Exploding Island: New Britain rises from the ashes

Often overlooked for its more glamorous Pacific cousins, Papua New Guinea is finally coming into full bloom. Leading the charge is wild, volcano-strewn New Britain: the adventurer’s playground.

High above the rugged green mountains of Rabaul, the flight attendant’s face is twisted in concern. She pauses, leaning across to peer out the cabin window to my left. “Volcano,” she murmurs. “Scary”. She flashes a nervous smile before heading down the aisle with a tray full of snacks.

The object of her consternation is hard to miss: A large, ink-coloured volcano gushing a steady stream of smoke, so close you could almost reach out and swat it. It’s not the most relaxing sight to see from a cabin portal, so I switch my focus to the tourist brochures I’ve collected instead. These deliver many bold claims about Papau New Guinea’s unblemished scenic wonders, which I take in with some hesitation.

I’m ready to believe this equatorial landmass will be many things: Tropical, remote, a little dangerous, probably run-down and poor. I’m less certain it will blossom into a true hidden delight, and possibly the best kept secret in the South Pacific, but that’s all about to change.

In truth, there have already been a few surprises. For one, access to the country is remarkably easy. It takes just two short flights from Cairns to deliver us to our first destination of Kokopo. The aircraft, far from the terrifying rust-buckets that bounce across other parts of Asia and the Pacific, are nearly new and flown almost entirely by pilots with thick Aussie accents. The most pleasing discovery is that despite the low volume of tourists, New Britain is well set up for travellers.

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