I really enjoyed Rabaul. It is the gateway to the big islands in PNG, most flights or ships go through here. Besides, it is a busy place (by PNG standards) – people drive and walk around doing their business, unlike most other places in PNG where it might seem like nobody has anything to do but sit around, giggle and chew buai. Not that there’s anything wrong with sitting around, it’s just also nice to be in a place that is a bit more like a city in the western sense.
There’s an absolutely wonderful market here that is well organized and clean. Public transportation is cheap and very effective and the city seemed quite safe. In a few words, it’s probably better than most European and US cities.
Although it’s by far the busiest place I’ve seen in PNG (I haven’t been and I’m not going to Port Moresby), Rabaul is hardly a Manhattan though. The whole urban area has 25,000 people according to Wikipedia but probably more as the place certainly attracts people. Actually when I say Rabaul, I mean Kokopo….
Rabaul (I mean Kokopo) is the capital of the East New Britain province of PNG, that is the eastern part of the island of New Britain – dominated by active volcanoes, impenetrable jungle and nice beaches. New Britain is the biggest PNG island (excluding the mainland of course). In 1994 two nearby volcanoes – Mt Tavurvur and Mt Vulkan – erupted simultaneously and buried what used to be “the prettiest town in the South Pacific” under so much ash that most buildings collapsed.
The 1994 eruption destroyed virtually the whole town and the airport so the authorities decided to rebuild the town on another location in the bay, further away from the volcanoes, which resulted in the town of Kokopo. In Rabaul itself people still live today of course, it has its own market and shops and everything but most of the action happens in Kokopo. The reason is that people are afraid of more eruptions. Just two weeks before I visited Tavurvur erupted again, the same day as Bárðarbunga in Iceland, and much more violently than Bárðarbunga. Of course journalists were again surprised after they had kept the public nervous about the Icelandic volcano for weeks. But don’t get me started on journalists now…
I spent my time in Kokopo basically on a beach, besides taking a walk through Rabaul and a visit to the markets. I needed to rest after my cycling trip on New Ireland and I had only two days till my flight to Bougainville so there was no time for me to be more active. There’s plenty to do around here. There are some WW2 relics. Those normally somehow cannot grab my attention for more than 3 seconds at a time but there seems to be plenty of people coming to Rabaul and all of PNG just to see those. It’s mostly Japanese, Australian and American tourists since their governments, during the war, decided to go have their fighting on neutral territory (getting innocent people involved and sometimes massacaring them) to then come out of the whole thing as heroes. Anyway, the real treat would have been climbing some of the volcanoes around. There was not even a sign of the recent eruption at Tavurvur, which was actually a pity because it would have been quite a nice sight from the other side of the bay.
I got to Kokopo from New Ireland on a banana boat for 70 kina.
There are flights from Lae, Moresby, Buka, Kavieng and other places on all airlines. Air Niugini also flies directly from Cairns. The airport is called Tokua and is also listed as Rabaul or Kokopo and that’s a bit confusing.
The PMVs are clean and nice and charge 70 toea within Kokopo and 3 kina between Rabaul and Kokopo.