Day #12 New Guinea Adventure

Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

Woops almost missed the sunrise again but I managed to get my gear set up to capture what was one of the best we’ve seen so far.
Sunrise over the Bismark Sea

Today we finish the last leg of our backtrack East with Rabaul as our final destination later in the day. For now, we are heading toward a small island off the coast of New Britain called Little Pigeon Island.
Map of the region showing our headingGoogle map link

To get to the island we steam pass Atalikiun Bay and I can see the steam rising from Tavurvur volcano high into the early morning sky.
Steaming Tavurvur volcano

It’s an early start and by 08:00 Captain Frank has anchored Orion off Little Pigeon Island and we are ready to disembark for some swimming and snorkelling.

Little Pigeon Island is only about an hour from Rabaul and we can see the peaks of the volcanoes in the distance.

Map showing the postion of Little Pigeon Island relative to Rabaul

It’s another beautiful morning and we can’t wait to hit the water. There’s a very strategically placed fallen tree trunk right on the water’s edge that makes it a great spot to sit and get your gear on.
Bruce and Diane practice breathing through their snorkels

By this time I’m in the water patiently waiting for Kelly when Bruce whips out his waterproof camera and takes this shot of me.
Hanging out waiting for Kelly

I didn’t have long to wait and in no time we were at the reef watching the parade of fish swim by.
Some of the fish at Little Pigeon

Swimming away from the island there was a lovely drop-off into deep blue water with this very large rock outcrop just before the drop-off.

Reef Drop-off

After snorkelling we took a walked around the island, which didn’t take more that 15 minutes and by 10:00 we were on the last zodiac back to Orion.

Back on board we headed up to deck 6 to wash our gear and have a quick plunge in the Jacuzzi before we had to get ready for Nick’s next lecture which was definitely one we didn’t want to miss.

At 11:00 am we were in the lecture theatre with a fresh coffee ready to hear all about Adobe Lightroom and how Nick uses it to prepare and process his images. I’d known about Lightroom for a number of years now but to see it used like Nick used it was a real eye opener and it’s definitely going to be on our “must buy” list when we get back to Sydney.

Around about 12:30 Orion berthed alongside the Rabaul wharf and we got our first view from Rabaul, across the caldera toward Mount Tavuvera.
A Hipstermatic shot by Kelly of the view to Mount Tavuvera

There are a couple of different options posted for today but Kelly and I have booked ourselves into the Volcano Tour. By 13:30 those going to the volcano are on the wharf ready to hop aboard a motley collection of vans.
Most of Rabaul, the capital of East New Britain at the time, was destroyed in 1994 by falling ash of a volcanic eruption. During the eruption, ash was sent thousands of metres into the air and the subsequent rain of ash caused 80% of the buildings in Rabaul to collapse. After the eruption the capital was moved to Kokopo, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) away. What’s left of Rabaul is still under constant threat from volcanic eruption.

We head out of the dock area and turn East on the Malaguna Road toward the area of Rabaul devastated by the eruption. Within minutes there are only the scattered remains of buildings and the road is flanked by high walls of grey ash.

Peter Eastway, who’d been here not long after the eruption, expressed his amazement at how much some of the flora and fauna had recovered. His memory was one of a flat plane of grey ash, but now there are native plants populating the area.
Green plants surviving in the ash

Our drive took us right down to the end of a peninsula directly opposite Mt Tavuvera and after several kilometres we ended up in small village. I couldn’t believe that anyone would be living in the midst of this devastation and so close to an active volcano.

But there they were and as we walked down to the waters edge, through the village, everyone came out to greet us. The young boys all had amazing blond hair and seemed very happy to see us. I’m not quite sure though what this hand signal meant!
Young blond haired boy

Everywhere you could still see stark reminders of the destruction and havoc caused by the eruption. The palm trees have all had their tops sheered off or burnt off by the ash.
Burnt top of a palm tree with the rim of the volcano Rabalanakaia in the background

There were three boats with a crew of driver and guide on each one waiting to take us across the bay. With a bit of help from Mike, we managed to get on board and shove off from the shore.

Mick lending the locals a hand

Once we left the shore we headed across the bay toward the volcano.
Two of the three boats going to the Volcano

Unfortunately on our boat there was limited seating and poor old Peter, I’m not sure how he got the short straw, had to make do with crouching down in the keel of the boat.

Poor old Peter missed out on a seat

As we approached and area called Sulphur Point, south of the volcano itself, the stark reality of the place becomes more evident.

Frondless palm trees line the shore

We arrive at the beach and find ourselves walking on a sea of ash. Surprisingly though there are still some green living things to be found here.
Flowers in the ash

We didn’t see them during our trip, but at the base of the Tuvurvur Volcano the locals hunt for megapode eggs. The megapodes, also known as incubator birds or mound-builders, are stocky, medium-large chicken-like birds with small heads and large feet. The ground is littered with the holes dug by the natives and you need to be careful where you walk as the sides can collapse very easily as one of our party found out.
Megapod Bird holes

Pushing on further inland toward the volcano we came across these deep fissures in the ground that seemed to lead all the way from the volcano to the sea.
Fissures in the ground

The sheer scale of the mountain is very impressive and a bit overwhelming, in the back of your mind is a little voice saying, “this is an active volcano you are standing in front of and it could go off at any time”.
Kelly lost in the landscape

Just before we left I found this yellow rock that seemed to contain quite a bit of sulphur. Thinking back to some of the lectures by Peter and Nick I tried to create something a bit different and placed the rock on a jagged ledge and positioned myself looking up toward the rim of the volcano. The intention being to do some of the image manipulation Peter had shown us on it in Photoshop.
Sulphur rock

We got the call to head back to the boats to take us back to the village and then onto the ship.

When we got back to the ship there was a shuttle bus parked nearby. It was about 16:30 and they were scheduled to stop running at 17:00 so we approached one of them and asked if we could just get a quick tour around the town. The driver was happy to oblige so four of us jumped in and off we went.

Leaving the dock we headed down the main street past a large market area and through town. In fact our quick tour became a bit longer and we ended up at Mt. Tavanabatir the home of the Rabaul Volcanic Observatory. The observatory is perched high on the mountain above the town and provides a great overlook of Rabaul and Simpson Harbour.
View of Rabaul and caldera from the Observatory

Unfortunately this evening is the last of this leg of our tour and we will be saying farewell to all those great people we have shared this wonderful experience with. We have had the best time, learnt so much and enjoyed every minute of it.

Tomorrow morning those not continuing on the next leg, there are eight of us going on, will board the return charter flight from Cairns that is bringing in the next wave of quests.

So to finish off in style we had dinner in the Constellation Lounge with Nick, Gennine, Peter and Michael. It was lots of fun, and we were just a bit drunk at the end of it.

Tomorrow we will say goodbye to them and then shoot a number of 360˚ Panoramas of the cabins before the new guests arrive.

Tony Redhead

93 Maud Street, Unley, SA, 5061, Australia