Rabaul and Simpson Harbor looking south.
Rabaul and its Simpson Harbor are located inside the caldera (collapsed crater) of a very large volcano. On the rim of the caldera are five cones. As we soon saw, one of these, Tavurvur, is very active.

After dark, we rounded Cape Hanapan, Buka’s northern tip, and sailed through the area where the Battle of Cape St. George was contested, November 1943. We rounded the cape, itself, before dawn—no lights of any kind were visible along the New Ireland coast.

Track chart Cape St. George Cape Gazelle Rabaul Rabaul Rabaul Rabaul Rabaul Rabaul Rabaul Rabaul Rabaul Rabaul Rabaul Rabaul

First light found us in St. George’s Channel with just enough visibility to look back toward the cape along the New Ireland coast just as Rabaul’s volcanos could first be seen in the opposite direction, looming over Cape Gazelle.

It took another three hours to reach Rabaul’s Simpson Harbor. The two largest volcanos filled our view, dwarfing their surroundings. Passing ships seemed tiny in comparison. Not until we neared them, however, could we see a third one, Tavurvur, a source of constant steam. Without warning, a darker cloud exhausted into the sky, followed some seconds later by a low rumble which passengers soon began to refer to as a “belch.” Did you miss it? It’ll happen again in 10–20 minutes!

Simpson Harbor was likewise deceiving. The two “Beehives”—islands formed by volcanic plugs—dwarfed anchored merchant ships. Here in February 1944, US destroyer squadrons attacked on three occasions. The first of these was delivered by the “Scrapperoos” of DesRon 12, which bombarded the harbor and sent torpedo salvoes into the Karavia Bay anchorage to the south.

We disembarked at a wharf on the north side of the harbor and boarded buses to tour the surrounding area. We visited caves, one of which held four World War II-era barges, which had run down to water’s edge on temporary tracks. We saw gun positions and the site of a submarine base.

We then went to a portion of the city covered in several feet of ash during 1994 eruptions of the Tavurvur and Vulcan volcanos. That area is now abandoned.

On the beach at Matupit Harbor, looking across at Tavurvur, we saw boiling water emitting from hot springs, then had a drink at the Rabaul Yacht Club.

The north rim of the caldera provided a grand panorama of the harbor and city, into which we descended to shop at the market before walking back to Clipper Odyssey and taking our departure.