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travelogue
 PAST ISSUES

INT. TRAVEL ARCHIVE:
677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshuís most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burmaís many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
665: Okayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnamís urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district. Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures, cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawak’s Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos’ ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ it’s summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
Japan's microbrewers
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
403: Santa's lap
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finlandís Lapland
399: Shanghaied
Seeking the past in China's megacity
395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.
391: The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
387: Prague
World heritage site
383: South Africa
Land of hope
381: Hawaii
Pearl Harbor
377: Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
374: China
Suzhou and Hangzhou
370: The Nile
The river mild
367: Tibet
Top of the world
363: Laos
Memo from the Lower Mekong
360: Cuzco, Peru
Lost cities
357: Namibia
Call of the wild
354: Southern India
Mad about Madurai

ISSUES 349-   
ISSUES 299-

Earth, wind and fire

A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.

Mount Tavurvur behind a sea of billowing hot springs

An old Japanese wartime song goes something like this: "Goodbye Rabaul, until we meet again. My eyes fill with tears, as I leave you behind…" During WWII, Allied bombers relentlessly pounded the Japanese occupational forces stationed in Rabaul, a bustling town reduced to ashes in what is today East New Britain Province in Papua New Guinea. Airmen and ground troops were forced to dig trenches into hillsides to avoid the infernal onslaught, and the lack of supplies and provisions caused widespread hunger and disease. And yet, the doomed men amicably adopted this song, suggesting that Rabaul was a magical place that touched their hearts and left an everlasting imprint.

In 1994, Rabaul, by then restored to a lively town where business boomed and communities from all over Australasia gathered, was beaten to a pulp once again, this time at the hands of Mother Nature. Mounts Tavurvur and Vulcan, volcanoes rising on either side of Simpson Harbour on which Rabaul lies, erupted simultaneously, flattening much of the town with several inches of volcanic ash and pumice.

 

Into the fire
After almost a decade, Mount Tavurvur still rumbles every now and then, sending a tall plume of grey smoke into the atmosphere, which falls onto the remains of Rabaul in a fine mist of dust. The day I arrived at the Hamamas Hotel, one of only three hotels still operating in the devastated part of town, the building appeared to be the only standing concrete structure in sight, sitting forlornly on a dusty, darkened road that looked like an evacuated war zone.

Anti-aircraft guns

But most seasoned tourists would agree that the initial shock quickly subsides-when the sky turns ablaze at sunset, casting a warm glow over the shimmering moon-shaped bay and the volcanoes turn into dark, imposing shadows, a peaceful silence blankets the deserted streets where a small group of locals and expatriates mingle, taking turns at visiting each bar, club or residence to enjoy a hearty meal, Aussie Rules football on television and rounds of South Pacific "PNG-made" lager.

"Come and visit my factory," offered Joe Logo, mill operations manager at the huge coconut oil plant across town, as we sat sipping beer in the Hamamas bar littered with wartime artifacts like rusty bombs, bullets and machine guns. I recalled being driven past the mill on the way in, and smelling the distinct, sweet aroma of crushed coconuts. Logo explained that his mill was one of the world's largest producers of coconut oil, processed to make shampoo, cosmetics and canned food in faraway countries. And while I penciled his offer into my diary as a good opportunity to get to know the friendly folks of East New Britain, I was down for rafting in the Papua New Guinean jungle the next day courtesy of Bruce, the Queensland-born owner of the hotel and an avid outdoorsman who'd been credited with a crocodile kill in the harbor.

After an arduous hour-long ride in a 4x4 not long after sunrise, we finally reached the launch site-a rocky enclave where we pumped the raft and prepared to ride along the Warangoi River. Graciously, the currents were slow enough for even novices to enjoy paddling and occasionally

Wartime tunnels face the remains of the submarine base

tipping over into the cool stream, as well as stunning views of the embankments where naked children waved feverishly, screaming unintelligible greetings in Pidgin as their mothers laundered. Working our way downstream where a riverside barbecue awaited us, we pummeled the water with our oars, occasionally letting the current do the work as we watched indigo-feathered birds flying in the treetops.

