Espiritu Santo

Main Highway near Espiritu Santo
Photo by: PhillipC, Creative Commons

Espiritu Santo, the largest island in the country of Vanuatu, was the first discovered island of this Melanesian nation. The island has 4000 square kilometres of land, mostly of volcanic origin. The nation’s second largest city, Luganville, rests in its Southwestern coast, with multiple village municipalities to the east and north connected with it. Most of the island though, is inaccessible to roads.

Vanuatu is an archipelago, and has a total of 82 islands, more than half of which are populated by Melanesians and Westerners alike. The islands themselves form a very rough profile, with most inland being composed of sharp, and steep rocky formations, volcanoes, and cliffs, topped with an even dense rainforest. Because of its volcanic nature, Vanuatu experiences recurring earthquakes and mild tsunamis.

Surveys have shown that less than 10% of the land is arable, as natives there rely on home-grown crops and farm produce. Agriculture provides for more than 50% of the islanders’ food, with fishing coming in second.

Tourism thrives in Vanuatu, with large numbers of Australians, New Zealanders, and Asians coming to the islands for its pristine natural beauty and undersea attractions. The filming of the Survivor reality show series only served to enhance the country’s reputation as a total vacation getaway.

Espiritu Santo has a colourful past, especially during the World War II era. During that period, many Americans used the island as a refuelling station and a pit stop for its naval and aerial forces. Testaments to their stay in the island are the numerous military steel huts strewn around the area, a dumping site for military equipment called the Million Dollar Point, and significant traces of war-era buildings in Luganville that point to a massive American base.

Being an inaccessible island, Espiritu Santo has a few nature conservation sites. Aside from these, tourist attractions, especially white sand beaches and dive sites, abound around the island.

The Loru Rainforest Protected Area. This conservatory is located in the lowland areas of the island. The rainforest protects various endemic species of birds, bats, and some reptiles. A two-kilometer coast is included too, to protect the marine riches in the fringe reef.

Western Caves. The western side of the island is steep and almost inhospitable. Yet the land has caves the can be explored via rented ships and tours to the west side.

Vathe Conservation Area. This is the rainforest conservatory where tourists are given the opportunity to trek. Guides are provided and the walk is long and mosquito-infested, but easy nevertheless. Exotic birds form part of the main attractions here in the reserve.

Offshore Islands. Many surrounding islands, such as Bokissa, Aore, and Tutuba, offer excellent places for kayaking, snorkelling and diving spots. They are accessible by chartered boats.

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