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Kokopo

Kokopo, land of legends and volcanoes – the next hot travel destination

 

Not many travellers make it to this remote and remarkable part of the New Guinea islands.  Those who do, absolutely must stay at the marvellous Rapopo Plantation Resort.  It’s built right on the beach, where you can have lobster and the excellent local SP (South Pacific) beer, while you watch a dreamy sunset over the water with the volcanoes in the distance.

 

The food is exceptional and all based on locally sourced ingredients, including basil, lemongrass and other herbs from the garden.  The PNG coffee is aromatic and the resort offers a spa, squash courts, dive shop and a pool with naturally warm water.  The service is so friendly you feel like a member of the family.

 

Your welcome to Kokopo, with garlands, singing and kulau (fresh coconut) will be very different from the welcome given here to the first missionaries in the nineteenth century (learn more about this incredible history of cannibalistic dimensions when you speak with local guides!).

 

Be assured, these days visitors are warmly welcomed.  Indeed it’s not only safe here in Papua New Guinea’s islands but it’s an experience of a lifetime.

 

Along the coast and around the islands, scores of dolphins leap out of the waves and even more spectacular is to swim with them and to look down into the clear blue waters to see scores more swimming below.

 

This is one of the last pristine places in the world, where tropical islands are untouched by development.  The forces of nature, on the other hand, are powerful forces indeed.

 

Across the bay is a range of dramatically beautiful mountains and two of them remain live volcanoes.  A major eruption in 1994 covered the town of Rabaul in ash and minor eruptions continued for a further two decades.  Sometimes, whisps of smoke can still be seen.  What was once a lively town with banks, cinemas and a golf course is now a modern-day Pompeii, a landscape of black volcanic ash, with new vegetation finally growing amongst the ruins of buildings.

 

It’s worth a half day visit from Kokopo to Rabaul to see the ruins and to peek at the volcano from up close.  One of the only buildings to survive, the Rabaul Hotel, serves a fabulous Cantonese banquet and the proprietor entertains visitors with her encyclopaedic knowledge of local history.

 

A hot spring has opened. You can even climb the volcano if you dare.  The peaks of the mountains make this harbour a spectacular setting.  It was also a strategic hub in wartime.

 

Rabaul was a major theatre of war in the twentieth century, first as a German base and later, in the Second World War, as a Japanese base after 20,000 Japanese troops overran the much smaller Australian force in January 1942.  You can still visit General Yamamoto’s bunker, from where he commanded the Japanese Pacific forces after he bombed Pearl Harbour, and the myriad of tunnels (more than five kilometres long) including an underground Japanese war hospital.  More bombs were dropped here by allied forces than on Berlin.

 

The Australian war cemetery is immaculately preserved, featuring the graves of the first Australian casualties in WW1 and many more from WW2, including a battalion of Indian soldiers captured in Singapore and transported here to work as slave labourers.  There are also smaller Japanese and Chinese war cemeteries.

 

Out in the harbour, 54 wrecked Japanese warships lie on the seabed, creating some iconic dive sites. Tavui Point is another, featuring sunken submarines.  And there’s fishing for marlin and godtooth tuna around nearby islands.

 

Because this place is so special, the Papua New Guinea Government wants to build its future tourism industry right here.  The Prime Minister has unveiled a grand plan to make Kokopo an international airport and a hub for visitors to the New Guinea islands, eradicating the need to transit through Port Moresby.  Land has been identified for new, luxury resorts and a master plan is under development to build the infrastructure to support more than 2,000 tourists, a tenfold increase on what the town can currently support.

 

It’s bold and it’s ambitious, and backed by likely infrastructure funding from China, following the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Papua New Guinea in November 2018.

 

Direct flights from Guangzhou or Beijing (not to mention Sydney or Singapore) will certainly allow the transformation of the region.  Tourism is a renewable resource that will arguably benefit more people than Papua New Guinea’s rich mining projects.  With more hotels will come jobs for people operating tours, supplying fresh food and showcasing traditional culture, such as fire dancing and mask festivals.

 

Keeping the right balance will be essential, preserving this unique environment while providing for appropriate tourism development.  Come to see for yourself the opportunity for an iconic sustainable tourism development project at the very beginning, before anyone else has heard of Kokopo.  Because in the future it will be famous.

 

Learning more about Kokopo by visiting PNG Tourism & Promotion Authority’s official information site by clicking here.

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