Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Volcano eruptions and war are part of village's history
A giant volcano pumping plumes of ash high into the air might sound like something to avoid.
But for visitors to Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, the steaming hulk of Mount Tavurvur provides a dramatic backdrop to their exploration of this resilient volcano town and the surrounding region.
The tropical port, more than 100 years old, has been shaken and scarred by devastating volcanic eruptions and war, but keeps rising from the ashes, dusted off and rebuilt by its people who are used to living under the volcano.
Ken Kolias has witnessed two devastating eruptions in his 80 years but still paddles his canoe to Tavurvur to welcome tourists to the hot springs at its base.
"I'm happy to live with the volcano and be by its side because I was born here," he says.
The long-time resident of Matupit Island regularly makes the 20-minute outrigger canoe journey to Rapindik Springs where he collects a small fee from those coming to sightsee or enjoy the waters.
He is happy to sit and talk to visitors in his thatched shade hut on the beach and has many stories to tell of volcanoes, war and how Rabaul has changed over the decades.
As a boy in 1937 he witnessed the massive eruption of Mount Vulcan across the harbour and remembers fleeing from the area with his family to safety. About 500 people died following that eruption.
Five years later, in January 1942, the Japanese invaded to make Rabaul their south-west Pacific base.
Rabaul, on the Gazelle Peninsula at the eastern end of the island of New Britain, is known, fittingly, as volcano town and is built on an old volcanic crater and surrounded by six active and dormant volcanoes.
After the eruption of Tavurvur and Vulcan in September 1994, much of Rabaul and nearby villages were destroyed, though timely evacuations meant only a few lives were lost.
The eruption triggered 10 years of regular raining ash, which stopped early last year only to resume again this January, though vulcanologists say there is no immediate threat to lives.
Local tourism operators, meanwhile, say a good active volcano displaying plenty of smoke is a great tourist attraction.