Hooked on Palau

Author: Hilary Lee

Hilary Lee recounts adrenaline fuelled diving and first rate encounters with large pelagic life in Palau, Micronesia.

The Rock Islands of Palau must surely be one of the most lovely and also one of the most exciting dive locations in the world. As the boat swings and sachees between these spectacular, vegetation-encrusted limestone ‘mushrooms’ inhabited by herons, terns, doves and pigeons, rainbows arc in the sky and flying fish leap from the clear blue water. But it is under the water where the drama and excitement lies!

Palau is not one island alone, but is an archipelago comprising around 300 islands and it is at the tips of some of these islands where steady, cold upwellings of nutrient-rich water sweep the reefs and with them come the fish: small, medium, large, extra large and blooming enormous! Blue Corner, Pelelieu Corner, Peleliu Express, Ngemelis Wall: dives you read about, dives to dream about, dives to dive!

There has been much debate on the merits of reef hooks, but on certain dive sites in Palau they are essential. There are no two ways about it. For those who have not yet used a reef hook, it is a 5 centimetre metal hook attached to a 2 metre length of strong rope or cord and a snap ring. Secure the snap ring to a metal D ring on your BCD. When you reach the dive site, locate a crevice in the rock or an area of dead coral and hook in. The current will push you back and with a short burst of air into your BCD you will rise above the reefs, hands free (which is great for photographers) and ‘floating’. The lack of fin kicking and moving around means that the fish, and in particular the sharks, see you as part of the reef and move freely along the reef edge, completely ignoring divers.

New Drop-off is northwest of Carp Island in the south of the Palau Archipelago and is one of the dive sites where our reef hooks were essential. On the incoming tide simply hundreds (maybe millions?) of gallons of water tumble against and over the reef and the idea is to drop in the water away from the reef then let the current can take you up to and on to the lip of the reef. Get too shallow and you will whip over the top of the reef without seeing anything. Get too deep and you could hit a downcurrent sending you down the wall. It is essential to keep your eye on the dive guide and stay with him!

I rolled back and immediately felt the current forcing me against the reef wall. But it was too early to ‘let go’ and I had to find the dive guide. With Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkeries’ humming through my brain, I managed to spot the dive guide. Mentally pushing all my strength down into my leges, still humming Ride of the Valkeries and kicking furiously I caught up with him. Aftere what seemed an age but was actually a couple of minutes, the signal went up to head for the reef. I found a great spot on the very edge of the reef lip, next to Mark, my buddy. I hooked in, inflated and took a moment to make sure I was in one piece, fins tightened, guages secured, mask straightened and started to look around. Two huge Dogtooth Tuna passed right infront of my face like buses passing on a main road. Four Grey Reef Sharks appeared from behind passing right by, one on each side of me and two in front. I have been on many shark dives before, but this was the first time I felt that the sharks did not steer clear, but totally ignored me! We watched, mezmarized, as hoards of orange, black and white Pyramid Butterflyfish and huge schools of unicornfish surged around us. It was raining fish! Vast number of fusiliers appeared, tightened their pack, disappeared and re-appeared in front of our very eyes. A swirl of Big-eye Barracudas appeared as if from nowhere. Only the centre of the school was visible, the bottom well below the reef lip and the top swirling up above and beyond my line of vision, obscuring the surface light. Thousands of eyes and silver stripes glinted in the light. Never have I seen so many fish on one dive!

As all divers know, when you are under the water up don’t feel wet (try explaining that to a non-diver!), so when the current surges it is as if one is leaning into the fiercest wind and being blown around. Imagine a handkerchief attached to a washing line by one peg only, being whipped around in a gale. The current was so so strong at times that looking straight into it purged my reg or tried to wrest my mask from my face as I turned sideways. Sand ‘storms’ blew up from the depths carrying with them a host of fish, looking as if they were being thrown and tossed up the reef by some super-strong sea monster. Was it my imagination or did one or two of the parrotfish look shocked as they hit the reef? Colder, fish-filled upwellings hit us time after time.

Lurking behind us all the while was one of the largest, and certainly one of the tamest Napolean Wrasse I have ever met. He buzzed each of our dive team in turn, annoying the photographers by being too close to the cameras. Our dive guide honoured the tradiont of many years standing and produced a hard boiled egg. Our fishy friend zoomed in on the delicassy, grabbed the egg and swallowed it whole. Several sesconds later he spat out the shell fragments to the delight of a school of Redtooth Triggerfish who pounced on them!

Hearing the sound of metal on metal, I realized that our divemasters were signalling to unhook, so I released my hook, joined up with Mark again and we sailed away across the top of the reef. To my amazement the current slackened within a few metres of the reef egdge. Once the water column hits the reef the current disipates as it flows across the shallower reef top so, for all the turmoil going on at the reef lip just metres away, we were able to enjoy watching a beautiful Pink Anemonefish dancing amongst the tentacles of a beautiful pink anemone and also spend several minutes with a shrimp and his fishy friend.

What a dream of a dive! Nowhere has fish life like this, possibly not even Sipadan! I am often asked to suggest destinations with big fish and lots of them. If that is what you are looking for, then you will not be disappointed in the incomprable Palau.

Hilary Lee travelled on Palau Aggressor. Shore-based options are available. Please call us for details.

Website handcrafted by the Accent Design Group.

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: Certificate

Divequest is a division of Birdquest Ltd, which is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY.