Just off the end of the runway at the Rabaul Airport, were some nice coconut palm groves. One day when we were exploring in our Land Cruiser, we came across some amazing wreckage of old Japanese WW2 aircraft - some with the huge red Rising Sun emblems still visible on their wings.
This wreckage looks to be from a twin-engined naval attack bomber, the Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' (as the Allies called it). To the Japanese it was known as the Hamaki (Cigar) because of it's stream-lined cigar shape. This was the main attack aircraft for the Imperial Japanese forces and it was capable of flying a bomb or torpedo load at 250 mph, maximum 10,000 ft. elevation and a range of 2300 miles. Because of it's light armour and huge fuel load it was also known as the 'Flying Lighter' because of it's tendency to burst into flames when attacked by fighter aircraft.
Being from New Brunswick, North America's most heavily forested Province or State, I have always had an affinity with trees and nature in general. Consequently, I was 'blown away' when I saw the size of this Banyan tree on the side of the Rabaul-Keravat highway! I had seen Baobabs in Africa but this was in another league altogether!
Banyan trees are native to India and adjacent countries and are actually a type of strangler Fig. Very often, they germinate from a seed dropped by a bird into the foliage of another type of tree. The seed sprouts there and sends it's roots down to ground level. As it grows over time it's numerous roots completely encase its original host, killing the tree.
Banyan trees, with the world's largest leafy crown, can grow to be 100-ft high and cover an area of 1-2 acres (0.8 hectares). Because of their often hollow main trunk, where the original host used to reside, determining their age can be difficult. They are estimated to have a 1000-year life span.
In the evenings we would sometimes do a little sight-seeing, that was one of the great things about my job! Free trips all over this wild and exotic country.
As for Rabaul, it had been seized by the Japanese during Second World War and became their main base in New Guinea. I was amazed at how many relics of war were still kicking around all over PNG (see the Travelogues on my 'Papua New Guinea' page for details). Of couse, now that I look back, I was there only 35 years after the war ended, which is not really a very long time from my new perspective on life!
This photo shows me in one of the many caves the Japanese dug into the volcanic hillsides, to serve as bomb shelters from the American and Australian aircraft attacks. In the end, the Allies simply bypassed these island outposts, leaving them to whither away while they assaulted the Japanese home islands.
When I first arrived in PNG, my job title was Field Test Engineer, so I got to fix all the technical problems dealing with generators and transmission lines, wherever they were located in the country. I had a staff of expatriate English, Australian and New Zealand technicians as well as local Papuans to help me out.
One of the Papuans was Matthew Torot, a ruggedly built and friendly guy who was from the Tolai tribe, indigenous to New Britain Island. After my years in Africa, I remember being surprised by the curly blond hair of many Tolai people and it's contrast with their dark complextion! Here, Matthew, who accompanied me on this particular trip, gives you some idea of the height of the Balsa trees growing in plantations along the road between Rabaul and Keravat.
Taken from the rim of the caldera where the Rabaul Volcano Observatory was located, this view shows the ancient 6-km wide caldera, now filled with sea water and forming a very nice little harbour. The cone at the left side is called Tavurur, and it is one of the two cones that caused great destruction to the city in 1994.
The main business area with hotels and restaurants is located among the buildings at the foot of the slope, and the city airport was also located on the narrow strip of land to the left leading out to the volcano cones. It made for great views when flying in!
My job was to make sure the lights stayed on. This meant numerous trips to the four corners of Papua New Guinea, including about five to Rabaul because it was quite a busy commercial centre.
The main source of power was from old diesel generators, mostly British makes like Allen, English Electric and Blackstone. These old-time slow-revolution (300-400 RPM) machines were really tough, far outlasting the newer 1500 RPM types that had come into vogue. It was interesting to listen to the melody in a station that had both types - the new ones screaming their guts out and the old ones just going 'thunk-thunk-thunk'! This is a shot of a typical station, with the exhaust pipes from each of the generators sticking out the side - the bigger the exhaust pipe signifies that it was hooked onto a more powerful diesel engine. These were hot, noisey and dirty places to work but it sure made a cold beer taste good when we got back to the hotels!
Even back then in 1980-81, there was concern for the next eruption, which everyone knew would eventually arrive. As a result, a second, more modern diesel station was built a few miles to the west at Keravat, so my trips also took me there.
This idyllic looking harbour scene actually shows the other 'bad actor' that was involved in the 1994 eruptions. Directly behind the large ship is a dark mass with a white cloud at it's top, on the western side of the harbour. This is 'Vulcan', another of the many cones around the town that finally decided to vent some steam and ash in 1994. Also located in the harbour are some small rock islands, called 'The Beehives' because of their shape. They are the remnants of hot magma that was forced to the surface ages ago and has long since cooled off.
Well, I don't have any photos of us diving the wrecks here, but we did a shore dive and explored a Mitsubishi bi-plane (some military expert will know what that means, to me it was just a sunken war plane!) which was at a depth of about 80 feet....
The journey out there was half the fun as I recall.....bright BLUE starfish all over the ocean floor, with the water gradually getting deeper until we were finally able to submerge ourselves completely.....underneath the sea, life was teeming in and around the plane wreck. Clownfish were there to welcome us (well, more like defend their territory - if you know clownfish behavior) and it was really a pleasant dive...most memorable being those unbearably blue starfish...big and fat and all over the place!
Another day had us diving in the harbor, deep down (a decompression dive to about 175 feet) to explore the bowels of a Japanese warship. We all brought along our underwater flashlights and were treated to a few unusual sights:
1. Sake bottles that were waist-high
2. A human mandible (lower jawbone)
3. Some strange looking fish that resembled barracuda but I can't recall what they were....keeping us company as we hung out on the decompression bars before making our way back to the surface
Yes, Rabaul has some TERRIFIC dives and these two are among my most memorable ones.
Don't miss the chance to dive here, if you're certified.
If you visit Rabaul, do NOT miss the chance to stroll along the famous open-air market where you'll find all kinds of lovely tropical fruits and vegetables, and an equally vibrant kaleidescope of native tropical attire worn by the locals.
It is a real treat to see, smell and ultimately TASTE, while in Rabaul!
You can take half a day and explore the island by either renting a car, or hiring a guide (which is what we did). This was great for us because he not only offered us a native's point of view together with some real history of the island, but he knew some great places for photo opportunities and he also led us to some interesting spots along the shore where the Japanese hid artillery during WWII.
As you can see, the hideout caves are quite small.
I recommend hiring someone for a half day ride around the island - it's worth it!
The Japanese War Memorial in Rabaul is the largest Japanese WW2 memorial in the pacific. A moving place to visit with some great views overlooking Rabaul. Follow the road opposite the Travelodge and it's a walkable distance from the Rabaul Hotel.
throughout Rabaul like other parts of PNG small curbside stalls are set up selling betel nuts. Chewed with and it also left spat all over the pavements.