Walking the forlorn streets of eastern 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. It’s still active; it announced its latent potency with a sizeable eruption in 2014, and although ominously quiet throughout 2015 you can see it steaming gently or occasionally belching huge plumes of smoke into the sky.
Rabaul is not dead, though. Thanks to the deep water (and Kokopo’s shallow water), Rabaul’s port facilities and associated industries will keep the town alive. There’s quite a bit of life still buzzing around the market and nearby streets. East of here, however, Rabaul is still mostly abandoned, bar a couple of hotels that survived the Tavurvur eruption.
It’s definitely worth staying a day or two in Rabaul to soak up the surreal atmosphere and explore the nearby sights.