East New Britain Province
A basic network of coastal roads and two towns make this the most developed province in the New Guinea islands. With the once-beautiful city of Rabaul levelled by the volcanic eruptions of 1994, Kokopo is now the main centre. Between the two, a strip of villages hug the shore of Blanche Bay.
East Coast of New Ireland Province
Outside Kavieng, the plunge into a more traditional world is immediate. Though the east coast feels more ‘developed’ than the west, with the Boluminski Hwy running most of its length, it still retains a rough diamond type of rural edge to make it special.
Being the capital of New Ireland, Kavieng is the only town of any size in the province, but we’re hardly talking Shanghai – the tallest construction is the telecommunication tower, and the busiest shops operate very much on Melanesian time. If you proceed from Kokopo, you’ll find it remarkably low-key and quiet, with few cars in the streets.
Kokopo is an opportunistic town. It has literally risen from ashes. Kokopo started to develop just after Rabaul was flattened by the volcanic eruptions of 1994. While you can feel a palpable melancholy in Rabaul, Kokopo feels more optimistic. The town emanates a sense of confidence, pride and zing. But it lacks Rabaul’s mysterious aura.
Walking the forlorn streets of Rabaul is like stepping into an apocalyptic film. On 19 September 1994 Mt Tavurvur, which looms ominously to the southeast, erupted, spewing huge amounts of ash over Rabaul and the Simpson Harbour and Karavia Bay area. It buried much of this once lovely city in a desert-like landscape of black and brown ash.
West New Britain Province
If you’re reading this, there’s a great chance that you’re a diver heading to Kimbe Bay. Kimbe Bay has become a byword for underwater action, with an amazing array of marine life and sensational reefs brushing the surface. However, there is life above the water as well, with some spectacular volcanoes brooding in the background and a handful of WWII relics.
An ambitious town, Buka used to be a tiny place but it has boomed in the last 15 years, during the war and afterwards, and now has many new buildings and residents. Although tourist sights are as scarce as hen’s teeth, it’s worth spending a day or two soaking up the atmosphere and chatting with the locals.
Very few travellers make it to remote Manus Province, which consists of Manus itself plus a scattering of tiny islands, and it’s no wonder: New Britain and New Ireland boast more in-your-face attractions. Despite a wonderful marine environment, Manus Province is considered less attractive and the infrastructure is not as diverse as in the neighbouring provinces.
Manus & Los Negros Islands
Bad luck for Manus Island: it was a hot spot for keen divers for many years – the marine environment is world-class – but the local dive shop closed down in 2007. Since then, the number of visitors has dropped. Expensive air fares don’t help. If you want to have an idea of what you’ve missed out on, log on to www.divepngmanus.com.