Another a volcano!

Trip Start Jan 02, 2011
Trip End May 09, 2011

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Where I stayed
Kokopo Village Resort

Flag of Papua New Guinea  ,
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Our reason for visiting east New Britain is primarily to visit the ash covered town of Rabaul. The town was the provincial capital and most important settlement in the province until it was destroyed in 1994 by falling ash from the volcanic eruptions of Tavurvur and Vulcan. During the eruption, 'ash rain' caused 80% of the buildings in Rabaul to collapse – hence why the capital was moved to Kokopo.

Whilst the volume of ash that fell on that fateful day is still very much apparent it is now somewhat overgrown. Much of the town resembles a rather lumpy, grey tinged field, with the odd building demonstrating, unsuccessfully, that this used to be the prettiest town in the South Pacific.

Our local PMV, from Kokopo to Rabaul, completed the 20 mile drive along the edge of the Bay in less than 30 minutes. The $1 USD journey passed a number of Japanese tunnels (the largest of which were used to hide Japanese transport barges from marauding US bombings). After visiting the local market our wonderings through the ash took us to the Rabaul Hotel. A veritable institution it probably houses the best Chinese restaurant in PNG and made a great stop for lunch.

Outside of the latest eruption Rabaul has an interesting history. It was the headquarters of German New Guinea until captured by the British Commonwealth during World War I, when it became the capital of the Australian mandated Territory of New Guinea until 1937. During World War II it was captured by the Japanese in 1942, and it became the main base of Japanese military and naval activity in the South Pacific.

Stepping down into Admiral Yamamoto's bunker it was strange to contemplate that the entire South Pacific theatre of war was directed from these rather small and cramped series of rooms. Further along the road from the bunker it was from Rabaul airport (now consumed by volcanic ash) that his fatal transport left with an escort of six zero’s on April 18, 1943. The architect of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, was shot down and killed by US aircraft over South Bougainville. Japanese communications giving Yamamoto's flight itinerary were decrypted by US Navy cryptographers. Sixteen United States Army Air Forces P-38 Lightning fighters took off from Guadalcanal and destroyed the two bombers of the Yamamoto flight.

After our brush with history we returned to Rabaul market and from their hiked to the volcano observatory. With it’s million dollar view the observatory commands an uninterrupted view of the many volcano calderas that make up the bay at Rabaul. With Tavurvur still smoking it is not difficult to imagine the destructive force that was unleashed on that fateful 1994 day.
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