Palau Islands….I’m often asked “what is your favourite country?” The truth is there are many contenders so my reply often depends on what my mood is, sometimes I’ll say “Palau'” and thats usually met with another question “where on earth is that ?”. Well Palau is a group of islands in the Western Pacific, part of the Micronesian, Caroline islands chain. It was formerly a US possession and still has a free association with the USA who are responsible for things such as defence. Palau is served by air from The Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and Guam which has the most frequent air service.
I arrived from Guam very late at night and went straight to bed in my guest house on the most populous island, Koror. The main reason I made my way to Palau was to go to the UNESCO World Heritage site, The Rock Islands National Park. I’d seen some awesome photographs of the islands but one thing intrigued me even more, swimming with non-stinging jellyfish. There is a marine lake within one of the islands, a marine geologist may be able to explain how it was formed, all I know is it’s full of jellyfish. The jellyfish have no predators in this enclosed lake, they have evolved and lost their ability to sting. This I had to see.
There are several tour companies that offer a variety of tours around Palau and its islands; the diving is world class and extremely popular. As my guest house was only across the road from Sam’s Tours, one of the more well known tour companies in Palau I used them. I chose 2 one-day tours, one to visit the Rock islands and the following day a kayak tour. To visit the Rock islands you need to purchase a permit that lasts for 10 days and another if you wish to visit jellyfish lake.
It was an early morning start for the Rock island tour. In perfect weather we set off across the turquoise waters and were sailing in and out of the mushroom shaped coral and limestone islands that jutted sharply out of the water. The shape is such because the base of these islands are being worn by erosion and by a variety of shellfish that graze on algae stuck to the rock and gradually undermine the base. There are many instances where the islands fall over and we were shown some that had suffered this fate.
We were taken to a variety of places in and among the islands, firstly we were taken to a blue lagoon where you could apply white mud from the sea bed for that beauty face pack and body scrub. Following that we generally sailed around the islands and made regular stops for snorkeling, I saw sharks, turtles, and giant clams among a multitude of colourful fish, it was magical.
The day culminated with the visit to the Jellyfish lake. The lake is a small hike away in the middle of the island from where you moor the boat. The lake water was a little murky and to get to see and snorkel with the jellyfish its best to swim into the centre of the lake. Being a strong swimmer does help and if you can’t swim this trip may not be for you. As you swim to the centre the jellyfish are now all around you, they brush you and you can touch them, quite surreal. It was an incredible day, the smiles visible on everyone’s face.
That evening after a couple of sundowners at the tour companies bar, I enjoyed a good meal including a starter of “poke” a spiced raw tuna dish popular in Palau.
The next day started early again and our kayaks were placed on a boat and we were ferried to the first place of interest. The kayaks were launched and after a little practice we were paddling through small channels among heavily vegetated islands and over Japanese military wrecks, boats and airplanes. The Japanese occupied the islands during WWII and we hiked to a few gun battlements where discarded beer bottles with Japanese logos could still be found abandoned.
Snorkelling featured heavily today and my favourite part of the tour was left till the end of the day. With kayaks moored up back on the boat we were invited to try “drift snorkelling”. There was a big channel between some if the islands where the current moved fast. All you needed to do was just lie motionless in the water and the current took you at great speed. The boat was at full throttle to keep up, we were told that there are often Dugongs in the area but today we lucked out. It didn’t matter much it was another amazing day.
That evening I chose to eat at a small restaurant on the waterside near a port area. One table next to mine had a lively group and one American lady came over almost to apologise for the commotion that “The President of Palau and his entourage were making”. Not to worry, I’ve now told everyone at home I had dinner with the President.
The remainder of my time in Palau was spent exploring what was to offer on land. But I must say this is one country where its best viewed from the sea.