Rabaul and Kokopo

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August 11th 2018
Published: August 20th 2018
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Saturday Rabaul
We set a 6am alarm and went out on deck 6 and up the staircase one level to go to the bow of the ship. Sailing into Simpson harbour it was easy to spot the volcanic peaks that have done so much damage to Rabaul over the years and most notably in 1994. Mount Tavurvur is active still, puffs of smoke and steam visible against the early morning clouds. Rabaul is located on PNG's north-eastern tip in the New Britain province, where coincidentally the bride price is negotiated in shell money and it is a matriarchal society. The port area is all that really remains following the last volcanic eruption which saw a triple action of three peaks erupting covering the town in ash. No lives were lost this time compared to 1937 when 500 people died, as the observatory were able to predict the eruptions and people evacuated to the nearby town of Kokopo which is now the fastest growing town in The Pacific. Rabaul has an impressive WWII history and this is what we set out to explore today. We don't book ship tours hating the conformity and outrageous prices, but usually try our luck with the local ones on offer at the ports or do things ourselves just by walking around. Impossible to do it yourself today we figured so we disembarked and 2 tour companies advertised their wares. Choosing a 6.5 hour guided tour for $120- AUS we joined an extended Aussie family of 3 generations who happened to be on Bouganville Island at the same time as me 1985 to 1986. Anna was our guide, trilingual with the local language of Kuanua, Tok Pisin and English. We piled into the 12 seater van, with the first stop the Japanese Barge tunnels in Karavia Bay. Built with prisoner and indigenous labour by the Japanese they were part of a network of 300 miles of tunnels designed to conceal munitions and stores. Today 5 barges are rusting away with the first 3 easily seen in the gloom. Next stop Kokopo War and Cultural Museum, a very grand name for a small building and loads of decaying Japanese relics, vehicles and weapons with a small hut of cultural artefacts. Having only 10 minutes at each place we rushed around. The distances between each site was not far but the roads are like goat tracks, not sealed, rutted, washed out and bone jarringly tiresome, making loads of time spent travelling to each place. The impressive Bita-Paka War cemetery was next. This site is maintenance by Australia, impressively neat and manicured, with commemoration for 1000 graves of Australian and Indian soldiers for WWII and Australian for WWI. For the WWII graves, the families of each man were asked to supply a phrase for the grave, each one is different. We also passed the remnants of the floating crane, which is what the Japanese stole from Singapore, took to Rabaul, only to have it scuttled by the USA within 2 days of it arriving here. Up next Kokopo markets which is the main trading area for all things to eat and drink that is grown or hunted, a huge big area of covered and open stalls. 2 Kina for a double scoop icecream helped us break our 50Kina note, pineapple Fanta not a hit as a drink. Interestingly you could buy a plastic bag for 40 toea, not given out at all anymore. The Country Club was our lunch destination which has the tee off for hole 1 of an impressive golf course which follows the bay around. 25K for chicken and mushroom stir fry and rice with Martin choosing prawn stir fry. Delicious washed down with the biggest glass of Sav Blanc. I asked for a glass and this is what I got full to the brim, had to be 3 standard drinks. And the bonus of wifi, not sure where from but I grabbed it and managed to post some pics to let people know we were alive. Rabaul has had a lot of seismic activity so it makes sense to house the Volcanological Observatory here for the entire PNG. It monitors 14 active and 23 dormant volcanoes with an impressive harbour view. So little is left of the old Rabaul, we actually drove on top of the old town which is still buried in ash, to reach the Hot Springs. The locals call it the bubbling beach, they use the water for bathing, the hot air vents and sand for cooking and of course tourism. The smell of sulphur hangs in the air. Last stop is the commemorative area for the sinking of The Montevideo Maru which was carrying sick to safety and accidentally sunk by the Americans. An impressive show was put on tonight by the lead vocalist Emma and a live quartet. Songs from musicals, right up my alley; featuring an impressive range from country to classical, Motown and jazz. A well trained and versatile singer. And live football to end the evening on a bigger screen than our teeny tiny stateroom TV, up in deck 12 in The Dome with a small enthusiastic crowd.

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