As I mentioned in my section on New Caledonia, I was offered an airline familiarization trip in 1973 by UTA French Airlines. The airline was trying to develop tourism to New Caledonia, an important country for mining nickel, and the nearby New Hebrides.
The New Hebrides in those days was quite primitive. Native people still used boar's tusks for currency. The colonial (condominium) government was shared between Britain and France. Local lore had it that the British jail had better conditions, but that the French jail had superior food. I never did personally verify that.
It was an eminently successful trip for me. The New Hebrides were tropical, exotic and littered with unique attractions. We visited the compound of the artist's colony run by Michitouchkine and Pilioko. feasted on boar cooked in a pit in the ground, and felt we were at the very end of the earth.
Active volcanoes spewed pumice into the air, blocks of which floated on the water's surface and ruined propellers. An average of four earthquakes per day rocked the dusty streets of Port Vila, the Capitol.
The native village on Pentecost Island offered one of the singular spectacles in all the world, the Land Divers. In the ceremony, natives dove off a 100-foot high tower with only long vines around their ankles to break their fall. The vines would stop their plunge only when their heads brushed the dirt at the base of the tower.
Above all other attractions for me was the brooding wreck of the S.S. President Coolidge, lying on its side in a channel near Espiritu Santo. Even then, the Coolidge was presided over by its pioneering guide and guardian, Allan Power. It was to be the first of many visits for me.
In 1980, The New Hebrides became independent, and adopted the name Vanuatu. While Australians and Asians have visited the islands over the decades, it never caught on among Americans except for the few years when we had the large, comfortable live-aboard dive vessel M.V. Coriolis cruising its water.
That was in the early 1990s, and was truly a part of the Golden Age of diving exploration. Our cruises from Vanuatu to New Caledonia via the Loyalty Islands were never offered before or since our pioneering explorations.