Dangerous, yet still beautiful and idyllic.
Tavurvur is part of a much larger volcanic complex known as the Rabaul Caldera that sits at the far northeastern tip of New Britain. This caldera is the remnant of several large volcanic explosions, the most recent of which took place 1400 years ago.
The Rabaul caldera is about 8 x 14 kilometers in size. On its southeastern slope, the rim of this caldera has been breached by the Pacific Ocean, flooding the caldera center and creating a natural harbor, protected from the open ocean by the eastern and northern walls of the caldera.
This setup, a protected harbor, is a solid place for economic activity. By the early 1990’s, about 50,000 people lived on the coastline of this harbor, but the volcano had something to say about that.
Calderas don’t die when they erupt. It can take thousands of years for their magma chambers to rebuild, but the magma supply doesn’t shut off after large eruptions. Typically, small volcanoes will begin growing on the edges of the caldera what is known as the resurgent phase of caldera activity. Tavurvur is one of these volcanoes. In 1994 it erupted simultaneously with another cone known as Vulcan on the volcano’s rim, decimating the area. Thankfully, the population was mostly evacuated the night before the eruption as earthquakes gave an early warning, leading to only 5 deaths, but today the population of the area today is a small fraction of what it was before these eruptions.