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
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.
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
- Cascades Waterfall: A day trip to Big Bay
with tropical surroundings to see the Cascades (contact Glen
- 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
- 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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