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Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

Rabaul is the former provincial capital of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea. It was evacuated and nearly destroyed in 1994 when the nearby volcano Tavurvur erupted. As a tourist destination, Rabaul is popular for scuba diving and for snorkeling sites and also offers a spectacular harbor. Because of its war-time history, it attracts many Japanese visitors. This article covers Rabaul and the neighboring town of Kokopo, to which the authorities moved the provincial capital after the eruption.

Rabaul is on the Gazelle Peninsular in the northeast of New Britain island. Most of the indigenous people are Tolais. During the eruption, 80% of the buildings in Rabaul collapsed. Although there has been much reconstruction the city always runs the risk of further volcanic activity.

Rabaul (the word means Mangrove in one of the local languages as it was built on a mangrove swamp) was the headquarters... Read more

Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

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Rabaul is the former provincial capital of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea. It was evacuated and nearly destroyed in 1994 when the nearby volcano Tavurvur erupted. As a tourist destination, Rabaul is popular for scuba diving and for snorkeling sites and also offers a spectacular harbor. Because of its war-time history, it attracts many Japanese visitors. This article covers Rabaul and the neighboring town of Kokopo, to which the authorities moved the provincial capital after the eruption.

Rabaul is on the Gazelle Peninsular in the northeast of New Britain island. Most of the indigenous people are Tolais. During the eruption, 80% of the buildings in Rabaul collapsed. Although there has been much reconstruction the city always runs the risk of further volcanic activity.

Rabaul (the word means Mangrove in one of the local languages as it was built on a mangrove swamp) was the headquarters of German New Guinea until captured by Commonwealth troops during World War I. The Australian administration was moved to Lae in 1937 after an eruption that caused over 500 deaths. In January 1942, it was heavily bombed on January 23 thousands of Japanese troops were landed. By 1943 there were about 110,000 Japanese troops based in Rabaul and around 2000 local women were forced into prostitution. The Japanese army dug many kilometers of tunnels as shelter from the Allied air forces and many of these can still be seen today.

On 19 September 1994, Tavurvur and Vulcan volcanoes erupted, destroying the nearby airport and covering most of the town with heavy ash. Fortunately, the city's inhabitants evacuated before the eruption and only a handful of people were killed. Most of the buildings in the southeastern half of Rabaul collapsed due to the weight of ash.


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Rabaul, Papua New Guinea: Port Information


Your cruise liner will dock in the center of Rabaul.
If the pier is busy, a cruise ship anchors offshore, and passengers are transported ashore by tender boats.

Get around Rabaul, Papua New Guinea


The 1A bus runs between Kokopo and Rabaul in about 40 minutes - between the 1A and walking, you could see some of the attractions quite cheaply.

Hire cars are available from hotels and companies. They are expensive. The traffic is pretty relaxed but some of the Kokopo-Rabaul Road is badly damaged by mudslides and some of the side roads are rough - 4WD might be advisable.

Tours can be organized for land (war sites, volcano) or sea (diving, Duke of York Islands). They are a great way to see everything but are expensive unless you have a big group.

What to see in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea


  • Bitapaka War Cemetery. Maintained by the Australian War Graves Commission this is the final resting place for servicemen from many countries who died in WWII. There is also a Japanese War Memorial at a former sea-plane base.
  • Japanese Tunnels. There are around 700km of tunnels in the hills that surround Rabaul's Simpson Harbour. Accommodation, hospitals and hiding places for barges were built in them. Some of the barges can still be seen in tunnels at Karavia.
  • General Yamamoto’s Bunker. The General led the Japanese South Pacific campaign. He was eventually shot down by the Americans after flying out of Rabaul on an inspection tour to the Solomon Islands. You can visit his underground command post.
  • Kokopo War and Cultural Museum. Good collection of Japanese vehicles, munitions, and other relics.
  • OISCA Botanical Garden. Half an hour by good road from Kokopo at Warongoi. Great place for butterflies.

What to do in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea


  • Dive. The Rabaul area offers some fantastic diving opportunities. Apart from incredible coral and fish, there are numerous sunken Japanese battleships to explore. Dive companies include:
  1. Kabaira Dive Rabaul. This company is located about one hour from Rabaul and Kokopo. It also has four beach-front apartments.
  2. Rapopo Dive Centre. Attached to the Rapopo Plantation Resort. 
  • Climb. In addition to the two active volcanos, Tavurvur and Vulcan, there are four other volcanic hills surrounding Simpson Harbour. Mt. Mother (or Kabiu) is the highest. This is 700 meters and can be climbed early in the morning from Matalau Village. Mt. Tavanabatir provides a home to the Rabaul Volcanic Observatory and offers a beautiful panoramic view of Rabaul Town.

