Espiritu Santo is surrounded by over 35 smaller islands, many of which are easily accessible by boat. The area of the east coast known as the Bay of Islands features both an inner chain of small islands and a outer chain of larger islands. Island Time Kayaking offer 1/2 day budget boat transfers in their fibreglass “banana boat” to 3 of these beautiful islands – Dany Island, Oyster Island and Mavea Island. The tour includes a guide who can show you around the island.
Each island has its own unique attractions and activities – Dany Island is a beautiful coral atoll and boasts fantastic snorkelling, Oyster Island features a blue lagoon surrounded by reef and is ideal for shell collecting while Mavea is your classic South Seas Fantasy Island complete with white sand beach overhung by swaying palms, gorgeous reef and quaint local villages. It also has an interesting WW2 history and features not one but two American plane wrecks. If you plan on doing one of our budget Santo Island boat tours, Mavea Island is definitely the pick of the bunch!
Mavea Island is located around 4km from the mainland, opposite Oyster Island and Matevulu. It’s a relatively large island (2km wide x 3 km long) that is home to around 200 people and features extensive coconut plantations, small pockets of dense rainforest and colonies of native fruit bats. Giant coconut crabs also abound here. There are no official roads here, just grass tracks and only two vehicles on the whole island. In essence, this is one of those Santo Island boat tours that’s like taking a step back in time to the way Santo used to be 50 years ago! The boat ride to Mavea Island takes around 15-20 minutes from Island Time Kayaking’s Matevulu base. It’s also possible to kayak to Mavea or throw in some inflatable SUPs and enjoy a paddle in the protected bay at the north end of the island.
On arrival at the gorgeous white sand beach, the boat driver takes you on a short 15-20 minute guided walk through coconut plantations, village gardens and copra (coconut) drying sheds up to a limestone plateau dominated by magnificent banyan trees. You learn about the local foods, plants and animals and the history of the island. On return to the beach, you are given the opportunity to snorkel on the beautiful coral reef just metres offshore. This is followed by a refreshing coconut drink.
Mavea Island has a fascinating WW2 history. In the early 1940s, all the residents of Mavea were rounded up and shipped off the island because it was used as a “live fire” island by the American and Allied fighter planes based at nearby Turtle Bay fighter base. the Americans nicknamed the island “Mafia Island”. Today its still possible to see some of these bombs buried beneath the coconut trees. There are also two American plane wrecks on the island – a Dauntless Bomber and a Grumman Hellcat. It’s possible to take a 4WD trip to see these plane wrecks but this is at an additional cost to the regular tour price. If you’re interested in the military history of Santo this is one of the only Santo Island boat tours that features not one but two plane wreck!
Top Secret Military Map – Santo Island Boat Tours
This American military map from January 1945 details the location of all ground based defences on Santo, including the directions of fire and the range of each gun position. Interestingly on this map, Mavea Island is still known by its colloquial name of ‘Mafia Island’ and is one of the four islands completely off limits to all personnel due to the fact that they were artillery impact areas.
Plane Wreck 1 – Santo Island Boat Transfers
This plane wreck is located at the southern end of Mavea on the side of a limestone escarpment. It is a SBD4 Dauntless Dive Bomber. The “SBD” officially stood for “Scout Bomber Douglas” but the pilots who flew it called it the “Slow But Deadly” bomber! The planes were used during the war not only as bombers but also as scout planes, to look behind enemy lines.
They had distinctive “dive brakes” – split flaps with holes in them – that allowed them to go into steep dives without the plane’s tail shaking too much – you can still see them on the wreckage today.
This plane crashed on Mavea Island on July 21, 1943. The crew were two American marines – Capt. Henry White, 23 years old who was the pilot and Staff Segeant Thomas Meek, the gunner – who was 30 years old and one of the oldest and most experienced men in the squadron.
