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Espiritu Santo

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Travel Guide Oceania Melanesia Vanuatu Espiritu Santo

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Introduction

Espiritu Santo, or just Santo, is the largest island of the Vanuatu island group in the Pacific Ocean. Espiritu Santo was the first island in Vanuatu to be discovered by Europeans, back in 1606 when Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós, saw what he thought to be a southern continent. The island is located in the Sanma Province and covers almost 4,000 square kilometres.

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Geography

Luganville is the only true town on the island; the rest of the island is dotted with small villages. From Luganville, three ‘main’ roads emerge. Main Street leaves the town to the west and winds along the south coast of the island for about 40 km ending at the village of Tasiriki on the southwest coast. Canal Road runs along the south and east coast of the island, north through Hog Harbor and Golden Beach, ending at Port Olry. Big Bay Highway splits off from Canal Road near Turtle Bay on the east coast, runs generally west to the mountains, and then leads north to Big Bay. The airport is about 5 kilometres east from the centre of Luganville. Numerous rivers run to the coastline from the mountains of the island. The Sarakata River is one of the largest and runs through Luganville.

Many people on Espiritu Santo still rely on subsistence farming for their food. The villages on the island are mostly self-sufficient with their own vegetable gardens, chickens and pigs. Taro and yam are commonly grown in these gardens, and are mainstays of the local diet.

Santo is home to a number of cattle farms (including the famous Belmol Cattle Project, originally established by French settlers) and exports much of its beef to Japan, Australia and other Pacific Island countries.

Besides beef, tin fish and rice, bought in town, Santo has many foods that locals take for granted and that tourists enjoy as delicacies. Among these are sweet pineapples, mangoes, island cabbage, flying fox and coconut crab, as well as local nuts such as natapoa and the sweet fleshy-fruit nouse. There is a market in Luganville where local food such as manioc, taro, yam, cabbage and other freshly grown island staples are sold. Several small supermarkets such as LCM, Unity Shell and Au bon Marche, sell groceries and many packaged goods.

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Cities

  • Luganville - capital and largest city at around 11,000 inhabitants

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Sights and Activities

Diving

Espiritu Santo is a diver's paradise with a multitude of sites and wrecks. Its most famous wreck, the President Coolidge, is known for being the largest accessible wreck dive in the world. It is a fascinating ship with a dual history as a luxury cruise liner and a military transport vessel and the wreck retains evidence of both lives. It requires experience experience with deep dives and wreck penetration to safely explore. The wreck is so large that there is anecdotal evidence of divers getting lost inside and having to rely on strategically placed emergency oxygen bottles to escape.

Another famous (and less intimidating) dive site is Million Dollar Point where the United States military dumped all of its equipment into the sea after WWII. Divers and snorkelers can enjoy exploring sunked tanks, jeeps, aircraft and millions of 1940s coke bottles.

Bush Walking

Millennium Cave is another attraction. Only found in 2000, tourists can make the trek to this large bat-filled cave and then relax while tubing back to their starting point along a lazy river. Wear old clothing, sturdy shoes, and realize that there is an active bat colony which will crap on you. Remember that you can wash back at your bungalow and enjoy the experience. Trekkers and nature walkers have numerous options, including several multiday treks. Ask around in Luganville for tour operators and guides.

Beaches

Champagne Beach is often quoted as being the most beautiful beach in the South Pacific. Watch out since it gets invaded when the cruise ships come to call. There are many other beautiful and isolated beaches. Sharks have been known to attack swimmers and there are some dangerous currents so be sure to ask the locals before jumping in.

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Events and Festivals

  • ANZAC Day - ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps and ANZAC Day, April 25, commemorates the day when Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought and died in the battle of Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire in WWI. The Australian and New Zealand high commissions hold a joint event every year in Port Vila to celebrate the lives of the ANZAC troopers.
  • Fête de la Musique - As with many other cities around the world, June 21st sees performances from both amateur and professional musicians showcasing their talent at different venues across the towns of Port Vila and Luganville. Musical artists donate their time for free and spectators come to see the show free-of-charge.
  • Saint Andrew Festival - The Saint Andrew Festival is a Christian festival in Vanuatu that has been infused with local indigenous traditions. In the Banks region, locals from Rah and Mota Lava have been coming together for more around 100 years now in this festival celebrating the life of Saint Andrew, the Apostle. The three-day event sees both locals and visitors in large festivities and feasts featuring food cooked by geothermal energy. The festival is held every November 29.

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Weather

Espiritu Santo has a warm and humid tropical climate with breezes bringing some relief of the stiffling heat during the afternoon. Temperatures typically are between 23 °C at night and around 30 °C to 32 °C during the day. The rainy season lasts from November to April with occasionaly typhoons hitting the islands. The water temperature ranges from 22 °C in winter to 28 °C in the summer. Cool between April and September, the days become hotter and more humid starting in October. South easterly trade winds occur from May to October. Vanuatu has a long rainy season, with significant rainfall usually occurring almost every month. The wettest and hottest months are December through to April, which also constitute the cyclone season. The driest months are June through November.

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Getting There

By Plane

Internationally, Santo-Pekoa International Airport (SON) serves Brisbane and Sydney with Air Vanuatu. Gaua, Longana, Lonorore, Norsup, Olpoi, Port Vila, Sola and Walaha are domestic places served.

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Getting Around

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Eat

Lap Lap

The traditional dish which you will most likely be offered once during your stay is a root vegetable cake called lap lap. Essentially this is either manioc (cassava), sweet potato, taro or yam shaved into the middle of a banana leaf with island cabbage and sometimes a chicken wing on top. This is all wrapped up into a flat package and then cooked in hot stones underground till it all melts together into a cake.

Tuluk

Tuluk is a variation of lap lap with the cake rolled into a cylinder with meat in the middle. It tastes a lot like a sausage roll. You can find these again in the market (usually from mele village people) but they will be served from foam boxes to keep them warm.

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Drink

Kava

Kava is a local drink, made from the roots of the plant Piper methysticum, a type of pepper. Kava is intoxicating, but not like alcohol. Its effects are sedative. Some travellers have experienced a hangover from its consumption. Kava is consumed in private homes and in local venues called Nakamal. Some of the resorts also offer kava on occasion for travellers to try. Kava is served in a "shell" or small bowl. Drink the whole shell-ful down steadily, then spit. It's handy to have a soft drink on hand to rinse with afterwards, as the taste of kava is strong and not very pleasant. It is worth noting that the kava available in Vanuatu is generally a much stronger variety than the kava found in other Pacific islands such as Fiji, where it is comparatively mild. Four or five large shells in a typical kava bar will leave the inexperienced drinker reeling (or worse) after a couple of hours, and it can take a day to recover. Good advice to experience kava as pleasantly as possible is to go with an experienced drinker and follow their lead, take the small shells, and stop after an hour and a half. It's quite easy to find a local kava drinking buddy, just ask around your hotel and you'll find volunteers - maybe at the cost of a shell or two. Kava bars (or Nakamals) are normally dark places with very dim or no lighting at all. This is because bright lights and kava intoxication do not go together well - so be careful with flash photography, which may not be received very well in such venues.

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Accommodation in Espiritu Santo

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This is version 10. Last edited at 3:53 on Aug 2, 17 by sleepBot. 3 articles link to this page.

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