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 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…
– 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.
– 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…
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…
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…