What to eat and drink in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea


Kai bars and chicken shops abound in the towns. Lots of fruit is available from markets and supermarkets. The resorts generally have decent restaurants overlooking the sea. Seafood is obviously the most reliable dish. The Rabaul Hotel has the Phoenix Room, a striking dining room with Chinese, local and colonial decor, but with lacklustre Chinese food.

Shopping in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea


  • Rabaul Market. Colorful, clean market good for fruit, veges, clothes, and trinkets.
  • Kokopo Market. Also a colorful and clean market and good for fruit, veges, clothes, and trinkets. 
  • Tropicana Shopping Centre, Kokopo-Rabaul Road. Waterfront shopping center, said to be the best in town. 

Safety in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea


PNG has a reputation as a risky destination in some circles (primarily Australian ones), predominantly because of the activities of criminal gangs (known in Tok Pisin as raskols) in major cities. That is generally a result of unemployment stemming from increased domestic migration from subsistence farming in the hills to the nearest urban area. Armed gangs can also be active on some spots of Highlands highway. Travelers are easy prey for these bandits. They can take everything and even rape women. Find out a current safety situation before taking a tour.

The villages are quite safe as the locals will "adopt" you as one of their own. In many places, if you are alone, someone will want to escort you to where you want to go even if they have to go out of their way and you haven't asked for it. Most people are extremely friendly, curious and helpful and it is easy to tell the bad guys from everyone else.

Avoid conflicts at all costs and stay calm whatever the situation. Many people are very temperamental and local conflicts (that will normally have nothing to do with you) might quickly get out of proportion. Superstition is very widespread. If you get mugged, stay calm and hand over your cash. Fortunately few people have guns but most people carry bush knives (they need them for their everyday business, which includes self-defense). Most crime is related to alcohol or marijuana.

In case you get involved in any type of traffic accident, continue driving and find the nearest police station. If anyone gets hurt (a person, pig or chicken), no matter whose fault it is, there's a risk that someone might decide to take immediate reciprocal measures without much discussion.

If you are planning a trip to Papua New Guinea, avoid spending time in the cities as they are boring and devoid of the culture to be found in the villages.

If you must, the most important thing is to stay up to date on the law and order situation in the locations you are planning to visit.

Flying in small planes can be very risky. Hardly a year goes by without at least one fatal accident (the most recent in August 2009 when 12 people were killed). While the planes are usually well-maintained and the pilots technically proficient the problem is the mountainous terrain. Many smaller airfields are situated in steep valleys. When there is cloud cover planes have difficulty in finding them and sometimes crash into a mountain. The national airline, Air Niugini, which flies internationally and to the major cities of the country has, however, an unblemished safety record in 32 years of operation.

Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are common in Papua New Guinea and are capable of growing to immense lengths of 7 m or more (although individuals over 6 m are rare). They occasionally devour humans and should be shown respect at all times. They are equally at home in coastal waters as they are in freshwater lakes and rivers. Swimming is generally not advised except at higher elevations and in hotel swimming pools. Papua New Guinea, along with Australia, has the highest and healthiest population of large Saltwater Crocodiles in the world.

Great oceans accommodate also a large number of sharks species. Some of them are dangerous to humans. You may have seen beautiful, but partially misleading videos about divers who are feeding friendly sharks and everybody is happy. This image can not be applied worldwide. Villagers are not usually swimming in open waters in some parts of PNG. There is a reason for that.

Papua New Guinea is home to many active volcanoes and several of the most popular treks involve getting close or actually climbing one or more of these. Always heed local advice and a regular check of The Smithsonian Institute's Volcanic Activity Report would be wise.

Scams

There are some rogue travel operators in Papua New Guinea who have taken people's money and then failed to provide the itinerary agreed or even in some cases have not bought the flights that were paid for, leaving travelers stranded or having to buy new tickets themselves. It is wise to use a search engine and travel forums to investigate the operator you are considering before paying any deposits. Be aware that these operators will often change their names from time to time.

Although PNG is definitely not a place where bargaining is expected or tolerated (many things might have a "second price" though, especially souvenirs and art), there are some dishonest people who might try to cheat tourists. Inform yourself beforehand or ask other passengers about bus fares. Shop around before chartering boats or canoes. Since there are some very rich tourists in PNG who pay ridiculous amounts of money for certain services, it is easy to understand why someone might think that Caucasian visitors have bottomless pockets. When chartering boats always make sure if the fuel is included.

