Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

You will note that there was no post for Yap. Unfortunately, Typhoon Haiyan  was headed for Yap en route to the Philippines and the route to Yap was too dangerous for the ship.  So while Yap and some of the other remote islands to which we are going were the reason I booked this cruise, visiting it was not to be. The news from the Philippines is quite tragic but so far none of our Filipino crew have had families affected by the typhoon.

We headed south east and across the equator for our next port Rabaul, on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea.   In 1942 the Japanese captured Rabaul, and it became the main base of Japanese military and naval activity in the South Pacific.   Therefore it was fitting that as we sailed into Rabaul harbour at dawn today, November 11th, we had a sunrise Armistice /Veterans/Remembrance Service in the location of one of the great battles of WW II in 1944.  Admiral Yamamoto led the Japanese South Pacific campaign. He was shot down by the Americans after flying out of Rabaul on an inspection tour to the Solomon Islands.  ‘The Admiral’s Bunker’ or ‘Yamamoto Bunker’ is the bunker where he supposedly spent his last night before being shot down over Bougainville (photo).  Tunnel Hill was constructed in the early years of the century by the Germans to connect Rabaul to Talili Bay by cutting through the ridgeline. The tunnel collapsed after an earthquake so it became a road which is still known as Tunnel Hill and it was the start of our tour.  Tunnels were dug into the ridges by the Japanese for hospitals, guns, bunkers, gun emplacements, barracks and HQ.  By November 1944 the Japanese dug tunnel complexes that reached 43 miles for the Navy and 50 miles for the Army. By the end of the war, it was estimated these lengths doubled. Various tunnel openings can be seen along the road (photo).

Prior to the war,  the Volcanology Observatory was established on a ridge with views of Rabaul and Simpson Harbour.   Rabaul Volcano Observatory was established to monitor the 14 active and 23 dormant volcanoes that are spread along three volcanic arcs throughout Papua New Guinea. Here, you can enjoy the spectacular views over the bay and the volcanoes (photos).

Rabaul was the provincial capital and most important settlement in the province until it was destroyed in 1994 by falling ash from a volcanic eruption by two volcanoes, Vulcan, now dormant (photo)and Tavurvur, still active (photo).  Rain soaked the thick ash that fell on buildings, and the combined wet ash weight collapsed 80% of the buildings in Rabaul. The ash was up to seven feet thick throughout the city. Today, most of the old city is a moonscape of ash and buildings without roofs (photo).  The golf course did not escape (photo) though the country club was partly saved and is now a museum (photo). The capital has been moved to Kokopo.  Rabaul has only a population of 6000  today.

Matupit Island is now 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 and survived largely unscathed.  We visited the village and were treated to singing and dancing by the school children (photo). The school was new and most of us made donations for improvements and school supplies. Our tour guide lives in the village and she took the opportunity to show off her nephew (photo). Their blonde hair is common in their tribe.

Tavurvur is still quite active. We visited very close to the base to see hot springs located at the edge of the bay (photo).  The water is hot enough for cooking and too hot for bathing.  The volcano spewed ash all during our visit and let off one great gasp as we sailed away(photo).  Our next port is Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.


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