Million Dollar Point, Santo, Vanuatu

It was suggested to us that while in Santo we should visit Million Dollar Point.  I thought it was just another beach and had no idea of the historical significance of the beach that at the end of WWII became known as Million Dollar Point.

The entrance

The entrance

Road leading down to Million Dollar Point

Road leading down to Million Dollar Point

During World War II, Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu was the USA’s largest air force and navy base in the South-Pacific.  At the end of the War, the Americans had vast amounts of equipment, supplies and vehicles on Santo.

Little huts provide shelter

Little huts provide shelter

Meeting house

Shelter with bar area

But they also had hundreds of thousands of troops in Vanuatu and needed to bring those troops home.  That required space on its ships and it was decided that very definitely, the troops were to take precedence over equipment.

The beach

The beach

There was also the thought that if the equipment was brought back to the US, it could severely affect the US economy as no one would want to purchase a new truck, bulldozer or jeep if they could very cheaply pick up something second-hand from the army.  It is speculated that the manufacturers of all this equipment had clauses in their contracts with the US Military, that no equipment would be returned to flood the market.

It would be stunning on a sunny day

It would be stunning on a sunny day

At the time of the War, Vanuatu, (then known as ‘New Hebrides’), was being run by the French.  Apparently the US offered to sell all the surplus equipment to the French at a very low price.  The French, realising the US was not able to take the equipment onto their ships, refused to pay any price believing the US would have no other option but to leave it behind for the French to acquire for free.

DCIM101GOPRODCIM101GOPROThis rationale did not sit well with the Americans who were grieved their generous offer was declined.  They did not want the French taking advantage and exploiting their situation.

DCIM101GOPRODCIM101GOPROCaught between ‘a rock and a hard place’, a decision was made to line all the surplus vehicles along the shore of what is now, Million Dollar Point.  The engines were turned on and bricks placed on the accelerators.  The equipment drove itself into the water where it came to rest just metres from the shore.  The then-value of the equipment was around a million dollars which gave a new name to the beach.

DCIM101GOPROToday the equipment lies in its graveyard as undisturbed as it did back in 1945.  Some of the equipment is very close to the shore and lying in only a few metres of water.  Other equipment is in water as deep as 35mtrs (115ft).

DCIM101GOPROMillion dollar point is today a tourist attraction for almost everyone who visits Santo.  You can scuba dive to explore the site or if you would prefer to snorkel, there is enough equipment lying in just a few metres of water for you to see.

DCIM101GOPROMillion Dollar Point is just a kilometre or so from the town of Luganville and on the day we visited, you guessed it, it was raining.  But despite the adverse conditions, the water along the coastline of Santo is incredibly clear so even on a dull day your visibility in the water is excellent.  The water is also very warm so you won’t need a wetsuit and even if you snorkel for a couple of hours you won’t become cold.

DCIM100GOPROWe spent several hours snorkeling around these relics of WWII.  A lot of the equipment now has coral growth on it and there is abundant fish life to see as well.

DCIM100GOPROThe beach itself would be a lovely place to spend a day if it wasn’t raining.  There is shelter under some huts that are scattered along the beach and when the cruise ships come in for the day, a bar opens in the meeting house for refreshments.  There are also bathroom facilities that are unlocked when the cruise ships come in but on other days there’s that other option, the hole-in-the-ground.  Most Westerners take the third option and that is to hold on.

DCIM100GOPROMillion Dollar Point is on land owned by a village and so there is a fee to use the facilities and swim at the beach.  We paid 500 vt ($6.00) for each adult and the nine-year old was allowed in for free.  And that’s your total cost – parking fees don’t exist on Santo.

DCIM100GOPROWe found this to be incredibly fascinating especially with movies/books like Unbroken bringing the US Military’s involvement in the South Pacific into our focus.  I’ve heard the dive experience is equally as good, if not better, but if you can’t scuba dive, the snorkeling experience is nothing to scorn.

