Rabaul on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea was occupied by the Japanese in WW2 as its main military and naval base in the South Pacific. Prior to WW1, it was controlled by the Germans before its capture by the British Empire before becoming the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.
Being in Rabaul is like being on a planet after an apocalypse. The town was destroyed by the violent eruption of Mt Tavuvur on 19th September 1994. Unprecedented amounts of ash were sent over vast areas around Rabaul, Simpson Harbour, Nonga and Karavia. The volcano is still active and looms ominously with its quiet belching of plumes and smoke which continues to keep the town buried in a surreal desert-like moonscape. It’s definitely worth the visit to take in the extraordinarily bizarre atmosphere. Many businesses have sought refuge away from the seismic interruptions in the new township of Kokopo where you’ll be staying.
Other key attractions include Bitapaka War Cemetery, Kokopo War Museum, Karavia Barge Tunnels, Japanese Hospital Tunnel, Montevideo Maru Memorial, Admiral Yamamoto’s bunker, New Guinea Club, Rabaul Volcano Observatory, and Mt Tavuvur hot springs. Bitapaka War Cemetery contains 1,120 Commonwealth burials mainly of those who lost their lives in New Britain and New Ireland in WW2. Kokopo War Museum contains many war relics including weapons, vehicles, tanks, aircrafts, and other bits and bods from Rabaul’s control under the Japanese. The tunnels at Karavia were built to house Japanese landing crafts, and the Japanese Hospital Tunnel was a Japanese underground hospital as its name suggest. Montevideo Maru memorial is dedicated to those who lost their lives aboard the Japanese merchant ship. You’ll have the opportunity to pay your respects in a combined service for all Australian POW’s, which include those who lost their lives at Tol Plantation. Admiral Yamamoto’s bunker is where Admiral Yamamoto did all his strategic war planning, and New Guinea Club which boasts the membership of Errol Flynn, housed Yamamoto’s offices. Rabaul Volcano Observatory provides scenic views of Rabaul’s volcanoes, town, and bay which you’ll see when you visit the hot springs.