The Republic of Vanuatu consists of 83 volcanic islands and islets 1,750 km east of Cape York, 500 km north-east of New Caledonia, that used to be known as the New Hebrides before 1980 when Vanuatu achieved independence after 74 years of joint rule by Britain and France. For centuries the islands were logged for sandalwood, Santalum austrocaledonium; the genus Santalum has a Gondwanan distribution, being known from India, Australia, Fiji and Vanuatu. Sandalwood still grows wild in Vanuatu. Scientific studies are underway to improve yields of the oil which is obtained from the heartwood by steam distillation. Another endemic, Tamanu, Calophyllum inophyllum, is the source of another commercially valuable oil, in this case from its nut kernels.
The most impressive trees on the islands are Araucarians, namely, Agathis macrophylla or Pacific Kauri, which can still be seen in the few places where closed lowland rainforest has survived logging and/or clearing for coffee and copra plantation. The Vanuatu government, with support from the European Union, has established a National Kauri Reserve on the island of Erromango, near Happiland, where these great trees, among the largest in their range and living perhaps as long as 1,000 years, can be seen growing in association with Podocarpus insularis.