November 11, 2013 – Part 2 – Rabaul, Papua New Guinea
Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, sits on the eastern most island of Papua New Guinea, and was a major Japanese facility during the war. The Japanese, based here, planned on using Rabaul as a springboard to take all of New Guinea and eventually invade Australia, just to the south. They, the Japanese, were in the process of advancing on Port Moresby, the capital, on the southern side of the island when the U. S. forces attacked Guadalcanal causing them to pull the forces back and divert them to Guadalcanal. Admiral Yamamoto, the planner and executor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, had headquarters here.
Rabaul has had a troubled history – in addition to the war, it was devastated by a volcano eruption in 1994 which destroyed most of the city, covering it in ash up to 12 feet thick. The volcano, just outside of town is still active, spewing smoke and some ash, but there have been no major eruptions since 1994.
The welcoming party was not as large as previous ports, but just as heartfelt, I am sure.
RABAUL KICKED OUR ASH
In addition to its other troubles, Rabaul was very, very hot and very humid. After six days at sea, in the A/C, I had forgotten how hot and humid it can get at the equator, and this place is covered with a fine layer of ash – almost like talcum powder.
We took the shuttle a few blocks to the local market, just to look around.
Here are some shots from the market – the lady with Sally is Sue Lee (sp?) who is the mother of the Cruise Director, Gene Young. Gene is half Samoan (her side) and half American (his dad who lives in Utah). She is a delightful person and we toured the market together.
Yes, these are peanuts.
We headed back to the ship, for a quick bite to eat, and then were able to get the last two seats on an afternoon tour around Rabaul – this appears to be the kind of place one needs transportation other than walking and a guide. Our first stop was at the top of a ridgeline overlooking the town and the bay, which is really an ancient caldera from what must have been a massive volcano. The top of the ridge afforded us great views of both the volcano and the ship at the pier.
This almost looks like a surreal painting – but I promise, it is a shot from Sally’s trusty little Nikon Cool Pix, purchased at the night market in Hong Kong.
I am fascinated with pictures of our ship, as shown in the places we visit – I have no idea why, but I do like the active volcano in the background.
As we re-boarded our “semi-air conditioned van, and headed down from the ridge, we passed these caves – two among the hundreds dug by Allied prisoners of the Japanese during the war.
Our next stop was at the historical center, which in a previous life was the New Guinea Club. While it now served as a museum of sorts, it was obvious that its previous life was as a drinking outpost for 1930’s era ex pats, living in the South Pacific and plying their trades as writers, traders or other mysterious enterprises. The center contained parts of Japanese planes, land mines, as well as all sorts of historical information in the form of news articles, etc. It was the kind of place you could spend all day rebuilding history in your mind, if you had the time.
A piece of a Japanese plane in the museum.
Directly outside the museum was a bunker, which was purportedly the bunker attached to the Rabaul headquarters of Admiral Yamamoto, Admiral of the Combined Japanese Fleet (head Navy dude). One of the key turning points in WWII was the targeting and shooting down of his plane as he traveled from here in Rabaul to Bougainville, to the east. Our intelligence people discovered his plans and our Navy undertook a mission to shoot him down – they were successful. Inside the bunker, about 20 steps down, were three rooms, approximately 30 feet by 15 feet. While the walls had been painted, there were some spots left “original” with Japanese writing on the wall – whose? Who can say? At any rate, the bunker was impressive – it is where I would hide if the bombs were dropping.
From here we drove out to the base of the volcano where there was a hot spring (who needed a hot spring today?) We passed the former Rabaul airport, now buried in 12 feet of ash. There was not much ash on the western part of town, but the eastern part of town was destroyed, and now looks like the moon’s surface.
The remains of the airport.
Leaving the moonscape behind, we drove to the Hotel Rabaul for a quick break. This hotel survived the volcano, by continually sweeping the roof, so the ash couldn’t accumulate and crush the buildings.
Time for a refreshing cold local beer.
Checking out another Japanese bunker, behind the hotel.
Our next stop was a church elementary school, where the headmaster spoke to us, and some of the kids performed some traditional songs and dances.
Most of younger children in this part of the world have reddish blond hair, which our guide said was due to the sun and water (?) and that their hair turns black about the time they reach their teens. I imagine we will find this in all the Melanesian islands – the Solomon’s, Vanuatu, and Figi, until we reach Polynesia.
Back to the ship to hose off the ash – to end a VERY full day.