I travel a lot for business, but of all the places I’ve been to, I must admit the New Guinea Islands (NGI) hold a soft spot for me. Tropical sunshine, warm crystal clear waters, superb fishing, lush tropical vegetation, white sandy beaches, azure blue waters, great surfing and the friendliest people are just some of the reasons why a visit to Papua New Guinea’s NGI region is a must for any bucket list. There is also so much history in the region, relics of the two world wars and what I just discovered – amazing tales of the effects of the volcanoes on the locals living around them. In this post, I write about my most recent visit to Rabaul where i had the opportunity to visit a world war two Japanese tunnel.
Rabaul was a Japanese stronghold during the Second World War and provided an excellent launch base for the Japanese to capture Port Moresby in their quest to invade Australia. Rabaul itself sits on the rim of an extinct volcano, much of what was once the caldera now lies under the waters of the Simpsons harbor. This geological feature provides a unique bathymetry of the harbor where the seafloor drops from a few centimeters to depths of 80 m or more in less than 3 m from shore, providing an excellent cover for submarines ferrying cargo to the soldiers on the ground.
The earth around Rabaul is almost entirely volcanic ash deposited from numeric volcanic events in the area going back to probably the birth of the New Britain Island itself, so naturally, digging a tunnel here was relatively easy. These tunnels have three common features, an opening for storing cargo unloaded from the submarines (sometimes these also serve as parking areas for submarines that needed to be taken out of the water), next is a linking passage usually at the end of the tunnel linking other chambers and my finally my personal favorite, a gun-hold above the tunnel entrance that serves as a lookout. In most instances, these tunnels were built on the bases of steep slopes only accessible from the sea which gave the gunner leverage over anyone/thing approaching from the sea.
I had the opportunity to stop by one of the tunnels on the side of the road between Rabaul and Kokopo. All the features were there; these days the Rabaul – Kokopo road runs across the entrance of the tunnel. Across the road is the ‘Blue Lagoon’ where the depth drops steeply into the abyss in less than a meter from shore. Looking back, the gunhole isstill visible more than half a century after the last world war. Standing here, its quite amazing to think that about 60 years ago, I would have possibly been standing in front of a human chain ferrying cargo from a Japanese submarine.
Inside this tunnel is a lot different from what it used to be, remnants of a recent drinking fest and old fire places scattered all over the place are testaments of what this tunnel is used for these days. Its sad though because this is an important piece of PNG’s history might be lost if not properly taken care of.