Rabaul Harbour was formed when an ancient volcanic caldera partially collapsed thousands of years ago, allowing the sea to enter. The harbour is ringed by several smaller volcanoes, most of which are dormant or extinct. However, in September 1994, two of the volcanoes simultaneously erupted covering the town in layers of thick, grey ash. Following the eruptions, the airport and local businesses were relocated to Kokopo some 20 kilometres south-east of Rabaul. At night you can witness the fantastic sunsets and glowing lava of Tarvuvur in the distance.
During WWII, the town was captured by the Japanese and became the main base for the Japanese military and naval activities in the South Pacific. War wrecks and relics litter the reefs and land surrounding Rabaul, making this an interesting destination for both divers and war history enthusiasts.
Rabaul is located in East New Britain Province, a 90 minute flight from Port Moresby. The drive from the airport, located at Tokua to Rabaul takes about an hour along a narrow road that winds its way around the glistening waters of the Gazelle Peninsula. Thatched hut villages surrounded by colourful flowerbeds and tropical fruit trees can be seen through the coconut trees.
The evergreen rainforest vegetation, rugged mountain ranges, imposing volcanoes and diverse marine resources make East New Britain an attractive and adventurous place to visit.
Diving and snorkeling:
In Simpson Harbour there are World War II boat and plane wrecks, walls, and the Beehives (a small group of craggy islands) to explore. At Tavui Point is a Japanese Submarine Base offering superb snorkeling on the flat coral beds and along the edge of the 75 metre drop-off, which is also good for diving.
Island boat trips:
Including dolphin watching out by the Duke of York Islands; snorkeling, beach picnics and exploring WWII relics on Pigeon’s Islands or Swallow Island
Sport fishing for blue and black marlin, sail fish and dog-tooth tuna is good in the waters around New Britain and the Duke of York Islands. The Blanche Bay area is good for casual line casting.
The beaches near Kokopo are perfect for swimming and there are good beaches at Pila Pila and Ratung villages in Talili Bay north of Rabaul.
Ssleep under the stars on Talele Island
Climb a volcano:
All the volcanoes around the island of New Britain (both active and dormant) can be climbed with the exception of Tavurvur around which you can do a base walk.
Japanese Barge Tunnels:
A network of tunnels and tracks connecting barges and buildings dating back to the war located at Karavia Bay, between Kaluana Point and Vulcan.
Tunnels and war relics:
Some of the 580 km of tunnels built by the Japanese are still open and aircraft wreckage can be seen beyond the old airport.
Most of the town is an eerie desolate wasteland, covered by metres of ash. A market and a few shops still operate at the eastern end of town. Beautiful Simpson Harbour is still the main port, guarded by the grumbling volcanoes.
Areas for trekking include the Bainings Mountains in the Pomio area, where you can walk from Pomio to Navu; and the Wide Bay area, walking between Milim and Sampun or Tokua and Merai.
Rabaul has a hot and humid tropical climate. The air temperature consistently ranges between 22ºC to 32ºC throughout the night and day. The wettest months are from December to April.
Diving is conducted year round. Water temperature is always warm with an average of 29ºC.
|Rapopo Plantation Resort
10 mins from the airport
|Kabaira Beach Hideaway
1 hour from the airport
Within Rabaul Harbour, there are numerous Japanese naval ships that were sunk during WWII. Visibility is between 5 - 15 metres inside the harbour whilst on the North Coast, where there are coral reefs and a few more wreck dives, the visibility is between 15 - 30 metres.
This wreck, named after George Tyers (the first person to dive it), started life as a Japanese marine cable layer and was later converted to a mine layer. The wreck still remains unidentified. The story goes that the skipper ran her aground after being skip bombed or torpedoed on the port side. The bow of the vessel is in 12 metres of water and the stern is at 60 metres. The bridge area is approximately 30 metres. It is littered with sea-fans and black coral at the deeper ends. It is also possible to see cowries, feather stars, nudibranchs, camouflaged fish - scorpion fish, stonefish, pipefish - and the odd pelagic.
This 5,859 ton transporter was built in 1919 in the Kawasaki shipyard, Kobe. She was sunk by U.S. Navy aircraft, on the 27th of December 1942 and lies on her starboard side in 54 metres of water.
A 4,359 ton cargo carrier sunk on 18 April 1943. Truck bodies are still visible.
In addition to great wreck dives, Rabaul has beautiful, pristine coral dive sites which include Tom, Dick & Harry, Hannah’s Hotspot for schooling & pelagic fish; The Lighthouse, East Point and Pigmie Point for macro enthusiasts; and Reimers Wall and Sub Base for wall divers.
These are 3 reefs joined by a submerged 15 metre deep ridge. Each reef is unique – Harry has large plate corals and barrel sponges, and is frequented by large schools of trevally and rainbow runners. Dick, being the middle reef, features a coral and rock field amongst which a diverse range of cryptic critters can be found. A seamount adjacent to the final reef, Tom, is a great place to hover in wait of mackerel and eagle rays passing in the oncoming current.
On the southwest side of Ura Island is a small lighthouse, below which there are huge coral rock bommies standing at least 6-7 metres tall. There are resident double-headed Maori wrasse, coral trout and crayfish, as well as heaps of critters like nudibranchs. There are swim-throughs amongst the bommies and at the bottom there are giant barrel sponges, sea whips, lettuce leaf coral and schools of reef fish, all just in 16-20 metres of water.
This wall has over hangs, short swim-throughs, and canyons spread all the way around the open side of the reef. The drop-off plummets to 50 metres before easing away. Many small schooling fish travel the wall, rainbow runner's and blue fin trevally to name two, but the wall is also covered with smaller cryptic creatures.
This sheer drop off (250 metres plus) located just metres from the shore line, was used in World War II for Japanese submarines to unload and load cargo with a quick escape plan - straight down! This natural sheer wall is the edge of a vast submerged caldera with many soft and small corals growing from the wall, barrel sponges and sea fans and whips decorating the wall. Entry here can get a bit awkward at low tide especially if you don't have your booties but once in, it is like you are falling into the abyss. A must dive.