Season: Year-round diving
Water Temperature: 28-30°C/82-86°F
Diving: Wrecks, Sharks, Manta Rays, Walls, Coral gardens, Atolls, Caves, Critter diving
Willing to share option on liveaboards
Can be combined with Truk and Yap
Non-diving activities available include Rock Island tours and land tours
East of the Philippines, in the west of the Pacific, over 2,000 islands lie sprinkled across a vast expanse of sparkling azure tropical ocean. Known as Micronesia, this huge territory consists of less than 1% of dry land! Micronesia is now recognized as one of the top dive destinations in the world. The archipelago encompasses more than 3,000,000 square miles of ocean, reaching over 6 miles deep in some parts of the Marianas Trench.
The islands of Micronesia are rich in life, both on land and especially in the surrounding seas. Fertile volcanic soil, warm tropical sunshine and abundant amounts of rain mean that these forest-clad islands are filled with exotic flowers throughout the year. Some of the islands are edged with sandy beaches, others are so densely covered with rainforest that the trees reach the shoreline. Fringing mangrove swamps form nature’s own nurseries where most of the rich diversity of marine creatures start their hazardous lives in comparative safety before moving to the coral reefs or to the very deep waters that surround the islands. With some of the most exciting marine life in the world, it is no wonder that Micronesia’s diving is legendary!
The Republic of Palau (or Belau as it is known to its inhabitants) is the most western island group of Micronesia and is faunistically its richest part. The main town, on the island of Koror, is connected to the largest island, Babeldaob (or Babelthuap), by a bridge, while to the southwest is an archipelago of small islands, including the extraordinarily beautiful, strangely-shaped Rock Islands that emerge from the turquoise blue coral sea. The islands are thought to have been settled as long ago as 1000 BC, probably by people from what is now eastern Indonesia, but as with most places in Micronesia, Palau only really came to the attention of the outside world during World War II, when there were fierce battles for control of the heavily fortified southern islands of Angaur and Peleliu.
The southern part of Palau consists of an elongated atoll containing an archipelago of some 340 islands dotted across 400 square miles of ocean! Known as the ‘Rock Islands’, this maze of jungle-covered, mushroom-shaped outcrops is surrounded by a beautiful fringing reef offering seemingly endless drop-offs, coral gardens, caves, swim-throughs, blue holes, marine lakes and wartime wrecks. Inside the lagoon the glistening ocean hides a white and sandy sea bottom with areas of patch reef. Outside the lagoon is an encircling barrier reef where drop-offs fall vertically to 300 metres or more. Palau was voted number one in 8 out of 10 categories in a diving magazine poll – favourite drift dive, favourite wall dive, favourite photographic site... the list goes on and on! What draws divers to Palau from all over the world are the current-swept, southerly dive sites and the chance to mingle with vast schools of fish, large numbers of patrolling sharks, Manta Rays, turtles, impressive schools of jacks and visiting pelagics. Although Palau has a reputation for strong currents, more often than not the currents are quite gentle and many dives are slow drifts along the reef walls, giving divers and photographers the opportunity to study the vibrantly lively and fascinating scene that is played before them. But if you like excitement, there are several dive sites where, when the tide is running, the dive is a truly wild ride!
For real excitement try Blue Corner, one of the most famous dives in the world! Here a chunk of rock projects into very deep water and fast-moving tidal currents and cool upwellings surge across the reef bringing nutrient-rich water and many, many fish (and often Manta Rays, too)! The dive usually begins with a descent to around 25 metres before moving towards the projecting reef corner. Hook on as near to the corner as possible to be part of the incredible action. The current can blow across your body like a howling gale in the worst English weather, but once secured by a reef hook, divers become ‘invisible’ to the fish. Suddenly the whole reef starts swarming around you. Thousands of Black Snappers and Horse-eye Jacks are hurled around as the current hits the reef (ever seen fish looked shocked?). Schools of Giant Trevally swim backwards and forwards round the reef point and Grey Reef Sharks appear from above, below and behind the divers, ignoring their presence and patrolling the reef. Manta Rays in ‘trains’ of 4 or 5 sometimes pass through this area, and sometimes a Grey Reef Shark pops out and bites a wing, though with one upward surge of its ‘wing’ the shark is thrust several metres into the water column by the mighty manta! At the signal from the divemaster to unhook and drift back from the reef edge there is bound to be a wave of disappointment as one sadly leaves the rush of reef activity behind.
