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By Maree Toogood

The darkness beckons as we descend into the bowels of the shipwreck. Torches are not used, and it is quite an adrenalin rush. Every part of the ship is outlined with luminescence shimmering in the darkness. As we approach the cargo hold a flurry of tiny lights appear from within, as thousands of flashlight fish are startled by this sudden interruption. The Divemaster enters the hold as we hold tight to the entry watching. His faint shadow can be seen as he herds the fish into a frenzy of activity. Mass schools of dancing lights swirling around him, it’s like sitting on the edge of the Milky Way.

Santo is the place to visit if you are looking for something a little different from your tropical holiday. There is scuba diving, snorkelling, hiking, canoeing, fishing, exploring and tours to get your heart racing.

At first glance Santo looks like a sleepy town offering warm sunshine, lazy afternoons and cool waters. However, look beyond the main street and you will find an eco-adventure packed destination.

The perfect adventure holiday in Santo begins with an introduction to the world’s largest most accessible shipwreck the SS President Coolidge. The Coolidge a cruise liner, converted and used to carry troops during World War Two, hit friendly mines on approach to Santo on October 26th 1942. Causing the ship to sink close to shore, just 10 minutes from where the township of Luganville is now located. 65 years later the Coolidge is a Mecca for divers from all over the world. Her bow sits in 18 metres of water and her stern rests 200 metres away in 60 metres.

Allan Power Dive Tours in town can arrange all your diving needs from novice to experienced divers.

Entering the warm clear water it is a short walk from shore to descend the bowline leading to the wreck. The first diver is sometimes lucky enough to catch a glimpse if the resident dugong hanging around the coral garden. Descending down the rope the bow emerges from the deep and the full realization of the just how big this thing is suddenly dawns.

A night dive is not to be missed, but the shipwreck has some amazing dives on offer. The Galley, where after 65 years underwater, you can still see part of the red carpet floors. The Lady is a porcelain statue of a woman and a unicorn, which hung in the first class smoking room before the Coolidge was converted to a troop carrier. She was discovered around 35 years ago and a visit to her has been the most requested dive on the ship since.

Santo has more than just diving to offer adventure seekers. So here are some great ways to fill in your no dive day before returning home. The Millennium Cave tour is for the young and young at heart. An all day trip, local tour operator Glen Russell takes you into the Santo jungle for a real adventure. This trip takes you on a steady walk through the bush, you cross beautiful creeks and cascades, then to the mouth of a cave 20 metres wide that leads to a crystal clear swimming hole. Your return to the bus is a float along the river, passing unique scenery and waterfalls along the way.

If you’re after a more relaxed pace, take a tour with Timmy from Santo Heritage tours. There are some amazing sites including the famous Champagne and Golden beaches, stunning blue holes and World War Two relics.

Santo is truly beautiful. It is the largest island of Vanuatu and only an hours flight north from the capital Vila, it is easily accessible. The Deco Stop Lodge is the best place to stay in Luganville. It is situated on a hill offering breathtaking views across the harbour. And is only a short walk to town. Rest ensured that a divers every need is accommodated.

Getting there is easy with Virgin Pacific and Air Vanuatu offering regular flights to Vila from Brisbane and Sydney. Air Vanuatu also offers direct flights to Santo from Brisbane, and Melbourne to Vila, weekly.


Maree Toogood

Blackburn, Melbourne, Australia

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Artist's Description

Published in October ’07 Divelog.

Regular trips are planned either, 7 or 14 days to Santo to dive the Coolidge and then Hideaway Island in Vila, for some relaxation and spectacular reefs. If you are interested drop me an Email, and I will keep you informed. Anyone is welcome, diver, non diver, overseas or Australia. I will arrange everything.

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