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Rabaul - living with a Volcano

Living in the shadow of restless Volcano - Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

By John Wilson - Professional International Photojournalist

The town of Rabaul was a provincial capital located on the northern end of the Island of New Britain which is part of Papua New Guinea (PNG). New Britain is the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago and was formed mainly from volcanic activity which is still active to this day in Rabaul. The town of Rabaul was destroyed when the neighboring volcano erupted in 1994. The township was moved across the bay to Kokopo but there are still residents eking out an existence, living in shanties in the old town that is regularly blanketed with ash from the restless Tavurvur volcano.

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Local fishermen ply the waters off Rabaul town and the view from the bay with swaying palm trees fringing the beaches is deceptively beautiful. The township itself has an ashen gray palette of color from the falling ash but this is offset a little by the colorful clothing worn by most locals. Some of the landscape leading into Rabaul town reminds me of images I’ve seen of the moon surface with no vegetation and a dominant gray hue. At some locations nearby to the town, boiling water can be found pooling up from the volcanic activity below. If you are lucky enough to catch the volcano erupting you are in for a spectacular show enhanced by the sounds of explosions inside the crater that can be heard all the way across the bay to Kokopo.

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The surrounding environment outside Rabaul is lush and tropical and a beautiful place to explore for intrepid travelers.

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How to get to Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

You get to Rabaul by flying to the PNG capital, Port Moresby which has an international airport serviced by a number of international airlines.

International airlines servicing Port Moresby

  • Air Niugini
  • Qantas
  • Virgin Australia
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Solomon Airlines
  • Air Vanuatu

Air Niugini flys from quite a few destinations in Asia including Singapore, Philippines, Japan, Indonesia (Bali) and also Australia and Islands in the South Pacific.

From Port Moresby you can fly to Kokopo with PNG Air or Travel Air. There are shipping services from Port Moresby but these are slow. There are also international cruise lines that travel to Rabaul.

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Where to stay

There are several accommodation choices at Kokopo to cater for various budgets. Here are a few:

  • Kokopo Beach Bungalow resort
  • Gazelle International Hotel
  • Kokopo Village Resort
  • Queen Emma Lodge
  • Taklam Lodge
  • Vavagil Guest Lodge

Traveling around Rabaul

You can travel around Rabaul by car and walk. It is possible to hire a car and explore inland although the road network becomes dirt roads and tracks once you get away from the main villages. Road transport to western New Britain can only be achieved with excellent local knowledge and a guide is absolutely essential. This is not recommended but possible with the right people.


Rabaul was captured by the Japanese in WW2 and remained under Japanese control until the end of the war.

Things to do in Rabaul

There are several tours available to take in Rabaul town, museum, wartime bunker and tunnels made by POW’s held captive during the war.

There are local markets to visit at Kokopo.

If you do get transport there the villages of Ngatur, Toma, Kabakad and Keravat that can be reached but make sure you speak with a local before heading off to ensure the road conditions and any safety precautions. Travel by day is a good rule throughout PNG generally.


The photos in this blog post were made while I was on assignment in PNG. Read below to see the equipment I carried for this assignment. The logistics of getting gear into remote regions or regions serviced only by air and sea is always a challenge. In warm climates I pack very lightly with clothes. I always need to have back up gear when I'm sent on assignment. The pressures to get the images to document a story and do this by the required deadline is one of the challenges of a working photojournalist as opposed to personal projects. I always have at least 2 camera bodies, a variety of lenses so if something breaks I can still get the job done. On this assignment I was also filming and had an additional Sony video camera which could be backed up with video shot on the Nikon DSLR's if there was a problem with the Sony.

My Kit for this assignment:

Coming soon