A spectacular and interesting approach into the port of Rabaul. Paul and his charts were very helpful in picking out landmarks. We sailed along St Georges Channel to the East of NorthEastern tip of New Britain. Then turned Westward and entered Simpson Harbor and tied up at the wharf which is situated to the SouthWest of where Rabaul used to be. The harbour is a flooded crater of a long ago volcano. It is ringed by at least five volcanoes of which a number are still considered 'active'. They are named 'Tovanumdatir' (North Daughter), 'Bai Kombiu" (the Mother), 'Rabalanakaia', 'Tuvurvur' and 'Turangunan' (South Daughter) to the NorthEast of the wharf and 'Vulcan' to the South.
We joined Francis (from the Cruise Critic group) and the other 27 people on her tour. By 0830 we were ashore and had met up with the local tour guide. We were then distributed amongst three mini-buses and a twin-cab 4X4, all of them air-conditioned !!
I'll get this out of the way, all the roads we travelled were littered with potholes and some of them so big and deep that the vehicles were reduced to walking pace or less. There just isn't money to repair and maintain the roads and continued land-slides of volcanic ash after heavy rain makes it almost impossible.
Our first stop was the look-out at the Vulcanological Observatory which provided us with spectacular views of the volcanoes ringing the harbour and the ships riding at anchor. Our guide, Melissa, pointed out a number of tunnels dug into the side of the mountain during the Japanese occupation.
From there we drove out to where the old airport lies under about 20 meters of volcanic ash. There are signs of trees and other vegetation re-establishing on what looks like a large grey desert. We walked a short distance to the hot springs where the vents of Mt Tavurvur still gives rise to a definite sulphurs stench.
On the return leg we stopped at what remains of the Command Bunker used by the Japanese High Command during the 1939-45 War. It is a massive structure and has survived intensive Allied bombardment and the efforts of the 1994 volcanic eruption.
We drove out of Rabaul which has been largely abandoned although we observed many signs of habitation in the ruins of hotels, schools, churches and other buildings. On our way to Kokopo, which is the new Commercial Centre, we stopped at what are called the Barge Tunnels. Here there are massive tunnels still containing remnants of landing barges which were dragged up from the harbour on a rail track. The tunnels and barges remain but volcanic ash and land-slides have obliterated any sign of the rail track.
On to the town centre of Kokopo to stop at the War Museum where a vast array of war related debris is on display. Some items have detailed explanatory signs but most do not. All items are presented as found with no attempt at restoration. Many are damaged beyond recognition. I only viewed the outdoor space as there were too many of us for the small photographic display area.
Back on the bus to the resort for lunch. The place is situated on a bay with a sandy beach and it is a prime 'dive' site for WWII sunken Japanese war ships. The lunch was served at long tables and comprised of a chicken and pineapple curry, rice, a coleslaw and fresh bread. For afters there were chunks of fresh fruit that had been perfectly ripened.
Lunch was followed by a cultural display which consisted of about a dozen local men who danced and sang. Like the cultural event in Bali, it was very repetitive and each time I thought it was finished they started up again. I've got to acknowledge they dance for a long long time in the blazing sun and looked good for another round at the end of it.
Back on the bus and we continued Eastward towards the new airport then turned South to visit the Rabaul (Bita Paka) War Cemetery. A very well maintained breathtaking area of headstones and bronze plaques recording the burial of a diverse range of allied servicemen, many annotated as 'Known Unto God'. There was also a small section for those who died in 1915 during the capture of Rabaul from the Germans.
We all clambered back on the bus in a somber mood and headed back to the ship. First thing we did after boarding was have a shower to remove the volcanic dust which pervades everything. A very pleasant evening meal and we returned to the cabin where Jenny has nodded off an I'm trying to record these events.
A very full and quite exhausting day but very enlightening.