A Vanuatu Beach
(Photo : Eyefetch)
SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN
Anyone familiar with “Tales of the South Pacific”, will have an inkling of where Cheryl and I have been “hiding” for the past six days. Ever heard of Vanuatu? I hadn’t till my wife insisted we visit it en route to the Magic Millions Weanling Sale, but I have a feint recollection of its former name, the New Hebrides.
Ask any American soldier with a Pacific posting during World War II though, and he’ll tell you in some detail. Because once arrived, it was a hell of a long way to anywhere. From here, 240,000 Americans defended the Solomon Islands against a determined Japanese onslaught, and from here those same Americans disappeared, almost without trace, in 1946. Those with memories will recall it coincided with the 50th running of Africa’s most famous horserace, the Durban July, won that year before 80,000 by Pat Goss Snr’s little St Pauls. In record time, from draw 20.
If you’ve never been to Vanuatu you’re missing something. Aside from the war years, the world has passed it by, thank heavens, because this is an unspoilt paradise paralleled by few places on earth. Besides its spectacular beauty, it is populated by some of the nicest people the good Lord ever gave breath. In 2007, it was rated the happiest and the safest country on the planet, and it’s a fair bet, if the bookmakers priced up today, it would win like an odds-on shot again.
Bali Hai? Those that lived that long ago, will know the intrigue this mysterious and deeply spiritual volcanic island held for American GI’s hospitalized in the New Hebrides archipelago. Shrouded in cloud for 360 days of the year, Bali Hai appears only when the West wind blows. And then, like the phoenix, it rises out of nowhere, occasionally smouldering, and just as quickly, like a visiting apparition, it disappears.
Today was one of those five, and Cheryl and I, from our lovely lodgings on one of the most beautiful bays imaginable, were there to witness the “Legend”. It reminded me of my childhood, when on the coast of Pondoland, we were regaled with stories of the wreck of the Grosvenor, which went down in 1782 in the vicinity of the family cottage. Famed for the fact it was carrying the golden Peacock Throne of the Moguls, it was reputedly the “richest” East Indian ever to depart the shores of India. The Grosvenor has since been discovered, but the fate of the throne remains as mysterious as Bali Hai, to the degree that the conjecture has lead to at least four books being authored on the subject.