Rabaul Harbour formed when an ancient volcanic crater partially collapsed thousands of years ago, which allowed the ocean water to collect. The harbour is surrounded by several smaller volcanoes, most of which are dormant or extinct. In September 1994, two of the volcanoes simultaneously erupted covering the town in layers of thick, grey ash. Following the eruptions, the airport and local businesses were relocated to Kokopo some 20 kilometres south-east of Rabaul. At night you can witness the fantastic sunsets and glowing lava of Tavurvur in the distance.
During WWII, the town was captured by the Japanese and became the main base for the Japanese military and naval activities in the South Pacific. War wrecks and relics litter the reefs and land surrounding Rabaul, making this an interesting destination for both divers and war history enthusiasts.
Rabaul is in the East New Britain Province, a 90-minute flight from Port Moresby. It is a region of thatched hut villages surrounded by colourful flowerbeds and tropical fruit and coconut trees. The evergreen rainforest vegetation, rugged mountain ranges, imposing volcanoes and diverse marine resources make it an attractive and adventurous place to visit.
Rabaul has a hot and humid tropical climate. The temperature consistently ranges between 22ºC to 32ºC throughout the night and day.
Wet Season: December to April
Dry Season: May to November
Diving in Rabaul is diverse and offers a massive array of different diving. The area is on the edge of the Coral Triangle, one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Subsequently, it is chock full of varied and flourishing dive sites. There are numerous wrecks, beautiful drop-offs, walls and vibrant reefs all waiting to be explored.
The eruption of the volcanoes in 1994 has meant the area has had much less influence from people than it would have done otherwise, allowing the marine ecosystem to thrive.
You will find a remarkable variety of marine species, from drifting pelagics to tiny little critters.
Average of 29ºC – 3mm wetsuit or rashie
This wreck was once a Japanese marine cable layer which was later converted to a minelayer. The wreck remains unidentified. The story goes that the skipper ran her aground after being skip bombed or torpedoed on the port side. The bow of the vessel is in 12 metres of water, and the stern is at 60 metres. The bridge area is approximately 30 metres. It is littered with sea-fans and black coral at the deeper ends. It is also possible to see cowries, feather stars, nudibranchs, camouflaged fish - scorpionfish, stonefish, pipefish - and the odd pelagic.
The U.S. Navy sank this 5,859-ton transporter in 1942. It was built in 1919 in the Kawasaki shipyard, Kobe. This wreck lies on her starboard side at 54 metres.
A 4,359-ton cargo carrier sunk on the 18th of April 1943. Truck bodies are still visible.
Tom, Dick & Harry
These are three reefs joined by a submerged 15-metre deep ridge. Each one of these reefs are different – Harry has large plate corals and barrel sponges and is frequented by large schools of trevally and rainbow runners. Dick, being the middle reef, features a coral and rock field amongst which a diverse range of enigmatic critters live. The final reef, Tom, has a seamount adjacent to it. It is a great place to hover and watch passing mackerel and eagle rays in the oncoming current.
On the southwest side of Ura Island is a small lighthouse, below which huge coral rock bommies stand at least 6-7 metres tall. There are resident double-headed Maori wrasse, coral trout and crayfish, as well as heaps of critters like nudibranchs. There are swim-throughs among the bommies, and at the bottom, there are giant barrel sponges, sea whips, lettuce leaf coral and schools of reef fish, all just in 16-20 metres of water.
This wall has overhangs, short swim-throughs, and canyons spread around the open side of the reef. It has a 50-meter drop-off. This wall attracts small schooling fish, rainbow runner's and bluefin trevally, and the wall itself is covered with critters.
This drop off is over 250 meters and is the edge of a vast submerged caldera. It is located just metres from the shoreline. The Japanese utilised this natural drop off in WWII as a way to make a quick escape, with the plan being to load their submarines up with cargo and drop to the depths. You will find many soft and small corals, barrel sponges, sea fans and whips decorating the wall. The entry can get a bit awkward at low tide, especially if you don't have your booties, but once in, it is like you are falling into the abyss. A must dive.
Go dolphin watching out by the Duke of York Islands; enjoy snorkelling, beach picnics and exploring WWII relics on Pigeon's Islands or Swallow Island
Sportfishing for blue and black marlin, sailfish and dog-tooth tuna is good in the waters around New Britain and the Duke of York Islands. The Blanche Bay area is suitable for casual line casting.
The beaches near Kokopo are perfect for swimming, and there are excellent beaches at Pila Pila and Ratung villages in Talili Bay north of Rabaul.
Hiking | Volcano Climb
Take a hike up one of the volcanoes! You can walk up almost all of the volcanoes around the island of New Britain (both active and dormant), except Tavurvur which you can do a base walk. Other areas to hike are the Bainings Mountains in the Pomio area, where you can walk from Pomio to Navu; and the Wide Bay area, walking between Milim and Sampun or Tokua and Merai.
Visit the Japanese Barge Tunnels; a network of tunnels and tracks connecting barges and buildings dating back to the war located at Karavia Bay, between Kaluana Point and Vulcan. Some of the 580 km of tunnels built by the Japanese are still open, and aircraft wreckage can be seen beyond the old airport.
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