Tracing Germans, Japanese And Volcanoes In Lovely Papua New Guinea

Remember my recent excursion to the island group with semi-clothed dancing women who are seceding from Papua New Guinea?

Yep, that was Bougainville. And it was a blast.

Now it’s time to continue and on see what Papua New Guinea proper is like. So get ready for WWII and German colonial history mixed with volcanoes that make islanders rethink where they place their cities. And we’ll enjoy a glance at the surprisingly beautiful Papuan capital.

Are you ready to explore PNG?

A Caldera Landing

I departed Bougainville’s Buka Island en route to New Britain, an island that is part of the country of Papua New Guinea but separate from separate from its main island of New Guinea. New Britain lies in between New Guinea and Bougainville

I was headed for the town of Rabaul, the former capital of the East New Britain Province. Actually I would be flying into an airport in Tokua about 50km southeast of Rabaul. The reason for this is that Rabaul sits on the edge of what is called the Rabaul Caldera, a volcano with several active vents.

Landing in Rabaul

In 1994, two of the most dangerous of those vents, the stratovolcanoes Tavuvur and Vulcan, erupted simultaneously and completely devastated the town of Rabaul. The airport was right in the pathway of the falling ash, and due to the fairly consistent activity of the volcanoes, the PNG government decided to move the airport and the capital — unlike what happened when lava covered part of the airpot in Goma, DRC.

While Rabaul is situated perfectly on a giant natural harbor, it is also located in between Tavuvur and Vulcan. So the airport was moved, and Kokopo was made the provincial capital after it was decided the benefits of the harbor didn’t outweigh the risks of being in the middle of this giant active caldera.

Upon landing in Tokua, I would be heading to Kokopo. This was fine with me, as Tavuvur has erupted as recently as 2014 and my travel plans were too tight to get stuck in PNG longer than I had planned. Plus, the resort I was staying at in Kokopo was exactly what I needed after what was basically third world amenities in Bougainville.

Anyway, I landed in Tokua and was picked up and brought to the resort I’d be staying at on the shore of Blanche Bay. As I mentioned, Bougainville is still… developing. So the private villa I was staying at right on the beach in Kokopo was very relaxing.

View of the volcanoes from my private villa 🙂

I arrived at the villa and immediately went down to check out the beach and Blanche Bay. The weather wasn’t great, but from the beach, I had a nice view of the Tavurvur and Vulcan vents of the caldera. 

After a few pictures, I headed back to the resort and had a nice lunch taking in the views of the volcanoes, which I was going to climb the next day. 


My guide wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. Not having had much internet in Bougainville, I used most of the day to get work done in my villa. I had dinner at the resort and went to sleep early in preparation for my early alarm clock and the long hike up the volcano.

Summiting Tavurvur

The next day we left at about 5 am, an hour before sunrise. The drive from Kokopo to Rabaul was roughly an hour, so we arrived in Rabaul with enough light to see the city. Most people have left the city due to the volcanoes, so there wasn’t a whole lot of activity. 

Beautiful sunrise view of the calderas

We drove through Rabaul and continued on toward the seaside base of Tavurvur. There are actually higher mountains surrounding Tavurvur that might have been volcanoes a long time ago but are just mountains now. 

Getting closer…

At the base of Tavurvur, you could actually see smoke coming out of the ground and the seawater next to the volcano was very hot. We met up with a local guide who was going to lead us up the volcano. 

Luckily no Smeagol around

It took about an hour to climb the volcano, which was not as arduous as I thought. It’s only about 250 meters, so as far as volcanoes go, not too large. The ash everywhere made the stones pretty slippery, which wasn’t a huge problem going up but made going down a little messy.

We made it to the top without any issues and although you couldn’t see any lava, there was plenty of smoke and the general atmosphere of the crater is quite unique and beautiful to see.

Very pretty

Volcano or waterfall selfie? Take your pick…

Not to mention there were great views of Blanche Bay and Simpsonhafen, or Simpson Harbor. By the way, the reason for the German name of the harbor is that of course the Germans colonized this part of Papua New Guinea in the 19th century. 

View of the Harbor

The harbor really is one of the finest natural harbors in the Pacific — very large, well protected and very deep. Plus, smoke from the volcanoes made it more difficult for enemy planes to fly around the area. Because of this, the harbor was one of the main bases for the Japanese in World War II, and thus a pretty significant battleground.


Approximately 65 Japanese ships were sunk in this harbor during World War II. You can still see shipwrecks and WWII planes and even cannons like the one below 🙂

Vestiges of a World at War

Locked and loaded

After coming down from the volcano, we checked out some museums where I learned some interesting facts about Papua New Guinea.  For example, Australia’s first battle as an independent nation was against Germany in Rabaul.

Britain was aware that Germany had a large and active naval fleet in the Pacific Ocean and feared the newly constructed wireless station in Rabaul would be strategically valuable to the Germans. They contacted Australia and had them assemble a small army to take over Rabaul and destroy the German wireless station. So this was the first battle of the then-recently independent nation of Australia.

The history doesn’t end there, however. Because the Japanese used Simpson Harbor as one of their main bases in the Pacific Theatre of WWII, Papua New Guinea was the location of one of the major military campaigns between the Japanese and the allies.

There were around 216,000 casualties altogether between the Japanese forces behind General Adachi and the Allied forces behind General Douglas Macarthur.

One specific thing I remember learning is after General Adachi surrendered to the allied forces, he was later convicted of war crimes against prisoners of war in Australia and sentenced to life in prison. Two years later, he killed himself in his cell with a knife.

Before he killed himself he wrote a letter saying he was entirely responsible for the 100,000 deaths the Japanese forces incurred and that he didn’t know what apology he could possibly make to the emperor. In his letter, he said he didn’t deserve to set foot in Japan again. He also said he deserved to become a “clod of earth” in the South Pacific and that he decided to kill himself even before he was sentenced to life in prison.

WWII museum

This is an interesting example of the Japanese samurai mentality. If you read my Bougainville post, you learned more interesting facts about the New Guinea Campaign in World War II. For example, the main general of the Japanese, General Yamamoto, the man who planned Pearl Harbor, was shot down over Bougainville while trying to make it to Rabaul.

Anyway, we visited these museums, as well as a famous bunker, and got to see a lot of old war memorials for the Japanese and Allied forces. 

Visiting Rabaul

Even without any wars going on, the harbor is still fairly active because of how perfect it is for cargo liners and the occasional cruise ship. It basically supplies all of the East New Britain parts of PNG with cargo and various goods.

The harbor is so deep that the Japanese even had a submarine base there. They built tunnels for the submarines to hide. The submarines could basically park during bombings by the Allies.

After visiting all the war museums, we eventually went to the volcano research center. This is where they monitor all the seismographic activity in the area. This was interesting to see, but unfortunately based on the charts, it didn’t look like I’d get to experience a volcanic eruption while I was there.

Seismic activity research center

This research center was near the old petrified part of Rabaul that was destroyed in 1994, so we got to see that, too, as we made our way back to Kokopo. It’s basically like the Pompeii of PNG, except it’s all grown over with lots of bushes now due to how fertile the volcanic ash makes the area.

On our way back we stopped at another war museum where a Japanese intern showed us around. There was an interesting exhibition on the German colonial history of Rabaul. Apparently the locals all really like Germans and appreciate all the technology they brought to the island. 

Even with the technology the Germans brought, the locals held on to some cool traditions like this:


It’s called Kina and is basically shell currency. This one is worth around 10 Kina (3€). It is still the common currency in the villages and even in Rabaul several shops only accept this as currency. They also come in much bigger sizes. It is a tradition that a bride gets offered around 3,000 Kina in shell money for marriage. Much cooler than paper currency, because inflation is difficult 🙂

My guide also told me that during the colonial period, German was combined with the local pidgin language to make a German-Creole language called Unserdeutsch. Pretty much nobody speaks it anymore, but it is the only creole language that developed in any German colony.

Haggling with the locals

From the museum, we visited a local market which was much cleaner and more orderly than what I had experienced in Bougainville.

Don’t worry, I didn’t spend my Kina

We walked around a bit before heading back to the villa in Kokopo, where I had lunch at the restaurant and some refreshing local beer.

I would be leaving the next morning. I said goodbye to my guide and headed back to my villa.

My guide. (Just kidding)

My flight ended up being delayed a bit, so I took a taxi to the airport around 12 and still had to wait a bit for the plane. I was flying into Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.

Port Moresby

Coral reef off the coast of Port Moresby

I landed in Port Moresby at about 2:50 pm. I had a city tour booked and part of the tour involved visiting the PNG National Parliament, which closes at 3.

We arrived a little late, but with a little bribe… the lady working there let me in to take some pictures.

PNG Parliament

Quite an impressive building.

Parliament buildings should like this all the time.

After the parliament, we headed over to the National Museum, which also was closed. This time one of the workers let us in through an emergency door.

It was interesting to see all the thousands of different cultures that exist throughout the country. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay long to appreciate it fully because they were doing us a favor by letting us in after the museum closed.

From there we went to the Nature Park, which is basically a zoo. There are lots of fruit bats in the trees, exotic birds and butterflies, crocodiles and even a cassowary, which is a bizarre-looking bird that they have in Australia as well. It looks a little like a mix between an ostrich, rooster and greater rhea. Apparently, the cassowary has been called the world’s most dangerous bird because it’s quite aggressive.

I also got to see this little guy:

Looks friendly

Nature Park was closing too, so we had a fairly brief stay there as well.

Apparently everything closes really early in PNG. Anyway, my driver took me around so I got a scenic view of the coastline of Port Moresby. It’s a very beautiful place.

Some stilted houses on the left

You can see some houses on stilts above the water here, which is how a lot of the Bangladeshis who immigrate to PNG live.

My driver took me up to this mountain with a viewpoint, where I could see pretty much the whole harbor and surrounding area of Port Moresby. Luckily the weather was great, so I could see the whole city and surrounding area pretty clearly.

Japenese Embassy

From there, my driver took me to my hotel, which was a new Hilton and I have to say it was very nice one. After Bougainville, all these cozy accommodations were a nice change of pace. My room had a golden bathtub facing a window where you could look down and see all the poor people and shabby houses. 

Arguably the biggest contrast I’ve had in a hotel setting

I had dinner at the hotel and enjoyed a relaxing evening. The next day I was due to fly to the island nation of Palau with a stopover in Manila, though this time not for a midget fight.

Quite satisfied…

Thus concluded my trip to Papua New Guinea. Following up the excitement of seeing Bougainville with the beauty of PNG proper made for a rewarding experience. Papua New Guinea is truly a beautiful country, and I can understand why the Germans valued it so much during the colonial period. Likewise, why the Japanese valued it so much in the WWII era.

Now that I’ve exposed the beauty and value of PNG to you… would you make Papua New Guinea your Covidpocalypse hideout?