Vanuatu – Espiritu Santo

The island of Espiritu Santo (more commonly known as “Santo”) is Vanuatu’s largest island. It is a SCUBA mecca for divers around the world and for good reason – one of the world’s top dive wrecks (SS President Coolidge) is within easy shore access. Originally, we weren’t planning to dive in Santo at all but were convinced by fellow divers who told us we’d be insane to be in this part of the world and miss out. Sage advice as it turned out because our one dive quickly turned into two and if we had more time here, we would have signed up for repeat dives on the Coolidge. Two huge thumbs up and we highly recommend diving with the amazing Mr. Allan Power – a living legend in the SCUBA community. He’s an Australian who has been living in Santo since 1969 and has personally led close to 30,000 dives on the Coolidge. Luckily, we were the only 2 divers so we had a personal one-on-one tour. After quickly assessing our diving capabilities, we were allowed to enter the Coolidge on our second dive and got up close and personal with the “lady”…phenomenal! SCUBA diving aside, we also signed up for the island’s most popular adventure day tour – a trip through Millennium Cave. In retrospect, this is not a task to be taken lightly…we had no idea how perilous the full day trip could be. Definitely wear shoes with traction because there are lots of slippery bits of terrain to navigate – one bad spill and your holiday could easily be ruined. This is a must do for any waterfall lover! Lastly, we enjoyed our stay at Turtle Bay Lodge with excellent management team of Di and Skye. It is located about 25 km from Luganville and as a result, none of the tour operators will offer free pickup so keep that in mind. Luganville town itself is an easy going city which definitely warrants a visit. We especially liked the market and colorful food stalls by the waterfront. Despite the fact that our visit to Santo was quite rainy, we made the best of it. Unfortunately, towards the end of our stay we learned that Cyclone Donna (possible Cat 4 storm) was coming to town. We did manage to escape Santo before flights were cancelled but keep in mind that Air Vanuatu will shut down all flights for any reason. In any case, we’d love to have a repeat visit to Santo because we missed out on the blue holes and Champagne/Port Orly beaches (lack of sunshine wouldn’t do them any justice), and we didn’t get to snorkel/dive Million Dollar Point.

Arriving to a downpour of rain at Luganville's Santo Pekoa airport Beware the extortionate taxi drivers at the airport! We were quoted 5000 VUV for a ride to Turtle Bay Lodge which quickly dropped to 2000 when we showed no interest Swimming pool; Turtle Bay Lodge Flowers soaked by the rain; Turtle Bay Lodge Diving the SS President Coolidge, one of the world's most acccessible wrecks A moray eel makes the Coolige its home Troop equipment found while diving the Coolidge wreck site David showing us the 3 inch gun's ammunition; SS President Coolidge Robby points to David trying on a gas mask left behind on the troop carrier; Coolidge dive wreck Becky holding up a rifle abandoned by the soldiers fleeing the sinking SS President Coolidge Meeting the legendary Allan Power, an Australian who has lived in Santo since 1969 and has led nearly 30,000 dives to the SS Coolidge Papua New Guinea mask on display at Allan Power's house Unbelievably, only 2 people perished when the SS Coolidge struck a mine in 1942. This photo shows the quick evacuation in action The SS President Coolidge was a luxury passenger liner before it was repurposed as a troop carrier. Here, you can see the "lady" mounted in the upper right corner Jewelry carved from a natangora seed pod Becky with a totem outside Western Union; Luganville Women's Handicraft Center; Luganville Souvenirs for sale at Luganville's handicraft center Overseas guests warmly welcomed at Club de Sanma; Luganville Robby under a "mi wantem tusker" ("I want Tusker") beer advertisement Carved totem poles outside Hotel Santo; Luganville Quonset hut built with materials taken from Million Dollar Point - a common sight in Luganville Double Winner store; downtown Luganville Luganville market scene Lots of produce for sale at the market (near Sarakata Bridge); Luganville Painted outrigger canoe outside a municipality building; Luganville Giant ship propeller; Luganville Santo's police pickup truck - notice the cage for prisoners! Colorful food stalls; Luganville The cheap food shacks in downtown Luganville definitely deserve a quick wander - check out the brightly painted murals done by Santo's school kids Shore entry for our second dive on the Coolidge Becky smiles after kissing the horse; SS President Coolidge - one of the best dive wrecks in the world! Robby plays with Lola, one of the Turtle Bay Lodge's dogs After an hour's drive on a bumpy road built by the US during WWII, we arrive to Wambel Village and begin our trek for the Millennium Cave tour Robby smiling at the beginning of our Millennium Cave full day adventure that would probably be illegal in many countries - avoid if you are accident prone! It's a leisurely walk through a coconut plantation Then we arrive to a second village, Vunaspef Village, where we don our life jackets Peaceful Vunaspef Village After another stroll through the jungle, we have to cross several creeks Lots of ladders to clamber down the steep and slippery terrain! Further into the jungle we go until we reach a massive cave measuring 20 meters wide and 50 meters high. It takes 30 minutes to scramble in the dark through the bat infested cave At long last, we reach the other side of the cave Robby smiles on our lunch break with a double waterfall in the background After emerging from the cave, we wade  through frigid cascades during the "canyoning" portion of our Millennium Cave tour Take it easy on the rickety ladders in the canyon! Robby carefully making his way through the slippery canyon Becky smiles before tackling another set of ladders After 30 minutes of "canyoning", we reach the best part of the tour - a float down the Sarakata River Gorgeous views abound as we enjoy the float down the river Loads of hidden waterfalls among the towering rocks Smiling in the middle of our float down the Sarakata River Robby enjoying the ride as the rapids whisk us down the river It's waterfall overload on the 30 minute float down the Sarakata River Smiling before getting drenched by yet another waterfall After a steep hike up a slippery hill, we double back to Vunaspef Village Treated to fresh fruit and hot coffee and lemon leaf tea; Vunaspef Village Yay! We made final trek over the bamboo bridge back to Wambel Village to await our ride back to Luganville Horseback rider getting chased by village dogs; Wambel Village foto gallery lightboxby v6.1

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