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Eden in Ashes

Rabaul in Papua New Guinea used to be one of the most beautiful places in the South Pacific:

White beaches to dream away, a bay with warm water in all shades of blue, coral reefs teeming with life, soft swaying coconut pals and above all, an abundance of good quality food. 

Until September 1994: Then, the nearby volcano Tavurvur erupted together with its neighboring volcano and sent its ashes kilometers high up in the air.

The eruption buried the entire paradise- it covered gardens, fields, coconut plantations and coral reefs. The weight of the ashes, combined with acid rain made over three quarter of all roofs collapse. 


More then 20 years later, the people still live in the ruins of their former lives with the hope that one day, Rabaul will return to the paradise it once was.

Regularly, the Tavurvur volcano still erupts and destroys the crops or some houses. Due to rainfall through the gas cloud of the volcano, the water becomes acid and is no good for drinking anymore. The people, especially children, suffer from the constant dust from the ashes. Respiratory sicknesses or skin diseases become a problem.

Since 2001, Ulla travels to Rabaul and documents the daily struggle of survival of the Tolei people. Over the years, it has become a story of hope and persistence. The people make the best of what they have and never lose hope and happiness. 


The story was published amongst others in GEO and VSD. It was shown as an exhibit at Visa pour l’Image in Perpignan and the BBC and ARTE made documentaries about it. The images are available as large format prints and Ulla talks in her Multivision Show “Adventure South Pacific” what she took away from her Tolei friends:

„I did learn what “Heimat- having a home” means and how deeply rooted some people are with the land of their ancestors. But above all, I did learn what it means to enjoy life and how little it takes- not how much…..” Ulla Lohmann