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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Caught 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.
Today 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).
Million 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.
Million 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.
The 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.
Million 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.
We 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.
Million Dollar Point: Sanma Provinces, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu