New Britain

Overview

Introduction

Two volcanoes flanking New Britain's historic town of Rabaul—Vulcan and Tavurvur—erupted simultaneously in late 1994, causing extensive damage to the economic center of the outer islands. Mud flows and blankets of ash left 52,000 villagers homeless. While repair work began immediately, the volcanoes continue to spew ash periodically, and it will be a while before the island returns to normal. (Check locally before visiting.)

Other volcanoes in the area can be seen or visited, including The Beehives (two cone-shaped islands in the harbor), Matupit Volcano (rent a canoe in Matupit town for a three-hour trip to the base of the mountain, then make the easy climb to the crater) and Mt. Kumbui (affectionately called "Mother").

Fifty years ago, Rabaul was one of the Japanese Navy's largest bases, and war sites abound. You can visit the Japanese-built tunnels and bunkers from World War II (we like the tunnel at Karavia); the command bunker of Admiral Onishi of the Japanese Pacific Fleet (Central Avenue and Clark Street—now a museum); and the Coastwatchers' Memorial Lookout at Malmaluan, once the headquarters of Australian operations (now, as then, offering a great view of the surrounding area).

Other attractions: the orchid garden atop Namanula Hill (good overview of the area), pottery shops (our favorite is behind the market), coconut groves, cocoa plantations and great scuba diving off Submarine Bay (the water level drops from a few feet to 230 ft/ 70 m in one step). If possible, catch a performance of the Baining tribe fire dancers. They live in a nearby village and dance on coals to the accompaniment of croaking frogs and log drums.

Relatively few visitors make it to Western New Britain, and it's a pity: good diving, palm and coconut plantations, ceramic workshops and an unspoiled atmosphere await those who make it there. The entire peninsula is an active volcanic region, with geysers and extinct and active volcanoes (the last major eruptions in this part of the island were in 1937).

Fly in to Hoskins, where many of the geysers are located. Most people stay in Kimbe, the district capital (although Hoskins does have an adequate hotel). In Kimbe, walk around town and visit the Kimbe Cultural Centre (local artifacts and some live animals).

Other parts of the region are hard to get to and may not offer adequate accommodations, but if you're adventurous, you can visit Talasea, on the northwest coast, a center for obsidian and "shell money" (an ancient currency made from pearl shells); Mosa, which lies inland, offering oil-palm plantations; Gasmata, on the south coast, displaying the remains of Japanese aircraft downed during World War II; Pangula, in the "Valley of the Hot Water," which has geysers and fumaroles (small holes allowing volcanic gases to escape); Mt. Langila and its very active volcano, in the southwest; and Walindi, with its great diving and the Walindi Plantation (stay in bungalows and learn more than you ever wanted to know about palm oil). Plan to stay at least two nights on the western end of the island. 280 mi/450 km northeast of Port Moresby.

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