Tuesday, 12 July 2016


It's the 8th of July. Day one of our trip to PNG. Weirdly that is the exact date 136 years ago on which the Italians boarded the steam barquentine, the "India", in Barcelona to begin their adventure.
    Kokopo, our base on New Britain is a dusty, run down coastal town a 25 minute drive from the  old capital Rabaul. Rabaul sits on an impressive harbour (Simpson's Harbour) with the quietly rumbling Mt Tavurvur close by. All that changed in 1994 when the volcano chose to remind the world of its latent power. Rabaul was wiped out, its houses and its array of impressive colonial buildings, links to its  past. Collaped sunder the weight of volcanic ash.

    Kokopo was the beneficiary of its demise. Overnight it became the new centre of business and government for east New Britain.
    Kokopo, largely lacks charm. As well as having lost its beautiful old colonial buildings through neglect or misfortune or redevelopment, it lacks a harbour and a genuine centre. Rabaul, though generally regarded as a ghost of its previous self by those in Kokopo, retains an impressive main street, a wide boulevard lined with frangapani trees. Its harbour has allowed it to survive as the import/export centre of east New Britain. It's a designed town;  designed by the Germans in the late 19th century as the capital of German New Guinea. Kokopo by contrast has grown around an access road which skirts a foreshore with no shelter. One long street with no plan. Since 1994 there has been money spent upgrading it to the standard of a provincial capital, with a new market, roundabouts and government offices but its never going to be a silk purse, always destined to be the sow's ear.

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