Kokopo, East New Britain Province
A basic network of coastal roads and two towns make this the most developed province in the New Guinea islands. With the once-beautiful city of Rabaul levelled by the volcanic eruptions of 1994, Kokopo is now the main centre. Between the two, a strip of villages hug the shore of Blanche Bay. Behind them, beyond the copra plantations and the occasional town, the Baining Mountains give way to a green expanse of bush and volcanic peaks.
Kimbe, West New Britain Province
If you’re reading this, there’s a great chance that you’re a diver heading to Kimbe Bay. Kimbe Bay has become a byword for underwater action, with an amazing array of marine life and sensational reefs brushing the surface. However, there is life above the water as well, with some spectacular volcanoes brooding in the background and a handful of WWII relics. WNB has the country’s greatest proliferation of volcanoes – five active and 16 dormant – and you can literally smell the sulphur in the air. It’s also PNG’s highest timber and palm-oil exporter with consequent tension between the province’s villagers and settlers.
Kavieng, New Ireland Province
Few other places in PNG can boast such an interesting and accessible pick ‘n’ mix of nature, culture and landscapes. Sure, New Ireland doesn’t offer the thrill of puffing volcanoes (in this respect, New Britain steals the show), but it boasts broad white-sand beaches and rivers of clear water tumbling down from the thickly forested central Schleinitz Range and a clutch of secluded islands off the ‘mainland’.
Buka, Autonomous Region of Bougainville
Once at the centre of PNG’s worst regional armed conflict, Bougainville has put aside its troubled past and is slowly recovering. Green, rugged and little developed, this large volcanic island has a dramatic setting, with thick forests, towering volcanoes, tumbling rivers, azure lagoons, plunging waterfalls, giant caves and impenetrable valleys that slither into the mountains. For now, visitors can have the island pretty much to themselves. There’s huge potential for small-scale tourism, but little in the way of organised activities; it’s DIY travel.