Photo Log of the March 11, 2008, Visit to Rabaul, PNG, by the M/S Statendam
Google Earth Image with GPS Track from Guadalcanal to Rabaul  (turquoise)
The next port after Honiara was Rabaul, Papua New Guinea (PNG).  En route the ship sailed in the "Slot", the route between islands used by the Japanese "Tokyo Express" to supply their forces on various islands from Rabaul.
Rabaul is located on a large circular bay, which is an old caldera. It was a German colony circa 1880-1918. After WW1 the League of Nations assigned it to Australian mandate.

Approaching Rabaul, Looking NW
Taken at 6:30 AM.  There are two volcanoes near Rabaul.  One was erupting lots of steam, as seen in this view from the ship.


Approaching Rabaul, Looking ENE


Nearing the Dock at Rabaul
In early 1941 about 1000 Australian troops and a half dozen planes were stationed here to defend against possible Japanese attack. After Pearl Harbor, Japan sent 5000 troops plus overwhelming navy and air forces to take Rabaul, which they did handily. The Australians officially surrendered but some escaped into the jungles. Many prisoners, including nurses wearing red cross bands, were executed and some were tied to trees and used for bayonet practice.
The Japanese built Rabaul into a major land/sea/air base. They brought in primarily Indian POWs from Singapore and forced them to build an elaborate (and impressive) network of tunnels, some of which were defensive fortifications and others were bomb proof shelters and storage places.
Rabaul Dock
 A volcanic eruption in 1994 buried most of Rabaul with thick ash, which rains turned into “cement”.  The town was abandoned and most of the residents, the airport, and the provincial government offices moved to Kokopo, some 20 miles SE.  A few people have resettled parts of the town.

Our docking was delayed an hour waiting for a freighter to leave the only dock in port.


Native Dancers

Native dancers performed on the dock.   They had drums, but no instruments. There bodies were not painted as the Guadalcanal dancers were.

Rabaul Tour Vans
I took a 4 hour tour which began at 9:00 AM. The tours were in un-air conditioned 10 pax Toyota vans, which normally were the area’s public transit buses. It was hot and sticky. About half of the main road was dirt (it had been paved sometime in the past, but has deteriorated) so there was lots of dust coming in the open windows. The guide’s name was Sammy (waving by the 2nd van) and the driver was Michael. Sammy was very good and fluent in English, which is the official language here though there are many native languages and pidgin is widely spoken. He said folks here are very interested in the US elections, and he predicts Clinton will win. They follow the campaign on CNN. PNG has a parliamentary system, based on the British model.

Japanese Barge Tunnel
 Our first stop on the tour was a former Japanese barge tunnel, which held up to 8 of the armored self propelled barges used to supply their forces in the Solomon's. There were rails in the cave and into the ocean which were used to launch the barges. Very clever!

Our next stop was at the Kokopo Cultural and War Museum. Many WW2 items and wrecks of planes taken from the bay.

Japanese Fighter
Japanese Equipment

Except for airplane remnants, most of the equipment displayed at the Museum was Japanese, as the Allies did not have ground operations here (excepting early 1942).

Japanese Long Lance Torpedo
This torpedo completely outclassed American torpedoes, especially early in the war, and was used with great success in night naval battles around Guadalcanal.
Shopping Area
We saw open air farmers type markets as well as conventional stores. Many of the latter are owned by Chinese, similar to Guadalcanal.

As we drove along the road most of the many people along the roadside waved and yelled in a friendly manner.

Local Boy
 Here, as in Guadalcanal, the native population is Melanesian and many of the children have blondish hair.
Some things about the Rabaul area: The main food is bananas. Coconuts are a principle crop, primarily for their oil. We saw many compact pickups loaded with coconuts waiting in line to unload at the coconut oil factory. Balsa trees are grown for the wood. Mangoes and papayas are grown. Rabaul has wet and dry seasons, the months similar to California but the amounts are much higher.
Bitapka War Cemetery 
We visited the (Australian) Bitapka War Cemetery where victims of the Japanese atrocities and war dead are buried. It is a beautiful well maintained place. Spoke with the PNG caretaker, who was justifiably proud of his work. Also talked with him and Sammy about many of the bronze plaques, which are in English and Pidgin. Learned that pidgin here is a mixture of German, English, and native tongues.  (The bottom half of the sign is Pidgin.)


Sammy At the Cemetery
Ash Eruption from the Observatory
Our last stop was the Volcanology Observatory, which is on a hill near the ship. On the way there the volcano eruption changed from steam to ash, which “rained down” everywhere. We cut the visit short and returned to the ship (lower right).

The Captain closed all outside areas because of the health hazard of breathing it, the hazard of slipping and falling on it, and the fact they didn’t want it tracked into the ship. He also cancelled all shore leaves for the crew. He said the locals told him this was the heaviest ash eruption in a long time.

From the Ship Ready to Depart
Taken thru a window at 5:00 PM as the ship cast off to sail to Yap.

The ship's crew worked hard overnight to remove the ash deposits.  They did a good job.