Instead of bargaining beforehand, many guides, boat skippers, etc. might try to extract extra money at the end of your journey, no matter what you agreed on beforehand. This is sometimes due to an honestly bad calculation on their side, but most often it is simply a way to make some extra money. If possible, be prepared to show that the previously agreed amount is all the money you have on your person. Otherwise, just stay firm but friendly!

Stay healthy

Tap water in most regions is unsafe to drink.

Malaria can be a hazard as well, although many villages, particularly those connected to industry, are regularly treated for mosquitoes. Take the appropriate precautions against mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases.

Malaria medication can be purchased at the pharmacies and, in addition to warding of malaria, will keep your stomach happy as well.

Some people consider long term malaria prophylaxis (especially doxycycline) not a good option. In all cases, ample mosquito repellent applied even before dusk + a good mosquito net (bring your own, best if it's treated) are absolutely essential. Local pharmacies also sell a home malaria test (very much like a pregnancy test or a quick blood sugar test) that you can use by yourself to quickly tell if you have malaria, should you get the symptoms. It is a very good idea to have one of those, especially if you are planning to visit any even slightly remote areas. Malaria treatment medication is, of course, available and cheaper than in developed countries. Bring some and be sure to know how to use it in case you get malaria far from a health care provider. In case your home test shows you have malaria or you suspect it otherwise, it is absolutely essential to seek medical assistance as soon as possible. Some types of malaria can be very nasty and even cause sudden death if not treated immediately.

Dengue fever (borne by mosquitoes that are active during the day) can have symptoms similar to those of malaria and other common diseases. It is a virus infection that can cause internal hemorrhage. Therefore it is a bad idea to treat such symptoms (headache, fever, joint pains) with aspirin since it can cause bleeding in case you have Dengue fever. Use paracetamol or ibuprofen instead.

All wounds and ulcers shall be treated with antibiotic cream as they might get seriously infected as in all tropical areas.

PNG is one of the places in the world with specific ringworm infection (fungus) locally known as grille. It is spread by direct contact and is treatable.

Some places in PNG have had cholera outbreaks recently. It is a very good idea to bring iodine drops and purify all drinking water, even if it is collected rainwater. There are areas with leprosy and tuberculosis.

HIV and AIDS is a serious issue in PNG and many consider the prevalence much higher than the official figures.

Language spoken in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea


With over 820 languages - 12% of the world's total - spoken in Papua New Guinea, it was pretty difficult to get everyone talking to each other.

Two pidgins grew up in this area; Tok Pisin (based on English) and Hiri Motu (based on the local Motu language), both of which are official languages. When the Anglophones married the Hulis, and their children learned the only language they had in common, Tok Pisin became a creole. Tok Pisin sometimes looks like it is English written phonetically ("Yu dring; yu draiv; yu dai" means "You drink; you drive; you die"), but it is not; it has more personal pronouns than English and its own quite different syntax.

The primary lingua franca of the country is Tok Pisin - much of the debate in Parliament is carried out in the language, and it is also used in many information campaigns and advertisements. Short, inexpensive guidebooks on learning Tok Pisin can be acquired in the many bookstores.

The only area where Tok Pisin is not prevalent is the southern region of Papua, where people use Hiri Motu as a lingua franca. The exception to this is Port Moresby, where Tok Pisin is more commonly used.

In addition to Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu and the Papua New Guinean Sign Language, standard English is also an official language and is commonly used in education and government publications. However, few people actually speak standard English.

When approaching locals, try to speak English first; using Tok Pisin or another language can make it look like you are assuming they don't know English.

You might sometimes have trouble hearing what the locals are saying because they speak very quietly. It is considered rude by some of the local groups to look people in the eyes and to speak loudly.

LOCAL TIME

6:04 am
August 26, 2019
Pacific/Port_Moresby

CURRENT WEATHER

28.68 °C / 83.624 °F
moderate rain
Tue

28.15 °C/83 °F
moderate rain
Wed

28.24 °C/83 °F
moderate rain
Thu

28.95 °C/84 °F
light rain
Fri

29.09 °C/84 °F
light rain

LOCAL CURRENCY

PGK

1 USD = 0 PGK
1 EUR = 0 PGK
1 GBP = 0 PGK
1 AUD = 0 PGK
1 CAD = 0 PGK

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