Little remains of the military base fictionalized in the musical “South Pacific” — at least not above the waterline. At the end of World War II, when the government of the New Hebrides, as Vanuatu was then known, did not respond to an offer of surplus military equipment, U.S. forces dumped their unwanted materiel into the ocean. The beach nearby became known as “Million Dollar Point,” referring to the approximate value of the equipment abandoned just offshore.
As a World War II history buff who is also fond of snorkeling, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit. Ratua arranged for a 30-minute boat transfer to Luganville and a (poorly maintained) van to take me an additional 15 minutes to the beach. With only fins and a snorkel, it was easy to explore the site. I inspected the hulls of two boats, a Jeep, the remains of what appeared to be a small tank and countless other unidentifiable pieces of wreckage, all colonized by tropical fish, anemones and coral. Even in slightly choppy sea, the visibility was excellent. (Million Dollar Point is more exposed and subject to larger waves and stronger currents than the sensational reef just off Ratua Island itself.) Ask your driver to show you where to enter the water from the beach, so that you don’t encounter any military equipment prematurely. And to be totally safe, wear waterproof shoes into the water to protect your feet before you don your fins.
Million Dollar Point, an improbable nexus of World War II history, kaleidoscopic sea life and musical theater, was unforgettable.