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This is the largest island in Vanuatu, more commonly called Santo, over 4,000 square kilometres in size. When the Spanish explorer, Captain Pedro Ferdinand De Quiros discovered Vanuatu islands in 1605, he named them “Tierra Australis del Espiritu Santo”, mistakenly believing he discovered Australia. The island where he landed, Santo, thus still bears the name – Espiritu Santo Island.
The island is also known as the inspiration for James A. Michener’s classic “Tales of the South Pacific”, from which the musical South Pacific was born. Michener was a lieutenant in American Army during the WWII, stationed in Santo. (See also Ambae Island, below.)
Luganville, Vanuatu’s second urban center, was an important operations base during World War II. The American Army left behind airfields and bomber wrecks, and sank their military equipment after the war, providing the famous dive sight Million Dollar Point, now inhabited by colourful fish and corals. This world-famous dive spot is attracting divers from all corners of the world because of the peaceful feeling that some dive aficionados call the million dollar feel.
The 200 metres long, 30,000 tones “SS President Coolidge”, a 1930s luxury liner converted into a US troopship, lies in 20-70 metres of water. With its amazing collection of Jeeps, trucks, cases of rifles and abounding sea life, it is the largest shipwreck accessible to scuba divers in the world. There are another 20 or so good dive sites in the area, including the destroyer USS Tucker.
Santo also boasts Vanuatu’s first National Park, the recently opened Vatthe Conservation Area. This spectacular natural wonderland is set over 2,300ha of protected jungle, the Jordan River and 15km of sandy beaches, is home to native birds, coconut crabs, flying foxes, boa snakes and turtles. Santo has one of the finest beaches in the South Pacific, Champagne Beach, and is famous for Oyster Island and the Blue Hole.