Clothed in colourful soft corals, gorgonians and whip corals, the Big Drop Off is an underwater photographer’s dream. The absolutely vertical wall begins at only about two metres below the surface. An abundance of invertebrates and a multitude of tropical fish display their wonderful shapes and colours against the background of the sheer wall. Schools of fusiliers patrol the reef and turtles, unicornfish and smart grey and yellow Onespot Snappers are always around, whilst Grey Reef Sharks and occasionally Blue Marlin and hammerheads can be seen.
Drop down through one of the four vertical shafts at around 4 metres into Blue Holes. All four shafts join to form into an enormous chasm containing staggeringly clear water. Look up to see the entrance holes above forming a spectacular pattern of intense blue which makes a great subject for those with wide angle lenses. Visit the entrance to the ‘Temple of Doom’ (only 2 metres wide and a metre high) where 3 Japanese divers died after silting up the entrance. There are so many creatures to see inside the cave. Brilliant flashing red Disco Clams flash electric blue lights like an electrical discharge and bubble corals hold Orang-utan Crabs. Once out of the chasm, divers find themselves on the wall that runs towards Blue Corner where patrolling Grey Reef Sharks and the odd White-tip Reef Shark mingle with vast schools of snappers and fusiliers.
Perhaps it is sufficient to say that Jacques Cousteau considered Ngemelis Drop Off to be the best wall dive in the world. The wall drops to over 300 metres and is covered in a multitude of sea fans, soft corals, whip corals, sponges and anemones. Here the reds, sunburst yellows and glorious pinks provide a colourful backdrop for numerous fish and brightly-coloured nudibranchs and other small creatures.
A relatively little known fact about Palau is that possibly 50 ships were sunk in the lagoon during one of the fiercest battles in the Western Pacific during World War II. Warships and supply ships litter the ocean floor like broken and abandoned toys. Out of the turbulent horror of war came a new and peaceful creation. Now-silent guns, twisted metal and other artefacts of war were frozen in time to be re-born as the strata on which corals and sea creatures thrive. Never again will history repeat its awful destruction and the wrecks now belong to the sea. The wreck of the Japanese freighter Teshio Maru lies on its side in 20 metres of water. The hull, which is still fairly intact, can be penetrated safely. There are still bits and pieces to be found here, particularly shards of old crockery.
Facing into the Pacific Ocean, the very beautiful Coral Gardens, famous for its abundance of busy schooling small fish and intricate coral formations, offers a chance to encounter Whale Sharks as well as Manta Rays and huge magnificent tuna.
Close to Koror, the capital of Palau, is Chandelier Cave, which is situated under the island of Ngarol. The entrance is a 3-metres wide hole in the side of the rock island. The spectacularly colourful Mandarinfish is resident here in the reef’s crevices. Once inside the cave the water is absolutely clear. Water which has filtered through the island into the cave system has formed a distinctive halocline layer that divides a crystal-clear freshwater lake from the saline waters of the ocean. Three easily-dived chambers are adorned with massive stalactites and stalagmites. Surface in each chamber and breathe fresh air! Shine your light round the spacious ‘rooms’ with their pink marble walls and ceilings, then descend and follow the light from the blue ‘window’ back to the cave entrance.
Millions of years ago a geological upheaval isolated a section of the marine lagoon in the centre of Mecharchar Island, creating a land-locked lake. A ten minutes trek through the jungle brings divers to Jellyfish Lake, surrounded by lush jungle greenery and mangroves. Trapped in this inland ‘sea’, two species of jellyfish have evolved along their own pathway, lost their stings and become a distinct subspecies compared to those still found in the open lagoon. Clouds of jellyfish move around the lake following the sun’s rays in a kind of ‘jellyfish soup’. Don mask, fins and snorkel, jump into the lake and it will not be long before you encounter the jellyfish. But be careful to swim very slowly as the jellyfish are so delicate that one swift thrust from your fins can smash them to shreds.
Fish 'n' Fins also offer helicopter tours at very reasonable rates! Talk to us about the possibilities.
STOP-OVERS: These are available in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Honolulu or Los Angeles, depending on flight routing.
COMBINATIONS: If you are going all the way to Palau, why not take in Yap and its incredible Manta Rays or Truk and its remarkable wrecks? You will have paid for most of the airfare already! Talk to us about the possibilities.
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