Bougainville Island

The island was named after Antoine de Bougainville, a French naval officer, and the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the world who, landed here briefly in 1768. He decided not to stay, fearing the local warlike ways.

Today Bougainville suffers from a similar image problem. Of all the PNG Islands it’s perhaps the one most known for conflict. 11 years of civil war have given it a bad name and visitors have not returned after the eventual peace agreement 20 years ago.

Visitors land in Buka, a small island, just north of Bougainville and divided from it by the 300m wide Buka Passage. Buka is practically covered in coconuts , whose production has boomed since the end of the conflict in 2001. The coconuts are mainly used for copra, the dried meat, or kernel, of the coconut. You can even fill up your vehicle with coconut oil fuel, produced locally .It’s a fuel that is made 100% out of local copra and that could entirely replace petrol.

Only minutes by boat from Buka lies the strangely colonial island of Sohano, which was the provincial capital from WW2 to 1960 .. It’s a beautiful place with lawns and gardens, and you can visit the Japanese War Memorial where you can look out over Bougainville.

Buin, 260kms south of Buka. Is famous for its baskets which are said to be some of the best in the South Pacific.

Buin was also a WW2 Japanese army base, and the area has many rusting relics. One of the Japanese plans was to establish a Japanese settlement “Little Tokyo” here that was to replace the existing population.

High in the centre of Bougainville is one of the world’s largest artificial holes – Bougainville Copper’s gigantic open-cut mine at Panguna. A geological expedition discovered copper reserves in Panguna in 1964 and by 1967 the size of the deposit was known to be large enough to justify cutting an access road from Kobuna. Progress from that point was rapid and in 1969 construction of the mining project started,and advance sales of copper were made, the temporary road was upgraded and port facilities were constructed. At the peak period for construction, before the mine started commercial operation in 1972, 10,000 people were employed. Before it was closed by the BRA, 4000 people worked for Bougainville Copper and approximately one in five were foreigners.

Bougainville is also the site of one of the most fascinating i WW2 wrecks in the world. What would General Mac Arthur have felt when he heard the news… it’s not as big as Pearl Harbour, but it must have felt good.

It was here that Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plane went down after it was intercepted by American fighter planes, resulting in his death on 18th April 1943.

Admiral Yamamoto was Minister of the Navy and Commander in Chief of the 1st Japanese Fleet. He is most famous for devising and carrying out the most elaborate ambush conceived during WWII – the attack of Peal Harbour. He had planned an inspection of some airfields and bases. Allied Forces decoded a Japanese message that outlined Yamamoto’s itinerary and they planned to intercept his plane. They succeeded at 8am in the jungle near Aku. The news of the shoot down was suppressed in the US press as to not give away that the Japanese navy code had been broken. The Allied Forces were now well on their way to winning the war in the Pacific.


Destinations – Pacific