 

Dive in
Water-sport enthusiasts consider Papua New Guinea a gold mine, because aside from the splendid rivers and pristine beaches that abound in this country located several degrees south of the equator, its diving offers some of the most diverse and rewarding experiences on the planet. Rabaul, now for years blanketed by volcanic ash, is no exception. While Simpson Harbour's corals all perished during the last big eruptions, new ones have begun to sprout, and a fleet of submerged WWII relics keeps wreck divers sufficiently entertained.

The boat operated by Rabaul's only diving service, Volcano Town Diving, was a small fiberglass craft with outboard engines that whizzed us out to the open sea through the cool morning mist. After a brief and enjoyable detour during which our rambunctious Kiwi captain Gerry sailed into a school of feeding, flying tuna in the hope of reeling in our lunches, we laid anchor off the Pidgeon Islands, twin deserted islets off Simpson Harbour where divers commonly encounter everything from 5-meter-long bronze whaler sharks to the tiniest coral-reef dwellers. Our undersea excursion through crystal-clear water brought us face to face with thousands of tropical fish of all sizes and shapes, some of which lived only in these waters. Later, a pod of dolphins surfaced near the beach as we fired up a barbecue.

We sailed back before dusk, passing outbound tankers and ferries, and hugging the coastline where endless rows of palm trees sprouted, above which a giant Mount Tavurvur peered down menacingly. Records show that the volcano had been active in the 1940s just as it is today, and it may have been the transient existence of Rabaul's hills, beaches and seas that led Japanese soldiers to bond with this foreign land.

Past and present
The Japanese occupation that began in January 1942 has also enriched Rabaul with historical sites that can take days for military enthusiasts to explore. A collapsed amphibious crane and kilometer-long tunnels used for Japanese hospitals, storages and living quarters can be found on the road to Kokopo, the region's new hub. Closer to town, war memorials, a submarine base, long-range guns, skeletons of grounded aircraft and the restored remains of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's bunker provide a glimpse into the past of one of the Japanese Imperial Forces' most prominent outposts during the Pacific conflict.

Some of the elderly locals remember the Japanese and the tunes they used to sing. Some even remember a few Japanese phrases they have had the chance to practice on more recent visitors. One such man is George, who at 69 still has the legs to carry him to the busy marketplace every now and then, and still enjoys an occasional warm beer in his vast garden where there are dogs, roosters, piglets, and an anti-aircraft gun emplacement. George is like most villagers in that his gums are covered with red betel nut extract, and he speaks freely and affably with a twinkle in his eye. It's people like him, and the precarious paradise they call home, that linger in the soul of the foreigner leaving Rabaul behind.

 

Getting there
Air Niugini flies to Port Moresby from Narita on Saturdays, and an extensive domestic service links Port Moresby with provincial cities and towns on a regular basis. For details, see www.airniugini.com.pg.

Where to stay
The Hamamas Hotel (Tel: 675-982-1999. Info: hamamas@global.net.pg or www.onthenet.com.au/~hamamas/) offers free airport pick-ups, a range of rooms from budget to deluxe, a reputable Chinese restaurant and a bar, and is strategically located for diving as well as land excursions.

More information
To enter Papua New Guinea, tourists require a visa, which can be obtained from the embassy in Tokyo for ¥2,000 prior to departure. A currency exchange booth is located in the arrivals lobby of Port Moresby's airport. Tourists should also be aware that malaria is a threat in some parts of the country, and take appropriate measures. Volcano Town Diving (Rapopo Plantation Resort, PO Box 489, Rabaul. Tel: 675-982-9944. Info: geriatricgerry@hotmail.com) offers daily diving trips in the care of English-speaking staff. Destination requests can be accommodated depending on weather conditions and the number of divers.

Photocredit: Carlo Niederberger

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