Rubaul - Where beauty and danger cohabit

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October 12th 2015
Published: October 28th 2015
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Ominous cloudsOminous cloudsOminous clouds

Other photos showed rain showers across the horizon.
This region of PNG borders on the Solomon Sea and while dotted with beautiful Islands, also has really deep troughs. We sailed over the Triobriand Trough which is 8000 meters deep on our overnight journey from Kitava to Rabaul, a distance of a little under 300 nautical miles. Did we notice the trough? Nope!

Finally we turned and sailed down into Rabaul Harbour. The early morning skies had been quite ominous and we were thinking a wet day. It didn't turn out that way for which we are grateful. The other obvious issue was the active volcano to the right of the town centre, steaming strongly in the morning light. Tavurvur, or in English, 'Always there' has changed the landscape several times in the past 100 years - and we were going to the foot of the volcano!

Actually, many thought we were climbing to the crater, but I for one was glad when they said no. Back on the ship later I spoke to a very fit young lady that did climb to the caldera, and she was a little worse for wear with bruises and scratches. The scoria sides of the volcano are very loosely packed, so a genuine case of one step forward, slide two steps back. Also, the volcano has been a little active recently spewing ash and steam. The lass who climbed confirmed that there was plenty of steam and ash, and the scoria rock was very hot. We regarded ourselves as lucky to be in Rabaul as some cruises have had to sail past due to the danger of eruptions.

After berthing in Rabaul, we queued up for our tour and jumped aboard a minibus to head out of town. Again, we had a knowledgeable guide who told us a lot about the history of the region. John had been here pre the 1997 eruption that destroyed most or Rabaul township, but without loss of life. For John, this was to be a very special day. The same volcano previously erupted in 1937 where it is thought around 500 people were killed. Our journey to the volcano was a rough track over a bed of scoria rock (more like pebbles compacted) up to 15 feet deep. The airport where John landed as a school boy is nowhere to be seen. There were several white crosses mounted along the way, but these didn't
Enough blue for hopeEnough blue for hopeEnough blue for hope

This part of PNG is famous for rain, but we were hopeful that our excursion for later in the day would be OK.
mark a grave, but a former holy site hurried under the rock. Some brick work poked through the landscape as a reminder that a volcano has more fury than any spurned woman.

After a bumpy journey, we arrived at the base of Tavurvur, well, pretty close anyway. It was clear to me that we were in fact parked right in the crater of another volcano where the walls had blasted rock and ash seaward. A quick walk and we were beside some hot bubbling springs. We have visited such sites else where so didn't put our toes in, though we did see some dip a finger in at the edge. This water is around 80c so would scold very quickly, and yes we had been warned to keep clear. The water bubbled away continuously from the spring indicating that we were parked over a hot and active geothermal structure. We heard of a man who decided to put his feet in the sea a short distance from the springs. We understand that he burned his feet on the hot rock.

The local community put on a show for us with a choir singing Christian Hymns and a market with a wide variety of goods to buy. Here, like Kitava, some excellent wood carvings were available.

World War 2 also changed the landscape of Rabaul. The Japanese had a major land and sea base here. Using prisoners of war, they built underground bunkers, landing bays for barges and submarines, and many kilometres of tunnels for their military to withdraw to when under attack. This was a prolonged battle. An Australian regiment also occupied this Island, and apparently when told to withdraw, had trouble understanding the commanding officer on the radio, so stayed put. After a prolonged campaign and a lot of bombing of the Japanese base, the Australians finally prevailed. It was thought that if the Japanese were not stopped here and at Milne Bay to the south, Australia would have been invaded.

Our next stop was an Island that is no longer an island. That same volcano filled in the space between the main land and the island. This was a good location to photograph Tavurvur from a safe distance.

This village was occupied by the Japanese who had here a large hostel for 3000 'Women of Comfort' provided by the Japanese for their service
Rabaul Harbour 1Rabaul Harbour 1Rabaul Harbour 1

The town is dwarfed by very rugged mountains.
people. Their hostel was built directly over the security bunker shown in the photos, but the bunker would not have accommodated any of the aforesaid women. Had munitions stored gone bang, they would have had an exciting event to write home about had they survived.

The fact that the Island is no more an island is creating some serious erosion issues for their village. Had this been Australia, we would make a submission to the local Gov't to have a second channel opened up to split the water flow into two streams. Not here. The issue was discussed at their Church Council Meeting to see if they could raise the funds to have this work undertaken. I have served on several such committees where large projects have been undertaken, but nothing this bold! Must revisit Rabaul in a few years and see if there is any progress.

The final part of our tour was into town and then a very steep drive up a not very wide road to a memorial lookout. For the squeamish, do not look out the windows of the vehicle on this road, and if you need to pass someone going the opposite direction, prayer is required for supporting angles to appear. But at the top, the view is spectacular!

The terrain is steep and rugged, the hill side is full of Japanese tunnels where the troupes hid during allied bombing raids. These tunnels were all hand dug by locals who were prisoners of war. Photos show the left region of Rabaul town which is pretty barren. That is the area where the original city was buried. It has taken nearly 20 years for vegetation to get established in the scoria bed left by the volcano.

The driver of our mini van stopped at a couple of places so we could get photos of some of the tunnels dug into the hillside. This must have been a painful experience for the POWs who dug these out of the solid rock by hand.

Back at the ship, we were ready to set sail at 16:30, but not all the tours had returned by then!! Well, this is PNG. We finally cast off about 30 minutes late. Sounds simple, but it wasn't.

There are no tug boats here to assist, and rather unusually, the wind was blowing the ship against the wharf rather than away which has been the more common experience. The noise from the engines and the wash from the forward and aft side thrusters really churned up the water, but little or nothing happened. More power was applied, and finally full power. The ship inched away from the wharf - it took ages before we could see water between the side of the ship and the wharf. Eventually there was sufficient clearance to allow the main propellers to move the ship and swing the bow towards the harbour mouth.

With the low sun angle, we were able to zoom into Tavurvur's caldera and think again that this tricky volcano is 'Ever Present'. While I love spectacular photos, the last one shown has been taken from Wikipedia. I am also sure the captain was glad that Tavurvur had not lit up the sky as we set sail.

Additional photos below
Photos: 35, Displayed: 27


Danger steamingDanger steaming
Danger steaming

This volcano is an ever present threat to Rabaul.
At the base of TavurvurAt the base of Tavurvur
At the base of Tavurvur

This place as you can see from the rock walls is actually another not too old volcano.
Local ChoirLocal Choir
Local Choir

There was a market here as well as a choir singing Christian Hymns. Very harmonious too.
Memories for JohnMemories for John
Memories for John

John had his early schooling in PNG and had come to Rabaul on a school excursion. He was drawn to the simplicity and beauty of the choir.
Bubbling springsBubbling springs
Bubbling springs

The water here about 80c. One person stepped into the harbour water a little distance away and burned his feet.

28th October 2015
Japanese twin engined bomber

Leftovers from WWII I find really interesting. Too bad my girlfriend Emma doesn't think the same. Nice of you to show me the photo of this aircraft. Liked it a lot. /Ake
28th October 2015

Interesting photos and comments
We can recall hearing about what the Japanese had done on Rabaul during the war. Good to see the tunnels but we do not recall that there were photos then only comments after it was retaken from Japanese.
28th October 2015

Interesting photos and comments
We can recall hearing about what the Japanese had done on Rabaul during the war. Good to see the tunnels but we do not recall that there were photos then only comments after it was retaken from Japanese.
7th November 2015
Japanese twin engined bomber

Great stuff! Thanks for sharing

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