537. Friday 17th February 2017. We sail into an extinct volcano

Friday 17th February 2017

We cruised all night.

In the morning the ocean was so calm it looked like a huge bowl of oil. Wind was only 3 knots so barely enough to ruffle the surface.

170217-sea
Oily smooth seas.
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The smooth oily water looks like it is just outside the window. In fact this lounge area is on deck 9.
170217-relaxing
In the morning we had some spare time to just sit and read and watch the sea slide by the window.

Onboard we filled our day by participating in organised activities. Graham and I wore each other out playing table tennis – twice.

By 4pm we were approaching the small chain of islands called the Vitu Group. The chain comprises 96 square klms. The main island, Garove is an extinct volcano where in ancient times one side collapsed allowing seawater to fill the crater.

170217-rescue
There is a story of the cross on the rock. It seems a Priest coming to take up a position at the church was shipwrecked some distance from the island. Along with some floating wreckage he drifted on the currents. He prayed for deliverance and offered to erect a cross on the rock at the entrance to the harbour where he eventually landed. As it turns out he was saved and a cross was erected and has been maintained by the church and locals ever since.

Although extinct the volcanic island still has fumarole fields and thermal areas. The Vitu Islands /ˈviːtuː/ are a volcanic group with an area of 37 sq mi (96 km²) located in the Bismarck Sea off New Britain, in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. They are not technically part of the Bismarck Archipelago. Administratively they are part of Papua New Guinea. Formerly called the French Islands, the group is sometimes known as the Witu Islands.

The group was the chief copra centre of Papua New Guinea, although cocoa is now the main crop harvested due to the depressed prices available for copra.170217-trees

Today it is home to a small group of umm err Vituvians. The only outsiders to arrive here is the Pacific Aria 4 times a year and very keen divers who pay big money for exclusive dive trips to what is known as the best dive sites in the world. Several nearby reefs with waves breaking, seemingly in the middle of nowhere offer great diving as well.

170217-entrance
This is the exit/entrance to the extinct volcanic island of Garove in the Vitu group. The islands are a mere pixel in the sea. Enlarge the photo by double clicking. You will see the tiny speck of the Catholic Church on the right hand side.
170217-deck
The foredeck on level 7 was opened to allow passengers to see the entire caldera from one location.
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This young boy also used the flying fox the same day as me.On that day he went first and ran back to have another flight. Today he did the same. He had to carry all his safety harness all the way back to level 10.
170217-climbing1
Passengers could rappel down the face of the superstructure.

Our ship cruised through the 1 Km wide entrance with a depth of 120m below the keel. During WWI this island was part of the German Empire and a warship was located inside the harbour. Lookouts watched for approaching ships which were picked off by the Germans. During WWI this island was the redoubt of the notorious militant German Archbishop Wolffe, and was to the left of the passage outside the entrance to which the Australian Navy laid blockade to the German raider of the same name – Wolf – which lay behind the entrance island to the caldera with her masts dropped to not be in visibility, all guns laid. in hope of luring the Australians in.

A large Roman Catholic church commands a magnificent view across the bay which is about 5 klms from mouth to the far crater wall.

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The Catholic Church at the entrance to Garove Volcano.
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Another tiny canoe shows the immense scale of size of the volcanic caldera.
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Part of the steep caldera wall which is a ring of about 350 degrees with a narrow opening. The coconut trees on the caldera rim are the remnants of a once lucrative copra production. If you enlarge the photo by double clicking twice, you will see a tiny outrigger slightly to the left of the rock fall in the middle of the photo. The size of the outrigger will give an indication of the height of the caldera wall.

(In 1952 a Catholic mission was established on Witu inside the big caldera that forms Johanne Albrecht Harbour. )The ship was spun in a 180 degree turn so all on board were able to view the entire crater and the harbour. Several locals in dugout outrigger canoes (lakatoys) paddled out to have a look at a rare visiting ship.

170217-canoe
This is an unusual dugout outrigger canoe. Generally the Ama (the outrigger) is on the left side of the canoe. It is the same in all cultures. Polynesian, Melanesian, Micronesian etc.. The Ama on this canoe is on the right.

We felt kind of special as only a small number of people could visit such a remote location.

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