A fascinating place, Rabaul has packed in a huge amount of history in 150 years, and is a beautiful place as well, with lush bush and a spectacular volcanic backdrop. This is best seen from the Volcano Observatory, with below what remains of the town after the 1994 eruption scattered around the deep water Simpson Harbour.
Rabaul was originally established in the late 1800s as the capital of New Guinea, the northern part of what is now Papua New Guinea. It was taken over by the Australians after Germany’s defeat in WW1, occupied by the Japanese in WW2, and remained the capital of New Britain after independence in 1975. The town was basically wiped out three times, after major eruptions 1937 and 1994, and extensive bombing in WW2. After the 1994 eruptions the bulk of the population moved down the road to Kokopo, but this lacks a deep water harbour so Rabaul continues as the logistics hub for New Britain.
There a plenty of reminders of the Japanese presence, including the remains of one of their planes, and numerous anti-craft and coastal guns.
Due to war, fires and volcano eruptions the Old Nuigini Club is a shadow of it’s former self, but it is packed with history of the town and region. Next door is part of Yamamoto’s Bunker, part of around 2,000km of tunnels the Japanese dug (or more accurately got the locals and prisoners to dug by hand) named after the architect of Pearl Harbour.
There were impressive tunnels at the Japanese Submarine Base, outside which used to be a bridge out to a deep sea cliff which Japanese submarines would ascend, unload supplies, and then return to the safety of depth. There were four tunnels to explore, two pairs joined at the end.
High on the hillside is the Japanese Peace Memorial, slabs of white concrete surrounded by the bush.
Finally some wonderful geothermal sights at the Hot Springs, near boiling water flowing out into the sea, with a backdrop of volcanoes.