March 12, 2009 – 6:39 pm
East New Britain, Papua New Guinea
Yesterday I returned from a fact finding mission to Papua New Guinea – as always a fascinating experience. I also had a couple of days in the Solomon Islands… my first time there! Stunning! More on that later.
The trip started in the former Colonial era capital of Rabaul on the island of New Britain.
Rabaul was partially destroyed in 1994 when two volcanoes flanking the town, Tavurvur and Vulcan, erupted simultaneously covering the city in ash. Vulcan is now extinct but Tavurvur periodically comes to life spewing more ash into the sky and over the surrounding area.
On my last visit in 2006, Tavurvur was emitting little spurts of steam only. This time was much more entertaining with periodic bursts of activity, loud explosions and plumes of thick black emissions rushing skyward.
With half of Rabaul already buried, and with the remaining half subject to frequent new coatings, most of the population have long since moved around the coast to Kokopo, near to the replacement airport, a 40 minute drive away. From here you can clearly see the volcanic eruptions without having to suffer the effects. Having said that, the airport is often closed when the wind blows in a certain direction – jet engines do not like ash!
I stayed at Kokopo Beach Bungalows, located close to the commercial part of Kokopo and right above the beach. The place is undergoing expansion with new rooms and a very fine new restaurant area that was scheduled for a grand opening the following week. Nice rooms and a good location, and excellent hosting by its charming owner, Simon Foo.
Rabaul was once known for its excellent wreck diving within the Simpson Harbour (the flooded caldera of an ancient massive volcano), but the most popular of these was buried by the volcanic eruption in 1994. Others within the harbour are still diveable but visibility can be very poor with so much ash still falling into the sea. here.
Outside the harbour there are more wrecks to dive, including George’s Wreck and a Mitsubishi biplane, plus more. Meanwhile new discoveries are being made and the reputation of Rabaul as a top dive destination is rapidly being restored.
For non divers there is plenty to see and do, including visiting the Volcanology centre just above Rabaul from where you can get splendid views of Simpsons Harbour and the smoking Tuvurvur as well as a fascination introduction to the science of life management in a highly geologically unstable region, or visiting the maze of tunnels burrowed by the Japanese during WWII.
Islands out in the Bay have superb beaches, rarely visited and the fishing is exceptional. I only had the line in the water for about 5 minutes before I hooked this fine Spanish Mackerel!
Enjoy the photos. More from my trip coming up.