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Published: August 12th 2007
The volcano which destroyed Rabaul in 1994.
Rabaul, on New Britain Island, used to be one of the pearls of the Pacific. Despite frequent volcanic activity, the German colonisers, and later the Japanese invaders, had turned the town into one of the largest and one of the most attractive towns in Papua New Guinea. This reality changed rather abruptly in 1994 when the volcano Tuvurvur exploded, with little warning, completely destroying Rabaul. The town was covered in several meters of ash, and in the weeks after the eruption, the roofs of Rabaul's buildings caved in one by one...
I have lived in Port Moresby for 6 months now, since January. A long weekend in Rabaul was my first trip outside of Central Province and the National Capital District. It took way too long for me to get out. Despite really enjoying my life in Moresby, I hope to get out to see other parts of the country more often in the months ahead. Next will probably be a trip to either Kavieng or Madang in September, and I should visit the Highlands soon as well. I had hoped that Treasury would send me around the country a little more. Little luck so far, with my only work
trip having taken me to Sydney in July, to attend a conference on avoided deforestation and climate change.
I arrived in Rabaul on Saturday with James, my flatmate, after a rather early wake-up. We were met at the airport by someone from the Kokopo Beach Bungalows, where we had booked a bungalow on the waterfront. The Bungalows are located in Kokopo, a town East of Rabaul where the provincial capital was relocated to after the 1994 volcanic eruptions destroyed Rabaul. We spent the rest of the day playing a round of golf at the Ralum Country Club, a short stroll on the beach away from our bungalow.
In the evening, when we went to have dinner in the restaurant of our hotel, we found ourselves in some unusual company. Following elections in PNG in recent weeks, the ruling National Alliance Party is meeting with potential coalition partners in Kokopo to try to come up with a majority in the 109-seat Parliament of PNG. Apparently several meetings had been taking place earlier in the day at our very hotel. We ended up at a table, surrounded by the Prime Minister and a series of former high profile Ministers. They
were all whispering away... Very weird!
The next day, after a slow start, we went for a scuba dive with the crew from the Rapopo Plantation Report on their house reef. It was a relaxing dive, with nice warm water and pretty good visibility. We started the dive on the wreck of a tug boat, before spending the rest of the dive swimming towards the shore amongst sandy areas with coral outcrops. It was a pretty good dive, and it's a pity that I didn't get to check out more famous dive sites. It is pretty cool to see an active volcano in the distance as you surface after a dive! Maybe Rabaul is a good location for taking the family when they come over next year. The other dive sites here are said to something quite special...
On Monday, unfortunately already our last day in Rabaul, we had booked a rental car to be able to see more of the now destroyed Rabaul town, as well as the rest of the Gazelle Peninsula. One has to see the destructive power of Tuvurvur to believe it. While we were driving in the wasteland towards the volcano, it was
Rusty Japanese Barges from WW II
These were hauled to the water along rails by slaves to load shipping cargo.
hard to believe that there was once a bustling town located just here. All you see now is palm trees and ash, ash, ash…
Tuvurvur itself proved to be quite a sight from close by. It continues to bellow out poisonous gasses, and the roar coming from the volcano made me believe it could blow up any minute. Sometimes the noise would suddenly stop, only to start again even louder than before…
On the way back, we accidentally paid a visit to nearby Matupit Island (which is nowadays connected to the New Britain mainland). The small community on this island, in the shadow of the volcano, got lucky with the direction of the wind during the 1994 eruption. While Rabaul was covered in meters of ash, Matupit survived largely unscathed. It provides a rare view into the past of this area.
After Rabaul, we drove to the nearby Submarine Base, where the coral bed is nearly flat until it drops down a 75m vertical reef wall. In WWII the Japanese used to re-supply submarines along the wall, hence the name. We spent an hour or so snorkelling along the wall, admiring some beautiful fish and great corals.
The Golf Course of Ralum Country Club
Unlike in Port Moresby, no crocodiles live on this course...
Pity we didn’t come here for the dive yesterday!
After our swim, we drove down the Gazelle Peninsula, stopping for lunch at Kaibara Beach Hideaway before returning to Kokopo. After a brief visit to the Bita Paka War Cemetery we returned to our bungalow for an early dinner and early night sleep. Work awaits tomorrow, and we have to catch a plane back to Moresby very early!
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