Palau, the Kingdom of the Rocky Islands
When you reach Palau from the air, it is like getting inside a postcard. Its beauty is just like a dream.
From the plane, you discover the deep blue see with green spots. The spots are getting bigger when getting closer; they are called the “Rock Islands”. You can only remain breathless when watching the scene.
Far to the southwest of Micronesia (West of the Philippines), the Republic of Belau (the traditional name) consists of an archipelago of 343 islands, spread north to south over 100 miles.
All of the Palau Islands have a dense green forest and if you ever dreamt about sand beaches with crystal water, like in the movies, that is the place to go.
The traditional houses with wonderful carvings make you feel as though you are in another world and another century, sort of in a fantasy world.
Diving there is really unique. You can see just about everything, from blue holes to huge caverns and an immense variety of rare and exotic marine species that are easily accessible in clear water with a visibility exceeding 60 meters/200 feet.
Palau Aggressor II
I had the opportunity to be on a wonderful one week live-aboard ship, the Palau Aggressor II. Once you have been on the dreamlike Galapagos Lammer Law, you can only be skeptic before you get on the Aggressor. However, that boat nicely surprised me. The sleeping rooms were really nice and spacious and so was the lounge. In addition, we were lucky enough to have a large photo equipment table made available to us. The staff and service were wonderful and so was Captain Tanja. Nitrox was also available aboard.
As if this wasn’t enough. I had the chance to spend my diving week together with Jim Church. Jim was famous for his books on Nikonos photography, strobes, and composition but also for all his articles in different diving magazines. We celebrated his 70th birthday during the week but we didn’t know yet it would be his last birthday. Jim passed away at the end of the year 2002 and I really miss him. He was a great man and had a great spirit.
Jim Church on the Palau Aggressor II
Pink anemone fishes in their host anemone
We used to dive four times a day during our diving week. Three day dives and one night dive. We began with visiting some WWII Japanese wrecks like the Chuyo Maru and more. We went on exploring some colorful and coral/fish rich reefs like in Ngedebus Coral Gardens or Mathew’s Wall. There were numerous soft corals, large anemones with clownfishes, nice crocodile fishes, which are even smaller in Palau than in the Red Sea.
Grey reef shark at Palau’s Blue Corner
The second day, we went to the local shark dive spot, the Blue Corner. That spot is known worldwide for the large quantity of sharks roaming the sea. Because of the strong current, we had to attach ourselves to the reef with a “reef hook”. A “reef hook” is a hook attached to a rope which is attached to the diver’s buoyancy compensator. We saw many gray reef sharks, white tips sharks, barracudas, sharks and even some Napoleon wrasses.
Later, we went to the “Blue Holes”. That was an impressive dive. Four large holes into the reef turn it to a giant cave.
The next stop was at the German Channel. It was built in the early 1900’s, when the German administration blasted through the reef to complete the natural channel and allow ships to pass from the southern islands to Koror. The dive spot is popular for its manta cleaning station, where the mantas come to be cleaned by cleaner wrasse. We didn’t get a chance to see mantas during our dive but we saw a friendly cuttlefish.
The third day, we went to the “Western Wall” in the South of Palau, where we could appreciate some wonderful coral walls. Later we went to “New Drop Off”, which is another well-known local shark dive. During the night dive, at “Big Drop Off”, we watched some micro life organisms, like gobies, longnose hawkfishes or tiny nudibranches.
Worm in Palau’s coral reef
Giant seafans in Palau
The fourth day, we came back to the “Blue Corner” for another two dives. There, we celebrated Jim Church 70th birthday underwater. He was really surprised.
The next day, we went to the “Ulong Channel” where we saw giant salad corals as well as giant clams (about one meter wide).
Later we went through the “Siaes Tunnel”, which was full of black corals and sea fans.
Palau’s Jellyfish Lake
The last day, since we had to fly at night, we went only for a single very shallow dive at the “Chandeliers Cave” (about 6 meters deep). That was also an impressive dive. That cave is divided into three chambers and each of the stalactites had a different design. They really looked like chandeliers. The air, which is entering the cave through the ceiling, is quite cool. Out of the cave, we had the opportunity to see some very shy mandarin fishes. But we couldn’t leave Palau without going to snorkel to the famous “Jellyfish Lake”. Millions of years ago, jellyfish were trapped in this lake after a submerged reef rose from the sea, creating a landlocked saltwater lake. In this lake, the jellyfish have adapted to the new conditions by losing their sting.
I really enjoyed my stay in that beautiful country with that wonderful sea. However, there is one thing that did bother me. As a Belgian born and chocolate lover, I HAD to try the local chocolate production, which actually looked very nice. To be short, let’s say that it’s the only thing I wouldn’t advise you to try in Palau. 😉
Important information to organize your travel
Flights to Palau with with Continental Micronesia Airlines from Manila or Guam
Local currency: US Dollar. Take a lot of small change.
Video made on the Palau Aggressor II during that specific diving week by the boat crew
The video shows most of Palau underwater treasures and it includes Jim Church’s 70st (and last) birthday party. Jim passed away in December of the same year.