Rabaul, PAPUA NEW GUINEA
1 Mar 2007
|We arrived at Rabaul, Papua New Guinea at 6am this morning on St David's day.
The town is on the Bismarck Archipelago and located on the island of New Britain, north east of New Guinea in Papua New Guinea.
The ship stood offshore about a mile from Simpson Harbour in a sheltered inlet off Blanche Bay. The area is made fertile by active volcanoes and before world war II Rabaul was the largest European town in the New Guinea region surrounded by numerous European plantations.
Rabaul was the capital of New Guinea but in 1941 the capital shifted to Lae because of the threat of volcanic destruction. It was almost destroyed by the eruption of two adjacent volcanoes Matupi and Vulcan in May 1937. After their attack on Pearl Harbour the Japanese occupied Rabaul and used it as a major naval and air base. Rabaul was not re-occupied until after the war when it was restored to Australia as a trust territory of the United Nations. In 1994 the volcano Vulcan erupted again virtually destroying the port, water front, airport and surrounding villages. Volcanic ash reaches a depth of 30 feet in many locations and the majority of the population [17,000] live out a meagre existence growing their own vegetables and making small gifts for the occasional cruise ship passengers.
We arrived on shore at about 8.30am to be greeted by a local band and what appeared to be an inquisitive crowd of about a 1000 people.
Daniel [a local chap] was our appointed guide and introduced us to our bus driver Michael. Our transport for the day was a regal 9 seater 1950 vintage Honda van. Its suspension had disappeared long ago with any vestige of air conditioning. [Temperature 104 degrees in the shade].
Our fellow passengers included a lady from Derby; three Germans from Hanover and Karen who is the receptionist form the Spa and amazingly is originally from Worksop. She now lives in Cheshire where she recently met a chap who she hopes to marry.
Our first stop was the Volcano observatory at the top of Simpson Hill which is managed by a volcanologist called Felix. Felix explained the highly technical monitoring equipment and how the level 2 and 3 warning system to the local population should work. It seems in 1994 the level 3 warning [evacuate] was never given to the local people because the committee thought this would alarm them!!!
We later visited the old air field inundated with volcanic ash but already being populated by fugitive sugar cane. After seeing a crashed WWII Japanese bomber I bought a shell head dress and was told I would be able to buy 5 wives with it.
The visit to Daniel's own village was a delightful experience where we met all his relatives including little boys who were diving out of the palm trees and into the sea. The village was only a few hundred yards from the live volcano and you could hear and see the smoke and steam belching out from its mouth. Lesley threw the village into confusion and excitement by wanting to buy a locally made fan. No-one knew what to charge so we gave them 5 dollars and they seemed astounded at their good fortune.
The whole community is made up of delightfully kind and friendly people eking out a living with no one in authority to offer them help.
Before retiring to the harbour we visited red hot springs where if you chose you could boil an egg in the sulphurous water. The whole area resembled a lunar landscape which is covered in volcanic ash.
In spite of the devastation caused by the volcanoes the whole island is covered in a lush green tropical rain forest and in our opinion has tremendous tourist potential providing the government would provide support.
Back at the landing stage Lesley and I bought a couple of small gifts and gave Daniel 20 dollars for his kindness. Several other passengers did the same and I will never forget the look on Daniel's face or his question to me.
"What am I going to do with all this money Mr Peter?" "Try and be happy I said. I love you Daniel". "I love you Mr Peter" was the reply.
As we sailed out of the bay in the dark the molten laver running down the volcano made a spectacular pyrotechnic display with several fires in the forest and on the beach.
Tonight we set sail for Japan.
p.s. Daniel told me his people used to he head hunters and cannibals and that they last ate a victim [a white vicar] in 1927