Henry was from Kansas City, Missouri, which is located pretty much in the middle of the US, while Tom was from Lisbon, Louisiana just east of Dallas, so they were both country boys born and bred. In fact, Tom’s great great grandfather was actually the famous Kit Carson, who was an American Wild West legend. Kit was a popular hero in dozens of books and TV Shows and Carson City in the US is named after him.
Henry’s story is also interesting – he nearly lost his life 4 months earlier after Japanese anti-aircraft fire hit his bomber in the skies over Rendova (Solomon Islands). He managed to make it back to base in one piece.
Now both of these marines were stationed at nearby Turtle Bay Airfield, which at the time was a very busy fighter strip filled with dozens of American, New Zealand and occasionally Australian fighters and bombers. It was one of 4 runways built by the Americans.
On the day of the crash, Henry was celebrating – his promotion to Captain had just been approved and he was in high spirits.He and Tom were told they were going on a night-time training mission, one of 4 scheduled missions to fly that night. After taxiing off from the runway at Turtle Bay, it’s thought that Henry may have suffered vertigo and somehow lost his horizon (ie what is up or down). Their plane starting drifting lower instead of higher and within 3 minutes they had crashed into the cliffs. The explosion and flames were apparently clearly seen from nearby Ais Island.
Both men were instantly killed. A rescue party found the plane the following day and collected what remained of the two men and buried them in a ravine nearby (point to where), But that’s not the end of the story…..four years later in 1947, after the war ended, a team of personnel with the US Army’s 604th Quartermaster Graves Company went to Mavea Island to investigate the crash, but they couldn’t find the plane. So both Henry and Tom were declared “non-recoverable” and their names were etched on the Tablets of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
Then in 2010, someone taking aerial photos of Mavea spotted the plane! Two years later in 2012 the American military sent over a full recovery team to retrieve what was left of the bodies of these young men. They found some bones along with old U.S. and Australian coins, White’s rank insignia and Meek’s ID card.
The bones and IDs were flown back to America, both men were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and a World War 2 victory medal and were buried with full military honours at Arlington National Cemetery. So 70 years after they died the pair finally returned home.
Dauntless Machine Gun
The Dauntless Dive Bomber had two 50 inch Browning machine guns facing forward and usually one or 2 machine guns facing the rear. Each machine gun could shoot up to 450 – 600 bullet rounds per minute (that’s 10 bullets a second) but in combat they usually only shot around 40 rounds per minute. This is the machine gun at the site.
Santo Island Boat Tour – Plane Crash 2
We think this plane is a Grumman Hellcat– not quite sure – a military historian visited the site only recently (May 2018) and took some photos to try to identify it. You can clearly see the three 50 calibre machine guns in the wreckage and this was typical of Hellcat fighters.
The pilot of this plane was a man named Bernard Jensen, a marine lieutenant from Atwater, Minnesota in the US. Another country boy. He was married to one Esther Jenson and he was 20 years old when he arrived in Vanuatu,
Bernard was part of the Marine Scout Bombing Squadron which fought at Guadacanal in 1942. They flew mainly SBD Dauntless bombers and F4U Corsairs. He nearly lost his life on the night of Oct 13 when two Japanese battleships lobbed over 900 shells at their island runway. They lost 26 of their 29 aircraft as well as five high ranking officers. His squadron was later transferred to Vanuatu in November the same year.
He was declared missing on May 11, 1943 after his plane crashed on Mavea. One of the local men said he saw the plane crash and tried to help the pilot who was still alive. Apparently he was either thrown from the plane on impact or managed to crawl away from the wreckage. Sadly Bernard died a short time later.
The marines termed it an “accidental death”. Back in Minnesota, his wife Esther, was apparently heart broken.
Following Bernard’s death, his squadron was sent off to Auckland, New Zealand and then back to the US. So he missed his chance to return home by only a handful of days….
However, Bernard wasn’t forgotten and the same team which came to look for Henry and Tom in 1947 managed to find Bernard’s body 100ft from the airplane with the help of some locals. It was flown back to the US and buried in his hometown.