Story and pictures by ELLEN TIAMU
EAST New Britain is the largest island in the New Guinea Islands and is a leader in terms of tourism in the country. Rabaul was the capital but that was moved to Kokopo, 30kms away, following the volcanic eruption in 1994 which devastated the colonial town and surrounding areas.
Tavurvur and Vulcan, still stand proud and tall, silhouetted against the sea and clear blue sky. On the seashore, several metres away, tourists are visiting the stalls of local people who are selling an assortment of souvenirs – from laplap to necklaces.
The immediate surrounding area that bore the brunt of the cascading hot ash and lava from the two volcanoes is still pretty much desolate and bare. It looks like another planet.
A few meters away, in contrast, the forest has returned after 23 years and coloured the surrounds a lush green.
World War II came to Rabaul in early 1942 and it’s no wonder that the area around the town is peppered with remnants of that war.
War cemeteries, tunnels, wrecks -underwater and on land- are there for visitors, war enthusiasts and even historians.
Rabaul itself has much to offer in touristy matters. There’s the volcanic landscape, fringed with a wide array of historical memorials starting with the bunker of Admiral Yamamoto’s bunker. In fact, Rabaul is where much of the towns’ sea cargo come in. In a year, may large cruise liners berth and various tourist sites and activities in close proximity to one another make moving between them a bonus.
New buildings to give the Rabaul port a facelift to cater for tourists and local arts and crafts sellers are expected to go up this year.
With a basic road network, much of the province is also accessible.
Kokopo is built along the edges of Blanche Bay. It continues to grow as a tourism destination.
Finding accommodation in Kokopo is not a problem with a good range of lodges, resorts and hotels having been been built over the past 20 years.
In fact, some of these places have tour packages that are within the budget of an ordinary traveller. The waterfront is the place to find boats for travel to the outer islands such as Duke of York or Watom where friendly people, white sandy beaches and spots of fishing and diving await.
While the airport has been moved to Kokopo, the main sea port remains in Rabaul and is something that the true blue residents and locals of Rabaul not only find comforting but see as an advantage. Staunch business people from before the eruptions remain, more adamant than ever to see Rabaul return to its former days of glory.
New businesses have sprung up or are starting to spring up in the colonial town, stamping their seal of confidence in the hope of a better future.
Kokopo boasts white sandy beaches and scenic views of the sea and, of course, Mt Tavurvur and Mt Vulcan can still be seen from there.
Of course, East New Britain boasts culture and traditions unique to it. Popular among singsings from there are the fire dances. The Tolai dukduks still hold a cultural sacredness.
For people who like to just leisurely wander around, there are the Kokopo and Rabaul markets which are two of the best in the country. With fertile volcanic soil, buyers can enjoy a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at cheap prices.
Adventurous visitors wanting to taste something of the local diet can try the totongor and aigir that are cooked and sold in the signature banana leaves.
Kokopo, Rabaul and East New Britain are full of so many wonderful things to see and experience that you just have to get there to judge for yourself.
Story and pictures by ELLEN TIAMU