The New Britain Island is the largest island found in the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea found in the Southwestern side of the Pacific Ocean. The island is situated about 88 kilometers east of the Huon Peninsula and is found at the eastern mainland of New Guinea.
The island measures 600 kilometers long and 80 kilometers wide with a crescent-shaped landmass that has a 1,600 kilometer coastline bordered by spectacular reefs. From its slim coastal plains, the island rises with its rugged mountain spine at its center composed of Whiteman, Baining and Nakanai ranges. Several of its peaks exceed 7,000 feet.
There are three locations in the island with volcanic activity. One is in the extreme west region, the other is along the north coast that borders the Open and Kimbe Bays, and the last is found on the island’s northern eastern side of the Gazelle Peninsula. The craters of Mount Tavurvur and the Vulcan Crater constantly present a threat to the town of Rabaul as it formally had the largest settlement on the island. Unfortunately, the 1937 eruption killed nearly 260 people. In 1994, another eruption caused the entire population of Rabaul to be evacuated as the town was buried into volcanic ash. Although damage was repaired, only a handful of the evacuated residents returned to their homes during the 21st Century.
New Britain was first discovered by Jakob Le Maire, a Dutch navigator who believed that the island was part of the landmass that included New Guinea and Ireland. Englishman William Dampier who named the island and Philip Carteret who discovered the St. George’s Channel then disapproved Le Maire’s theory. Named as Neu-Pommern or New Pomerania, the island came under German protection in 1884. Under the mandate of Australians after the First World War, it was taken by the Japanese in 1942 but was reoccupied in 1945 once again. It then followed as part of the U.N. Trust Territory of New Guinea and was eventually administered by Australia for many years. Finally, when Papua New Guinea found its independence in 1975, it became part of the nation of Papua New Guinea.
The most developed and most populated area on the island is the Gazelle Peninsula found on the northeastern part of the island. Copra and cocoa are abundantly produced among the commercial plantations and small plots of the rich coastal plains of Gazelle. These same crops are grown in other areas along the coast to be shipped from small harbors such as Talasa found in the northwest region. This kind of development proved to be a success of local cooperative societies.
Aside from commercial plantation, a variety of crops are grown in the village gardens for the consumption of the locals. At the New Britain Island, a system of shifting cultivation is used that rotates plots used in long intervals. Other resources of the island include gold, copper, iron, timber and coal.
Today, the indigenous people of New Britain have diverse and complex traditional cultures. Tourists with a fascination for such rich conventional cultures coupled with an affluent history should surely visit the New Britain Island of Papua New Guinea.