Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

Your guide to Rabaul.

Rabaul is a township in East New Britain province and the largest of Papua New Guinea’s beautiful off shore islands. The town lies in the shadow of three volcanoes and is one of the most outstanding in Papua New Guinea. Occupied by the Japanese during World War II, the region is a mecca for scuba diving, with many WWII wrecks accessible in Simpson Harbour. The still active Mt Tavurvur volcano also frequently puts on a display for spectators and a camera is a must to record the occasional plume of smoke rising from its peak, as well as the town’s wartime history.

Exploring.

Most of the touristic sights in Rabaul center on Japan’s occupation in World War II. The Japanese Peace Memorial and the Rabaul 1942-45 Memorial being among the monuments honoring those who defended New Britain from allied attack. Simpson Harbour is a watery graveyard of downed planes and ships, now a popular scuba diving spot, while the so-called Yamamoto Bunker offers a lingering reminder of Japan’s wartime presence. Just outside Rabaul is the only observatory in this region that monitors volcanic activity. Situated on a hilltop, it offers superb views over the ocean, town and the surrounding volcanoes.

Eating and drinking.

Papua New Guinea cuisine is based on root crops, such as taro, sweet potato and yams, while other culinary staples include bananas, chicken and suckling pig. Dishes are often cooked in coconut milk and not overly spicy. Fresh seafood, in particular reef fish, lobster and chilli mud crabs, can be delicious and tropical fruits such as pawpaws, pineapples and mangoes are widely available. Rabaul has a limited number of places for lunch, but a few hotels, restaurants and cafés are dotted around the town. Menus generally concentrate on Asian (mainly Chinese) and Western food, while the Arabica coffee, grown in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, is especially excellent.

Shopping.

A walk through the center of Rabaul will certainly be an interesting experience. The town’s market offers stalls selling a mix of tropical fruit, vegetables and colorful clothing and is always worth a look. Shops in Rabaul cater mainly for local needs and there are comparatively few specializing in gifts and souvenirs. For this nature of product, hotel gift shops are your best option, and typical artefacts include artisan bilums, small woodcarvings and basketry. Shops often close on Saturday afternoon and few open on Sundays. Be aware, that the export of Bird of Paradise plumes, the country’s national emblem, is strictly prohibited.

Beyond Rabaul.

Around the bay is the original Rabaul Airport, destroyed in the volcanic eruptions of 1994. This was an important Japanese airfield in World War II and the remains of a Japanese Betty bomber are clearly visible. The impressive hot springs are also just a short distance away. Further north of Rabaul is the former Japanese submarine base, used in wartime to ferry supplies and troops. South of town, towards Kokopo, are the Japanese barge tunnels where, in the main tunnel, the remains of five rusting barges are lined up end-to-end.