Rabaul, Papua New Guinea
With a chequered history of destruction from both natural and human forces, Rabaul’s proximity to active volcanoes has seen it twice being completely covered in ash, first in 1937 and more recently in 1994. Rebuilding began after the first eruption and again after allied forces destroyed the town from bombing during World War II. Since 1994, however, many of the streets have remained largely abandoned, giving the town a slightly post-apocalyptic feel, despite it being a fascinating place to visit.
If not for the town’s port, and its proximity to some of PNG’s best diving and snorkelling sites, tourists would likely never see what was formerly one of Papua New Guinea’s most picturesque settlements. While the current population is a shadow of the more than 17,000 people that lived here in 1990, there’s still plenty for visitors to see.
World War II trenches and caverns are waiting to be explored, and the eastern end of town features impressive open air markets selling a number of fresh produce and handicrafts. Water sports, including diving and snorkelling, in Rabaul’s stunning harbour and surrounding islands is also among the most popular pursuits for tourists.
Rabaul is situated on the tip of the Gazelle Peninsula in Papua New Guinea’s island province of New Britain, the largest of the Bismarck Archipelago islands. Cruise ship visitors will dock in Simpson Harbour, a flooded caldera formed as a result of ancient volcanic activity. The imposing volcanic peaks of Mount Vulcan and Mount Tavuvur, both of which are still active, surround the port. The cruise ships dock at the main deep water wharf near the centre of town; however, if this is occupied, passengers may be tendered to shore.
The Port of Rabaul can accommodate both cargo and passenger ships up 500 feet along the main wharf. The port itself is very small, lacking the amenities that most would associate with a typical cruise ship port. Fortunately, the town centre where most services can be found, is an easy walk along the waterfront.
How to Get Around
Much of the town can be explored on foot, allowing you to take in the enormity of the ash-covered streets and surrounding volcanic mountain ranges. The few business that have remained open, including The Rabaul Hotel, Yacht Club and Rabaul Travel Lodge, are located on Mango Avenue, a short walk from the wharf. Public Mobility Vehicles (PMVs) connect Rabaul to Kokopo (PMV no. 1), as well as other local attractions including the Vulcanology Observatory and submarine base (PMV No. 4).
Travel times from the port:
- It is approximately a 5 minute journey to the Rabaul Markets
- It is about a 10 minute journey to the Yacht club and accommodation along Mango Avenue.
- It is approximately a 45 minute journey to Tokua Airport
- It is approximately a 31 minute journey to Kokopo.
- Currency - Rabaul uses the Papua New Guinean kina (PGK), which comes in in 5, 10,20 50 toea and 1PGK coins, and 2PGK, 5PGK, 10PGK, 20PGK, 50PGK, and 100PGK banknotes.
- Time Zone - Rabaul operates on Papua New Guinea (PNG) time, which is 10 hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
- Weather – Along with the rest of Papua New Guinea, Rabaul enjoys higher temperatures and high levels of humidity on average. The middle of the year (May to September) generally sees lesser rainfall, while cyclone season for Papua New Guinea is between January and April.
- Admiral Yamamoto’s Bunker – Embrace your inner history buff and travel back in time. Yamamoto was arguably the leading seafaring officer during WWII and the control bunker for the Japanese forces in town offers an impressive concrete entrance and a network of impressive chambers with an advanced ventilation system. The site remains largely intact, despite previous bombings and volcanic eruptions. Admission is 5 PGK.
- Diving and Snorkelling - Simpson Harbour offers some of the region’s best boat and plane wrecks to explore. War relics litter the surrounding reefs in Simpson Bay with some of the best snorkelling and diving at Taluvi Point, where there is a 75 metre drop off and both soft and hard coral beds teeming with marine life.
- Volcano Climbing - Around Rabual and across New Britain, there are scores of active volcanoes that visitors can hike around, many that regularly billow smoke and ash. If you’d rather see them from afar, the Volcanology Observatory monitors 14 active and 23 dormant volcanoes in PNG, as well as offering breathtaking views across Simpson Harbour. Many cruises calling at Rabaul offer volcano tours to the Volcanology Observatory and Mount Tavurvur.