Rabaul is the former provincial capital of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea. It was evacuated and nearly destroyed in 1994 when the nearby volcano Tavurvur erupted. As a tourist destination, Rabaul is popular for scuba diving and for snorkelling sites and also offers a spectacular harbour. Because of its war-time history it attracts many Japanese visitors. This article covers Rabaul and the neighboring town of Kokopo, to which the authorities moved the provincial capital after the eruption.
Rabaul harbor with Tarvurvur volcano in the distance
Rabaul is on the Gazelle Peninsular in the northeast of New Britain island. Most of the indigenous people are Tolais. During the eruption 80% of the buildings in Rabaul collapsed. Although there has been much reconstruction the city always runs the risk of further volcanic activity.
Rabaul (the word means Mangrove in one of the local languages as it was built on a mangrove swamp) was the headquarters of German New Guinea until captured by Commonwealth troops during World War I. The Australian administration was moved to Lae in 1937 after an eruption that caused over 500 deaths. In January 1942, it was heavily bombed on January 23 thousands of Japanese troops were landed. By 1943 there were about 110,000 Japanese troops based in Rabaul and around 2000 local women were forced into prostitution. The Japanese army dug many kilometers of tunnels as shelter from the Allied air forces and many of these can still be seen today.
On 19 September 1994, Tavurvur and Vulcan volcanoes erupted, destroying the nearby airport and covering most of the town with heavy ash. Fortunately the city's inhabitants evacuated before the eruption and only a handful of people were killed. Most of the buildings in the southeastern half of Rabaul collapsed due to the weight of ash.
- Air Niugini has daily flights from the nation's capital, Port Moresby, as well as flights from Lae, Kavieng, Hoskins in West New Britain and other locations in PNG. Rabaul Airport was completely destroyed in the 1994 eruption as it was in direct path of the falling ash from the nearby vents. The airport was later rebuilt at Tokua to the southeast, but this has also occasionally been closed by ashfall from continuing volcanic activity. Despite its new location the airport continues to use the three-letter code RAB.
- Airlines PNG and Travel air also fly to Tokua. Keep in mind that the airport is variously listed as Tokua/Kokopo/Rabaul (IATA code: RAB).
- Coastal shipping. There are several vessels that connect Lae with Rabaul, with intermediate stops. Some of these carry passengers. Star Shipping (ex Rabaul Shipping) charges 300/220 regular /student to Lae. It takes 3-4 days.
- Chebu Shipping is a new company (operating since the end of 2014) with passenger ships going to/from Lae and to Buka/Bougainville. It departs from Lae on Sundays via Kimbe, arriving to Rabaul on Tuesdays. It usually departs from Rabaul to Buka on Tuesdays, reaching Buka on Wednesday. From Buka it does the opposite route arriving to Rabaul on Thursdays and Lae on Saturdays. The prices between Lae and Rabaul are 320 lower deck, 340 upper deck and 480 first class. Prices all the way from Lae to Buka are 420 lower deck, 440 upper deck and 630 first class. First class has a berth and includes meals. Rabaul office contact: +675 982 2700
PMVs run all over Kokopo and Rabaul very regularly. The fare between the two is 3 kina. Most terminate at the market in Kokopo. For local rides within one of the towns the fare is 70 toea. One PMV goes to the airport.
- Bitapaka War Cemetery. Maintained by the Australian War Graves Commission this is the final resting place for servicemen from many countries who died in WWII. There is also a Japanese War Memorial at a former sea-plane base.
- Japanese Tunnels. There are around 700km of tunnels in the hills that surround Rabaul's Simpson Harbour. Accommodation, hospitals and hiding places for barges were built in them. Some of the barges can still be seen in tunnels at Karavia.
- Admiral Yamamoto’s Bunker. The Admiral led the Japanese South Pacific campaign. He was eventually shot down by the Americans after flying out of Rabaul on an inspection tour to the Solomon Islands. You can visit his underground command post.
- Kokopo War and Cultural Museum. Good collection of Japanese vehicles, munitions and other relics.
- OISCA Botanical Garden. Half an hour by good road from Kokopo at Warongoi. Great place for butterflies. 
- Dive. The Rabaul area offers some fantastic diving opportunities. Apart from incredible coral and fish there are numerous sunken Japanese battleships to explore. Dive companies include:
- Kabaira Dive Rabaul. This company is located about one hour from Rabaul and Kokopo. It also has four beach-front apartments.
- Rabaul Dive Adventures. Attached to the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort, in the centre of Kokopo. 
- Rapopo Dive Centre. Attached to the Rapopo Plantation Resort. 
- Climb. In addition to the two active volcanos, Tavurvur and Vulcan, there are four other volcanic hills surrounding Simpson Harbour. Mt. Mother (or Kabiu) is the highest. This is 700 meters and can be climbed early in the morning from Matalau Village. Mt. Tavanabatir provides a home to the Rabaul Volcanic Observatory and offers a beautiful panoramic view of Rabaul Town, as shown in the photo.
- Rabaul Hotel, Rabaul, ☎ (675) 982 1999, . The Rabaul Hotel is situated 45 minutes from the Tokua Airport. Featuring 34 hotel rooms and catering for all budgets, it is within walking distance to historical sites, and is just 20 metres from the bus stop providing direct access to the surrounding attractions. It caters to business travellers or visitors with a special interest in war history, volcanoes, indigenous culture, the islands, diving, fishing, trekking or golf. (-4.206619,152.179635) edit
- Wairiki 4, Rabaul, ☎ (675) 7119 9723, . Wairiki 4 is a village hoemstay in the mountains vlose to Kokopo. It takes about 45 minutes by taxi or 1 hour 20 minutes by PMV to reach this very reasonably priced accomodation. The homestay allows the guests to experience authentic local village live. They offer various exploratory tours at very affordable prices compared to the rest of PNG. Kokopo is easily reachable with frequent PMVs departing and getting to one of the two dive operators usually takes about 1 hour. Call Simon to find out more about this place. 10$. (-4.4169932,152.1871259) edit
- Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort, 1 Kurur Place, Kokopo, ☎ (675) 982 8789 / (675) 982 8902 ([email protected]), . Courtesy bus will meet you at the airport, day and overnight tours available, hire cars, various water activities including diving. edit
- Kokopo Resort Hotel, ☎ (675) 982 9096 ([email protected], fax: (675) 982 9061). Good quality accommodation in the center of Kokopo edit