Find Your Riches at Vanuatu’s Million Dollar Point

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milliondollarpoint

Exploring Million Dollar Point, Vanuatu’s Underwater Goldmine

Officially called the Republic of Vanuatu, this small pacific island nation, made up of 80 islands, has a lot more to offer than just sand and sea. In fact, scratch just beneath the surface (literally) and you’ll find the bizarre world that is Vanuatu’s Million Dollar Point.

An area stuck in time, preserving the island’s colonial history and role in WWII it had to play.

Vanuatu

Vanuatu gained independence only in 1980 and was previously a British-French colony. For such a small country, it has some interesting and modern policies. It has already eradicated the use of plastic, plans to be entirely powered by green energy by 2030, and has a no-tax system. It’s also constantly voted highly on the ‘World’s Happiest Country’ list.

Vanuatu is in the southwestern Pacific Ocean and lies about 800 km/500 miles from Fiji. 

So what is this ‘Million Dollar Point’, where is it, and… dare I ask where the name comes from?

Actually, answering each of those questions can be done in just a sentence. But once you know the answers you’ll just want to know more.

– What, Where, Why?

Million Dollar Point gets its name from the millions of dollars worth of WWII equipment dumped into the sea after the war ended.

There you go!

Let’s take a closer look…

milliondollarpoint

– Million Dollar Point – Where

Million Dollar Point is on Vanuatu’s biggest island; Espiritu Santo (or just Santo). The main city on Santo is Luganville. The island is home to approx. 40,000. The town is small but has everything you need. It’s pretty compact, so everything you could want is pretty much on one street.

Santo is the place to go for those interested in WWII history. It’s home to the wreckage of the SS Coolidge and Million Dollar Point. Both are located in a similar area, and you can visit both on the same trip.

Most hotels or places in town will be able to point you in the right direction to take a trip to Million Dollar Point or SS Coolidge – both of which are located not far from the shore, but well and truly underwater.

– Million Dollar Point – What?

As I mentioned, Million Dollar Point gets its name from dumped military equipment after WWII. So what are we talking about here, a few guns? Hmm… not quite. Well, you’ll find firearms down there for sure. But I’m mainly talking tanks, machine guns, heavy weaponry, and… lots of it. Lots and lots. Piles and piles.

milliondollarpoint

– Million Dollar Point – Why?

So… why? How did millions of dollars worth of equipment end up in the sea?

Funnily enough, the answer is – deliberately!

Santo was established as a US military equipment base. After the war ended, this equipment was no longer needed. It would have been more expensive to send it back to the US, and so they tried to sell it to France or Britain. Neither of them wanted it because the war was over. They had no need for it anymore. So basically, the US decided the best way was to just… throw it all into the ocean? Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose!

Of course, this wasn’t welcomed by the locals who were worried about environmental impacts. They tried to salvage what they could and remove it from the ocean, but most of it remains largely in the sea still today.

– Million Dollar Point – How

Diving! Or snorkelling, but I suppose you won’t get much of the experience if you’re just floating about the surface. The real cool stuff is much further down below. Be prepared to see tanks covered in coral and Coke bottles from 80 years ago.

As a world-class diving spot that is gaining more and more attention every year, all diving places on Santo will be able to take you to the SS Coolidge or Million Dollar Point. That being said, Million Dollar Point is still a pretty well-kept secret with the number of people visiting definitely not representative of the amazing diving sit you’re about to be welcomed with. Not to mention the crystal clear blue waters and incredible coral reefs…

milliondollarpoint

Million Dollar Point

The dive for Million Dollar Point is approx. 18 meters deep, but you can go deeper if you have the correct qualifications. A simple dive will last about 35 mins, and takes about 10 mins from land to get to the main area.

SS President Coolidge Cruise Liner

At the start of WWII, SS President Coolidge served as a ship to evacuate US citizens from Hong Kong, and also made trips to Honolulu and Manila. On 19th December after the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbour SS President Coolidge evacuated 125 critically injured naval patients from Hawaii.

Fearing the Japanese, the SS President Coolidge tried to enter into Santo – but apparently didn’t hear that it had been surrounded by Japanese mines. It hit two of them before it couldn’t go on anymore, and then also, unfortunately, hitting some coral reef, causing it to slide down the channel – where it remains today.

This all happened pretty slowly, so the crew members could all evacuate pretty peacefully and were left to then watch their ship go down…

milliondollarpoint

Finally…

I’d definitely recommend doing both of the dives if possible! SS Coolidge is a bit further out, and Million Dollar Point is closer to land. You actually see bits here and there as you’re swimming out to the main site. Makes sense, since I’m not sure how far someone could throw a tank from the land…

Zoe Stephens
Zoe is a freelance writer from Liverpool, UK. She spends her time travelling between China, where she is based, and North Korea, where she works as a tour guide for Koryo Tours. You can follow her journey and see her content from North Korea on Instagram (@zoediscovers) and YouTube. You can see more about her life stuck on Tonga on Instagram @ifyouwerestrandedonanisland.

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5 COMMENTS

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Other fun facts: The base at Espiritu Santo was where John F. Kennedy was stationed with his PT boat and James Michener was also stationed here and used this as the setting for South Pacific.

  2. Now to correct your history on Million Dollar Point (you have it pretty close). By 1944, the war had long passed Vanuatu (then known as the New Hebrides) and the local military commander was ordered to get rid of excess materials, mostly construction equipment and supplies. He tried to sell it to the local coconut plantation owners (mainly French) for 50 cents on the dollar, then 40, etc. They refused since they thought that the U.S. wouldn’t pay to ship it back and they would get it for free. The U.S. Commander outwitted them by ordering all the material bulldozed into the ocean and thus created Million Dollar Point. There are no weapons there to my knowledge, but people often mistake a bulldozer for a tank. The coral crusted over much of the pile at the shoreline and you can find a coke bottle encrusted inside the coral as you walk on the top – make sure to wear protection on your feet! One of the oldtimers I talked to said that when he was a boy, if he wanted a cold coke, he would dive off of Million Dollar Point and pull one up from one of the many cases on the bottom.

  3. As an American who has been to Vanuatu numerous times, I love that you highlight such an interesting place, but your history is definitely off. The S.S. Coolidge was a passenger liner converted into a troop ship. She was bringing in 7,000 troops and equipment to Espiritu Santo to defend the island and prepare for the invasion of Guadalcanal. The ship struck one of our own mines guarding the harbor and the Captain saved a lot of lives by running the ship aground. Only one person died of the 7,000, but the left all the equipment in the hold. The ship slipped down the coral in storms since then but is still the largest accessible wreck in the world. The bow sits at 80 feet deep and if you do a bounce dive to 160 feet (technically illegal) you can reach the main dining hall and see “The Lady” which is a famous portrait still hanging there. You can see the jeeps and machine guns as you pass through openings over the hold. Lucky to have dove three times on the Coolidge.

  4. I enjoy your series and hope your freedom of movement is restored soon. As a small nitpick, Pearl Harbor was attacked but not invaded in WWII although a lot of people thought that the attack presaged an invasion.

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