephant Island.

Aqua Marine offers the most adrenaline pumping tour - 'the shark feeding dive'. another place where shark feeding is available is Bokissa Island Resort.

Sights & Excursions

  • Blue Hole: This is the largest such feature on Santo, being about 50 metres across and 18 metres deep. On a sunny day it reflects the brightest azure with a clarity of colour that is truly amazing.
  • Bomber Airstrips: A total of four airstrips built during WW11 and remains of wrecks can still be seen lying around.
  • Cascades Waterfall: A day trip to Big Bay with tropical surroundings to see the Cascades (contact Glen Russell)
  • Hunting: It's an adventurous tour through a bush trek with a local guide. It's a full day tour of hunting for birds, pigs and wild fowl.
  • Nature Walk: Birdwatchers, nature lovers and visitors interested in cross cultural encounters will have it all on this tour.
  • Infrastructure: The island has fairly good roads that offer access to beautiful white sandy beaches, blue lagoons with Coral Reefs Gardens and, of course, the wreck of the 'SS President Coolidge' and nearby 'Million Dollar Point'
  • Sports: Santo golf club, tennis, petanque, watersports, windsurf, sailing, canoeing, kayaking
  • Yacht Cruise/Charter: Cruise around the Bougainville Canal and further out around offshore islands Aore, Tutuba and Bokissa.

Butterfly tours and Sandy's Hibiscus Tours are the main local operators in Luganville.

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