Kokopo, as the "new Rabaul" following the devastation of that fabled town in the 1994 volcano eruptions, is the capital of East New Britain and the hub of the New Guinea Islands.
It is a friendly, peaceful town with a smiling welcome for tourists and little crime. Most people speak English (they also speak the lingua franca, Tok Pisin, and one or more of the many local languages) and are all too ready to help a confused visitor.
While Rabaul town was devastated by the 1994 eruptions and subsequent smaller discharges of gas and ash it refuses to die. It is now about a quarter of the size it once was but it is still East New Britain's (and the Islands') major port and is a business hub. Read my own reaction to the changes when I first returned after decades away.
So many things to do; so much to see!
The area -- the Gazelle Peninsula -- offers visitors so many choices:
- TAVURVUR and VULCAN - the twin currently active volcanoes within the "Rabaul volcano complex". Situated at the harbor mouth, they can be approached by land and sea. Hot springs, steam points, sulphur emissions.
- LOCAL LIFE - walk the streets, see the lively town market and be amazed at the cornucopia offered for sale. This is the wet tropics where growth is rampant! Experience a village visit or tour.
- CULTURE - the songs, music, and dances (singsings) and the fantastic costuming of the people of this area are unique. The Festivals, the National Mask Festival and the Warwagira in July and the Frangipani Festival in September offer special performances.
- WAR HISTORY - Rabaul's deep and secure harbor, a breached caldera, made it the Japanese HQ in the islands. "Fortress Rabaul" was never conquered by the Allies. Tour the remnant fortifications to see why.
- DIVING - the islands and coastal reefs of the area are legendary among divers worldwide.
- FISHING - big game and for the pot; the fish are almost always biting somewhere. Beware of fish leaping out of the sea into the frying pan!
- CAVING - deep and shallow, short and long. Many caves are unexplored; in fact, cave locations are still being mapped.
- TREKKING - climb the volanoes or follow the trails through majestic, many layered jungle.
- FAUNA AND FLORA - on land and in the sea. Fabulous excess in variety and color! Ever been mobbed by butterflies or surrounded by fireflies? Or discovered a new subspecies of orchid? Come to us to do it.
How safe are the streets?
The streets are so safe in Kokopo and Rabaul that store keepers can sell right off the verandah onto the street with only minimal staff supervision as the Talina store demonstrates in this picture. Street criminals risk quick and summary justice at the hands of the public. As a tourist, you are very unlikely to encounter difficulties; your problem is likely to be the reverse -- being swamped by smiling welcomes, hellos, and offers of assistance from total strangers.