The island of Santo in Vanuatu has an amazing history related to WW II. It was home to up to 500,000 US troops during the war as a staging ground for the fight in the Pacific. In 1942, the luxury liner Calvin Coolidge was conscripted to be a troop carrier, and it was packed with 5000 troops and 300 crew as it approached Santo on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Suddenly one of the ships in the area called Segond Channel noticed the liner heading towards the area where mines had been laid out the week before, and franticly signaled “STOP, STOP, STOP” to the captain, who had not been notified of the mines. He immediately ordered full reverse on the engines. However, the forward momentum was still propelling the ship into the mines, and two explosions rocked the ship as it approached the shore. The captain realized the damage was catastrophic, and immediately ordered full speed ahead to try to beach the ship before it sank. He was able to run in aground on the reef, just short of the shoreline, and in the end only 2 lives were lost. The ship quickly took on water and within an hour was tilted completely on its port side. Shortly afterwards it slipped down the angled slope of the reef back into the water, and finally came to a rest with the bow at 62 feet and the stern at a 240 foot depth. It’s easy to access the wreck from the shore with scuba equipment to see and swim around the intact liner, which is now a thriving artificial reef.
The other draw for tourism is Million Dollar Point, just a half mile from the wreck of the Calvin Coolidge. It is where the US dumped millions of dollars of jeeps, tanks, bulldozers and the rest of the military hardware left over from the war rather than let the French and British have it for free. They offered to sell it for 2% of it’s value, but when that offer was refused they spitefully dumped it in the ocean. It is easily accessible from the shore for a good snorkel or scuba excursion.
I spent the last 3 days of my time in Vanuatu on a nearby island called Aore, and rented an “off the grid” house along the shore. I had use of a bike and enjoyed a few days of pedaling around the island as well as enjoying the reef at my doorstep.