TRAVELS WITH NINA

is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.

PNG VOLCANO HIKE

So here I am, frozen halfway up Tavurvur Volcano in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. The Beast had looked so small from the shore. So easy to climb. I’d be up the top in fifteen minutes, I’d told myself. No need to take water, no need to wear sunscreen, pfft!

Alas, half an hour after I’d started trudging through the crumbly ash, slippin’ and slidin’ and doing my best not to think about how dumb I’d been to a) not bring water, b) not wear sunscreen and c) wear silk pants, I’d stopped for a moment. I’d looked down. We were really, really high. Sorry, I was really, really high. Four of our group had chickened out and were standing at the bottom, while the two guys I’d been following had sprinted ahead and disappeared.

We’d pulled up to The Beast’s feet on our little boat after chugging across the bay from Kokopo Beach. I’d immediately decided to push the fact that Tavurvur is active (it had erupted just last year; had in fact wiped the whole of Rabaul out 20 years ago) from my mind. Mainly because one of the guys, who worked for Lonely Planet, had said it was THE most amazing thing to do in the country and that you’d “hate yourself forever if you didn’t do it”. But also because I’d just been chewing betel nut and was feeling kinda buzzed and happy about life.

Anyway so where am I? Ahh yes, frozen. Frozen and clutching onto the ash beneath my palms like it might somehow keep me from tumbling back down the volcano, and doing what I normally do in these kind of situations. Talking to myself.

“If you don’t go up there, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life,” I mutter through clenched teeth.

“It’s very unlikely you’ll die.” (Because at this point I’m convinced I will – from dehydration, from sulphur asphyxiation, from a lava flow. I’m a catastrophiser from way back.)

When my legs still won’t respond, I try being more gentle with myself.

“C’mon, what are the chances it’ll blow today? Two years in a row? As if!”

“Image the photo ops!”

And I’m up.

By the time I reach the top, I’m 99 percent parched. My shoulders are neon with sunburn and I am indeed struggling to breathe from the ash and sulphur fumes filling my lungs. My body’s actually shaking with fear, but I let it pass through me and do what I came here to do. I peer over the edge of the crater and into the mouth of The Beast.

I see that The Beast is angry.

It’s belching smoke from every orifice, and that sound I assumed was the ocean on the other side of the volcano is actually a ripping and a roaring from deep inside its belly.

I only stay for about two minutes. But man, are those two minutes worth it. Not only for the views of the bay, the water a million shades of blue and the craggy volcanic peaks surrounding it covered by lush jungle in unimaginably complex greens.

But also because in conquering The Beast, I feel like I’ve won a small battle with The Beast inside myself.


Later in the week, we were having lunch at the bizarre and delightful time capsule that is the Rabaul Hotel when we passed the owner advising some guests. “On no you can’t climb Tavurvur!”, she yelped, before adding, “Well some people do. But then again, some people are really bloody stupid.”
You said it lady. Don’t try this at home.

4 Comments

  1. Dan
    May 8, 2017

    I remember swimming at Tavurvur in the 80’s with my family nearly every weekend driving down from Rabaul. Back then it was the most beautiful place on earth, crystal clear blue waters, untouched coral reefs and white sandy beaches. The natural beauty of this place was simply breathtaking, I makes me want to cry now seeing what the volcano did to this place as well as Rabaul. At least I have the childhood memories of one of the most amazing places on earth.

    Reply
    • Nina K
      May 10, 2017

      Dan that’s amazing that you got to experience that – I wish I could have seen it back then. I just love that country, constantly dreaming about getting back there. Do you ever go back? Thanks for reading, Nina.

      Reply
  2. Adam
    April 18, 2018

    Hi Nina,
    Thanks for sharing your adventures. I grew up on Manus Island, a few hundred miles west of Rabaul, and our family took a vacation there in 1987. We went scuba diving in several areas, and also visited an area of the coast where gasses were constantly bubbling up into the ocean – I remember the kids swimming there, but the closer they got to the bubbling, the hotter the water was. We had a fantastic time and didn’t have any idea that, a few short years later, Rabaul town as we knew it would be gone. I would love to take my wife and kids back to PNG so they could see the areas where I lived and grew up; I keep searching for economical flights. 🙂 Again, thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Nina K
    May 2, 2018

    Adam that’s so lovely to hear! Sounds like you had a truly magical upbringing, and how great that you managed to see Rabaul before the eruption. Very much hoping you can show your kids very soon! Thanks for the comment and safe and happy travels, Nina

    Reply

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