Kokopo

Kokopo was a small town until the 1994 volcanic eruptions (and the looting that followed) led to a mass migration of people from Rabaul, and relocation of the regional capital to Kokopo. It lacks the attractive setting of Rabaul but has perhaps even more WW2 history to explore, starting with this extensive series of multilevel tunnels.

 

Inside was space for a hospital, kitchen, sleeping areas, and above a spy tunnel to keep lookout across the bay. They were all dug by hand by prisoners of war and locals for the Japanese, after they invaded in 1942. It’s understandable why the Allies bombed Rabaul and Kokopo from the air and sought their surrender rather than attempt a land assault.

 

Even larger tunnels were dug into the limestone hills to house seven Japanese barges, used for transporting materials around the region. Amazingly most of them are still in the tunnel, in varying degrees of decay.

The Kokopo War Museum was fascinating, filled not just with WW2 remains but information on the original German colony and masks from the dance ceremonies we had seen at the National Mask Festival.

We visited the place where the Australians landed early in WW1 to capture the German radio station. Beautiful blue waters, with the remains of a sunk ship and the Rabaul volcanoes in the distance.

Finally the moving, and immaculately kept, Bitapaka War Cemetery.

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