Getting Wrecked in Vanuatu


Vanuatu is home to kava. Those who consume it say that it takes over the mind, its intoxicating effects producing elation and psychoactive benefits for the user, sending them into a chatty mood and eventually lulling them to sleep.

In 1886 it was described in a Western journal, with the author uncredited, as follows.

“A well prepared Kava potion drunk in small quantities produces only pleasant changes in behavior. It is therefore a slightly stimulating drink which helps relieve great fatigue. It relaxes the body after strenuous efforts, clarifies the mind and sharpens the mental faculties.”

This is one way that people get wrecked in Vanuatu. For us, however, we (also) enjoy things like checking out the local wrecks with Pacific Dive, which operates on Espiritu Santo, the largest island in the nation. In fact, they’ll even take you to the SS President Coolidge, ranked as one of the best wreck diving sites in the world.

Pick your poison, or simply take a nice, healthy dive. There are plenty. Photo: Deepblu user Angela Tang

One amazing thing about Vanuatu is that it was quick to realize the importance of it many wrecks, and diving in general, shortly after gaining independence from Britain and France in 1980. By the middle of that decade, dive sites were protected, both for the sake of the lives that called them home and for the greater benefit of preserving artifacts so that they may be witnessed by future generations.

Pacific Dive. Photo: Deepblu user Brett Blackwell.

The end result of these policies is quite spectacular, and very specifically the reason that the Coolidge is ranked to highly by divers and travel magazines worldwide. Near the site, one can find submerged Jeeps, guns, statues, and even personal effects of the soldiers that were left behind. On the outside are a wide array of corals, as would be expected of a shipwreck.

Corals abound at Vanuatu dive sites. Photo: Deepblu user Heather Sutton (HSExposures)

The Coolidge is an interesting case for a military ship, because it was originally a cruise liner, so one can explore the elegance of intact chandeliers and browse the hallways of a wreck that is still entertaining guests far beyond its time. This unique part-pleasure part-business atmosphere makes for a fascinating day of exploration.

The best part of the dive might be its convenience. Close to shore, the Coolidge can be explored on the outside by most certified divers, and advanced divers can enter and look around without needing much specialized equipment typically needed while wreck diving.

The SS Coolidge as it went down, leaving only two casualties. Photographer Uncredited

Not far from this site lies another popular wreck dive spot in the area, dubbed “Million Dollar Point” due to the fact that at the end of World War II the United States military dumped millions worth of equipment into the sea off of the shores of Vanuatu, which makes for an interesting wreck site considering that the islands were more of a staging area than a battle zone during the war.

Descending through about 40 meters of crystal-clear waters, a diver will find themselves engulfed in a valley of wreckage so magnificent that it’s essentially an iron Grand Canyon under the surface of the sea.

The shipwrecks of Vanuatu offer as much mystery as they do history. Photo: Pacific Dive

All-in-all, Vanuatu is one of the best places in the world for wreck diving aficionados, and luckily there are plenty of professional dive operators there to help you navigate their local waters, explore the ships, and learn a bit while doing so.


  • Todd Allen Williams, Senior Editor