I stayed in Rabaul for five nights in total and pretty much had a relaxing time. The Rabaul area was known for the volcanic activity where the most recent eruption of Mount Tarvuvur and Volcan in 1994. The eruption basically took out half the city of Rabaul and covered the entire place with ash. Rabaul Hotel, where I stayed at, had the same problem and it was completely covered in ash. The owners had to work day and night to remove the ash from the hotel roof and grounds. Thus, the Rabaul Hotel does have a lot of history. I can see that this place used to be the go to place in Rabaul (nice restaurant, bar, swimming pool), which was the former capital until they moved it to Kokopo.
Rabaul was still a striving town with around 5000 people, but there was not much to offer in town. The town had a few supermarkets, the wharf for the cruise ships (once a month only), three restaurants (I went to two of them), and a market that was full with locals selling fruits, vegetables, and lunch boxes (they were more like lunch leaf instead of boxes).
The little stores and supermarkets were run by the Chinese. I wondered if there was a Chinese mafia, since the Chinese seemed to own everything. Although, the Rabaul Hotel and the Rabaul Travelodge were owned by Aussies. Rabaul was a safe place and I had no problem walking around alone during the day, but the normal precautions must be met when walking at night. I did not venture out at night, since everything was closed and there were barely any lights! I spent the evenings at the hotel restaurant, which had delicious food cooked by this mute and boring Filipino chef. I said hi a few times to him when he passed by, but he always ignored me. How strange? The staff at the hotel were lovely and they helped me organize tours around the area.
I went on one of the tours, which was climbing Mount Tarvuvur which erupted in 1994. That exact volcano that wiped out Rabaul. The hotel hired a guide named George and I went on the tour with an American tourist Mark, that had just arrived the night before. He was the only other tourist that I met while in PNG. Mark was on vacation for Chinese New Year and had been living in China for more than 10 years, running his own consulting company.
We met at the hotel lobby at 7am and headed for the volcano. It was a leisurely walk in the morning until about one and a half hours into the walk. The sun was already out and it was getting pretty hot at 8:30am. There was only one main street, but there was pretty much nothing on both sides. The place had been demolished by the volcano in the past and all we saw was black sand with a few weeds growing here and there. We got to the base of the volcano and the bay around the area was steaming. George told us that the Japanese used to bathe here during the 40s, since the hot water reminded them of the onsen (hot springs) in Japan. We did not go for a dip, since our goal was to get to the top of the volcano.
It took around 45 minutes to get to the summit, going through sharp volcanic rocks. At some points, we had to literally climb up gigantic volcanic rocks, but it was not that bad. I do recommend wearing long pants, take gloves, water, a hat, and sunscreen. At the summit, we had a short break, ate our bananas and refueled. The view of Rabaul was very pretty from the top and I could not imagine how horrible it was when she erupted. It was a beautiful day that morning and the bay was calm with very little activity. Although, the inside of the crater was still fuming and we saw smoke coming out. The volcano was still active and we were not sure when it will erupt again. George had told us earlier that if we saw volcanic rocks coming out, then it would be wise to evacuate as soon as possible. Luckily, we did not see any “cooking” that day.
The descend was much easier than climbing up, but the rocks were pretty slippery. There were a few times that I slipped, but luckily, I was not hurt or did not get any cuts. Remember, the rocks were very sharp. We walked back the same route to the hotel and we were home by 11am. We paid George the guide fee and he asked us if we would be interested in any girls. Huh? He goes, “A lot of tourists want to keep things secret and I am a middleman arranging girls for them.” It was funny he had asked, but we politely declined. I’m sure there must have been tourists or fisherman (there were Korean and Taiwanese boats at the wharf) asking for this kind of service. I was a little disappointed at George, since he was a very professional guide, but at the end, he was basically a PIMP! FYI, he came to my room the next morning at 8am and woke me up. I answered the door and he asked me if I wanted to go hiking with him. Dude, I was sleeping and never planned anything so why would I go on a hike? I said “maybe next time” half asleep and his departing question was, “Do you need a girl? I can arrange one.” Geeze, I just closed the door and went back to sleep. If you ever go to Rabaul and need company, ask for George.
I had a few days in Rabaul so I kept myself pretty busy visiting other spots in the area. There were things to do and see, but not enough for five days. I had to spread some things apart to keep myself busy. On two occasions, I went into town, which was about a two-kilometer walk. The Rabaul Hotel was at the edge of town and I could either walk 20 minutes or take the local bus for five minutes for less than one Kina. On every visit to town, I went to the market, which was lovely. Most of the vendors were female and the odd male once in a while.
They sold vegetables, fruits, handicrafts, and lunch leaf. In the normal world, we call them lunch boxes, but these were literally in banana leafs. I bought banana and kalava from a lady and ate it right on the spot. It had a very distinct flavor and I had a few bites only. I told the lady that I ate already and was full, since it was bad custom to leave food on the table.
I spoke to the lady and her friends for a while about random things on PNG. I enjoyed talking to the locals to get a better idea of their lives and customs. So, the lady told me about this thing that all the locals were eating and spitting out. It was actually pretty gross, but it was a combination of beetle nut, long vegetable with lime and white coral. You mix all the above together and chew them in the mouth.
It was best not to drink the extract/saliva and spit it out, but some people just seemed to swallow it. I saw a lot of locals hooked to this and they had bright red teeth. It looked gross, but I never tried it after all. The volcanologists told me that they tried the beetle nut and it was an interesting sensation. I will have to try it some other time.
The next morning, I visited the Rabaul Observatory up on the hill. The view was gorgeous at 9am, a grandstand view of the town, harbor and other volcanoes around the area. Aaron showed me around the office where there were a team of local volcanologists watches over the town and the volcanoes. The team was responsible for monitoring the volcanoes in New Britain and the nearby islands. It was fascinating to see how they measured the activities on the island and even saw an 1940s instrument that the Japanese used to measure the volcanic activity. There were several articles on different kinds of volcanos and how they erupted. It was really interesting, since I knew nothing about the volcanoes and eruptions.
That evening, I had dinner with the three Americans, Mark, and the Rabaul Lodge owner Susie at the Rabaul Travelodge. It was a fun night hanging out at a different establishment and we had drinks and dinner. The Travelodge was about 500 meters from the Rabaul Hotel and they had a nice bar and a beautiful dining room that was designed elaborately where the aristocrats once dined. Supposedly, the queen of England ate there once. They had a variety of Australian plates and starters ranging from calamari to salads. I had the T-bone steak and it was pretty good. The prices were reasonable and a good place to enjoy the night.
Other than the hotels, there was not much to do. There was the Rabaul Yacht Club, which had a bar and a small wharf. I saw one older Australian gentleman drinking beer around three in the afternoon. Otherwise, the place was empty. A little past the Rabaul Hotel, there was a small museum and Admiral Yamamoto’s Bunker, but the bunker had a lot of grafiti and I did not bother going in.
Overall, Rabaul was a great stay and I recommend people to visit this area for a few days.
Visited in February 2017.