Rabaul Recess – Part One

Living on the Pacific Rim provides some awesome opportunities to feel the earth move. Well, maybe you wouldn’t think it was so awesome, but if you are a nerd like me it’s pretty cool. It’s a very real reminder of the power of God in creation. This whole region is active with tectonic movement and tremors and earthquakes are common. A couple of weeks ago my husband relayed to me what he described as “a very large person stomping down the hallway” at his office. Turns out it was a tremor. Just looking around at the landscape of Papua New Guinea provides plenty of visual evidence of volcanic activity as well.

We took advantage of a long weekend recently in order to experience some of this seismic activity up close, in Rabaul on PNG’s island of East New Britain. The 1 hour and 20 minute flight from Port Moresby is perfect for a weekend getaway. Flights depart on Friday afternoon and arrive in time for dinner and a spectacular sunset – thanks to the volcanic ash. Our accommodations were about 10 minutes from the airport near the town of Kokopo. We stayed at Rapopo Plantation, a place with that perfect, laid back, South Seas feel.

sunset in Rabaul

Sunset in Rabaul-Tavurvur in the distance

Rabaul is a popular destination for divers and snorkelers because of the incredible reefs that surround the island. But it also provides the rare opportunity to experience the Tavurvur cinder cone that is part of the Rabaul mother volcano and the Bismarck Arc. This family of volcanoes sits alongside the harbor in Blanche Bay. Tavurvur is extremely active and has proven to be quite dangerous. It, along with the Vulcan cinder cone, erupted in 1994, causing the evacuation of the town of Rabaul. Thankfully, due to early warning, there was no loss of life. The town has been rebuilt a safer distance away. But since the eruption of 1994, the cinder cone of Tavurvur inside the caldera has continually made it’s presence known. We booked our volcano walk and harbor tour through the full service dive shop on site where we were staying.

Chris, Paul and our banana boat

Chris, Paul and our banana boat

I admit, I am often guilty of suffering from American expectations and this time was no exception. When I saw the small banana boat we would be making our journey in moored along the beach I thought, ‘Really? Where’s the bathroom on that thing? What if I get seasick?’ I suddenly had misgivings about putting my life in the hands of two barefoot local guides in this dinky little boat. But, my desire to see an active volcano overcame my fear so I stepped in sat down and grabbed the edge of my seat. I looked at my husband and asked quietly, “Do you think there are any life jackets on board?” He shrugged…an unusual response for the safety sergeant I know him to be. Paul, our tour guide, must have sensed my anxiety because he stood up suddenly saying, “I now go over safety. There are life jackets in the hold, we have first aid kit, and there are drinks and snacks under your feet.”  I guess he thought that would make me feel better. I tried to ease my anxiety by telling myself that he and Chris, our skipper, had probably plied these waters their entire lives. If anyone had died on their watch I sure didn’t know it and well…ignorance is bliss, right? All the while I was mentally calculating how I was going to get that life jacket out the hold if necessary. Paul and Chris just smiled at me as they gently navigated past the reef and headed out across the open ocean towards the puffing mountain in the distance. My husband seemed unconcerned but I’m a real chicken at heart, and I was praying and hanging on tight.  

He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they pour out smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God while I live.” (Psalm 104:32–33, HCSB)

More to come! Next – the climb!

 

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