Vanuatu – Nov 14-15, 2014
Pictures include limestone cave we hiked into with petroglyphs, me with the native guides, and pictures of the remains of the nearly 300,000 Allied troops who once gathered here: million dollar point, cement floor of a once very full hospital, bottles and other relics from the War and the remains of a B 17.
After a day at sea to catch up on reading and more lectures, we anchored at Espirito Santo Island in Vanuatu. Here is where the Allied Forces grouped for the battles of the Solomons. These islands were once called New Hebrides and played an immensely important part during WWII. With about 40,000 currently on the island, there were over 250,000 Allied forces here during the war. Here stood a huge hospital for the wounded Allied forces that were treated before being sent back to the USA or to Australia.
We visited the former hospital site, the site of a B17 crash, and the beach called “Million Dollar Point.” We also inspected the runways that were built in only 10 days. Amazing! The B 17 crash was from a plane hit in the Solomons and trying to get back here to land. However, it exploded on approach to the airstrip killing all 10 men. Million Dollar Point is where the USA pushed much of its equipment into the sea. Formally the British and French controlled the island and when offered to buy the equipment for $1 each, the French refused to pay, thus, equipment was pushed into the ocean. Now it is popular dive spot. The SS President Coolidge is the troop ship that sank in this harbor. Fortunately all but 2 of 5000+ men escaped. The islanders were very proud of how they worked to save our men on that ship. The ship came in the wrong entrance that had been mined and was hit by “friendly” mines. Currently it is another popular dive spot.
Pappy Boyington’s Black Sheep Squadron was located at the runway on Espirito Santo Island. His was a notorious and successful squadron with a maverick group of flyers successful against the Japanese
There are many islands in this archipelago providing the Allied Forces a safe natural harbor during the battle of the Solomons and out of range of the Japanese plane. There were over 80 ships and three carriers once congregated among these islands.
Today the Chinese and Japanese are trying to make inroads in this island by building schools, running shops, and setting up companies. During WWII the Japanese were entrenched on an island called Rabaul north of the Solomons. Their planes could not reach the safety of Espirito Santo Island where the Allied forces regrouped. Only once did the Japanese try to fly in and bomb our communications lines. They flew at night and sent down 6 bombs hitting only a cow. This large natural refuge of islands now is a refuge for sailors and divers. Beautiful resorts line some of the coves where long-range sailboats are anchored.
Some roads were very good—built by Americans. But our driver invited the Americans back to build more roads. Houses are nice with lots of evidence of running water and out houses in the villages. This island is much more modern with plenty of diversity of agriculture: cows, chickens, horses, tapioca, cocoa, pineapple, bananas, and coconut trees.
After another day at sea, we anchored near Lelepa Island to the far south. This is a heritage site where the legend of Chief Roi Mata who lived 400 years ago is said to be buried on Artok (Hat Island) Island because it is shaped like a hat. 60 of Chief’s family killed themselves to be buried with him. They must have thought life wasn’t worth living without the Chief’s leadership. He was the chief who united all the tribes on various islands peacefully. The island is a world heritage site and one forbidden to all commercial fisheries. However, a cell phone tower rides high at the peak suggesting there have been crews to erect the tower and defy the superstitions from ancient chiefs.
On Lelepa Island that faces Artok, is a huge volcanic ash cave called Fels Cave. We hiked up a steep mountain path to view the rock art inside which the guide said was dated to 400 years ago. Many of the black linear drawings are much like those in the US four corners area. The stick figures suggest a man/god, fish, counting beads, and other animals on the island as well as historical graffiti from 1874 explorers.
Our time on this island also included a zodiac ride along the shore looking at the flying fish, huge coral mounts in amazingly clear water and an array of sea urchins. Lots of butterflies flitted along the water’s edge. And of course, the usual village women came with their weavings to sell. The village men demonstrated though dance representing the coming together of warring tribes