Our day began with everyone out on deck enjoying grand views of Mt. Tavurvur, which has been angrily spewing black dust and white ash since 1994. Some say that the locals treat Tavurvur like a member of the family, talking quietly to it, shouting at it, encouraging it to go to sleep, and assessing its mood each day.
Arriving in the magnificent caldera harbor by 11AM, we had a fabulous day with a variety of excursions to choose from. Options included the volcano’s hot springs viewing area, Yamamoto’s bunker, the Rabaul Natural History Museum, the observatory, and shopping at local markets and an art shop.
We enjoyed an early dinner back on board the Clipper Odyssey, and then set off as a group to see the Baining Fire Dancers, a rare experience for visitors and a highlight of our visit to Rabaul. Of all the ceremonies and rituals still performed in villages throughout Papua New Guinea, perhaps the most mysterious are the traditions maintained by the Baining people of New Britain. We traveled in small minivans for about an hour and half, passing through small towns with friendly children running along, shouting, and calling out to us. We finally made it to a village that felt like it was in the middle of nowhere and there was a complete absence of light except for a large bonfire.
We watched dozens of athletic dancers in elaborate masks that depict the spirits of the bush. Periodically a dancer would dash through the large bonfire creating a dramatic fire-lit backdrop. We moved and swayed in our seats as the performance reached a feverish pitch of chanting and exuberant dancing. With sensory overload we reluctantly made our weary return to the Clipper Odyssey at around 10:30PM. Back on board, the entertainment continued as Mt. Tavurvur illuminated the sky with a continuous cascade of molten debris, a fitting farewell to an amazing day in Rabaul.