DCIM100GOPROVerdict:  An incredibly unique opportunity.

Old coke bottles from WWII

Old coke bottles from WWII

Million Dollar Point:  Sanma Provinces, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

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  1. Oh, that is really interesting – Charlie.

  2. How incredible to snorkel around these relics and a slice of history! You know yesterday when I saw your IMK I was a bit sad that the Vanuatu series was ending. But clearly not!

  3. What a bizarre chapter in the history of WW2.What a shame those bottles were broken. They would have been a great souvenir. Or could you not take them home?

  4. Oh my gosh that’s such a crazy story as to how it got it’s name! And I can’t believe you can still see some of the equipment under water!

  5. This is really interesting. But I can’t help but think what a waste for those military vehicles to be disposed of in water. I’m thinking of the pollution.

  6. Very interesting–and with terrific underwater photos.

  7. What an interesting and very sad story; it’s too bad that the French were so stubborn and the Americans were so short-sighted. But at least it gave you a great place to spend the day exploring under water.

  8. I had no idea. Very interesting and makes a fun treasure hunt for visitors. I can’t get over the beautiful colors in the water are!

  9. What fun, and like most of your stops, looked like it was not busy with people at all. Oh those penny pinching French…. LOL I suppose that someday it’s possible that all of that will become an aritificial reef.

  10. Hi Charlie, what an interesting piece of history, must of been fun poking around the artificial reef.

  11. That’s a great story. You can’t play games with a Yank. 🙂

  12. Wow, who knew there was such strategizing about what to do with old war equipment! Boy that water looks gorgeous—what a marvelous spot to snorkel 🙂

  13. That water is so very clear indeed Charlie! What a waste of equipment, but at least the marine life is making good use of it 🙂

  14. Wow what an incredible story. It is a bit funny that they’d rather sink all their equipment than let the French have it for free. At least it not makes for a wonderful day of snorkelling!

  15. You taught this American quite a bit! I’ve never heard of Million Dollar Point or anything about the story of the decision to put all the equipment in the ocean. I’m sure that would never be an acceptable option today, but I wonder if things like this happen secretly and without gathering attention. Although I’m thinking it was a ridiculous decision–just give the French the equipment rather than destroy it–it does provide a good tourist destination and I’m glad it draws some positive attention after all these years. Fascinating!

  16. What a brilliant read Charlie!
    Have a lovely day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  17. the coke bottles haven’t changed.
    So, they preferred to dump the machines in the sea then to leave it to the french? Why? I thought they were allies and friends, it wouldn’t have hurt to make a present of good will, it could have maybe helped in some way.
    Anyway, gorgeous place and I love the cloudy atmosphere, perfect time for a swim. =))

  18. Lovely photos, specially the underwater ones. Water looks so clear and marvelous.

  19. Love the snorkeling photos! Looks like it was a great trip.

  20. Such an interesting story and an interesting place to snorkel. Looks like a fun day!

  21. What a wonderful way to spend a day with the family. The water is so clear and beautiful, love the little huts along the edge of the water, Thanks for the history lesson.

  22. Fascinating Charlie:) Not only did you give us an education but also wonderous pictures too. What fun it must have been to enjoy a slice of history while snorkeling. Too bad it rained though…

    Thanks for sharing, Charlie…

  23. Reminds me of my trip to the Caribbean, all that clear water and beautiful scenery 😀

    Choc Chip Uru

  24. This is indeed an incredible opportunity! I loved reading the story behind hoe Million Dollar Point got it’s name.

  25. hi,
    we are visiting Luganville on an upcoming cruise. Can I ask can you walk to this beach from the cruise terminal? Or is it necessary to take a taxi , if so do you know what the price would be?

    • Hi James, I don’t think you’d be able to walk. When you get off the cruise ship there will be a lot of locals with cars hoping to be your driver for the time you are in port. From memory, I think we paid a driver about $100AU to take us around for the day. Prices are quite reasonable. I hope you enjoy your cruise.


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