A piece of Underwater Paradise
So I finally made it to Palau... First time I heard about Palau was from Rodales Scubadiving Magazine some 14 years ago. It is one of the favorite destinations for this big American magazine, and the pictures pretty much sold themselves. It looked so awesome that I soon put it on top of my list.
Luckily, it was worth the wait ! The diving was amazing and there was plenty to do topside also. We spent the first day in Palau checking out Koror and making arrangements for a dive trip next day. As it happens, Sam's Tours had a trip to Peleliu Island planned for the next day. As it was low season and I really wanted to see Peleliu, we signed up for this trip. The diving at Peleliu is advanced and first day divers are not normally taken out there. The divemaster had to be asked in our case and we would have to wait for confirmation until the next morning. At 7:30 next morning we were called at our hotel and told to be ready for pickup at 7:45. Panic, as we had planned for pickup at 8:30 !!
The trip down to Peleliu Island takes about 75 minutes in a fast boat. Most of the trip takes place inside the protective reef, but even when we ventured outside the water was extremely calm. It was hard to believe we were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The scenery was spectacular. The Rock Islands are a large group of islands pretty much extending until Peleliu in the south. Many of the limestone islands are mushroom shaped and incredibly lush. Cruising in and out of the islands in crystal clear water is an experience you wont forget right away ! On our boat this morning was amongst others two staff from Rodales Scubadiving, which I thought was a peculiar coincidence - for me anyway. The first dive was at Yellow Wall, where we were looking for a nice current to take us along the wall. We dropped down through a small hole/canyon, spotting a moray on the way, and glided out over a beautiful wall. The dropoffs are dramatic in Palau and you just know that it'll pay off to keep an eye on the blue ... something's bound to appear ! I hung back a little (as always, the lazy one) and slowly started to see sharks everywhere. I stopped counting at 13 sightings and that wasn't half of it. All grey reef and white tips. Some baracudas, napoleon wrasse and mackrel. I was on Nitrox, so I could have a nice long dive even if I stayed a little deep (deep being only 25m). Unfortunately we had the current against us the whole dive. It was obvious that the divemaster was hoping for a change in the current juuust around the next corner, but alas ... it never happened.
The surface interval was spent at a small dock on Peleliu. To our surprise we could buy soft ice here. A local guy had loaded a soft ice machine and generator on to his trailer and headed out here to meet us. There was nothing else around for miles - hence our surprise. A couple of fishermen pulled up with their catch of tropical fish - a good chance to go over our fish-id. Second dive was a Peleliu Express, and this time we hit the current just right. It wasn't difficult as we dropped pretty much the same place as for the first dive, and therefore only had to go the opposite direction. Not rocket science... We saw a turtle right away and a spotted stingray soon after. At first I thought it was an eagleray, but the round shape confused me. It had the exact markings of an eagleray though. On this dive we also had over 20 shark sightings. Most were a little off in the distance and some sleeping on the sand below us, but with almost 50m viz we still had a good look at them. Shoals of barracuda and spadefish before my computer told me to start my ascend. What a great first dive-day ! Luckily Paula also enjoyed her day snorkeling, so that she would join me for all my dive trips.
Next day we went to the famous Blue Corner. Here, at a plateau on top of a great dropoff, great masses of water is squeezed on top of the reef, creating a very strong current right at the edge of the dropoff. All kinds of fish gather here, as we were to find out. It didn't take long after the descent before we started seeing the shoaling jacks. But it was at the Corner we would see the real action. After hooking up (a reef hook is used to stay effortlessly stationary) we were soon surrounded by 10 sharks - mostly grey reef but also some white tip. Having both hands free, I had plenty of opportunity to take photos and shoot video. Visibility was great, so the best photos and videos here were taken on this dive. The sharks kept making their rounds, every time a little closer. Also at the Corner were Napoleon fish and shoals of barracuda and jacks. We hung out at the Corner for 15-20 minutes with constant action, and then we let ourselves slip back over the plateau to play with the Napoleons and turtles. For the second dive we went to Turtle Wall. The dive site lived up to its name with 5 or 6 turtle sightings, but again the sharks would outnumber them. I probably saw 10-15, which was the lowest number yet. At one point I saw that the guys in front (as always I hung back a little) were watching something and that this something was coming my way. It turned out to be a spotted eagleray - one of my favorites. It hadn't seen me and was coming straight at me. When it was just below me I took a photo and at that it bolted. In its path it crossed a turtle and then the turtle came across a shark ... Palau is like that ! The dive through I was cruising pretty much by myself with a buddy team 25m behind me and the main group 50m ahead of me. The viz was really good and I was happy to be left alone. At the end of the dive I was stuck on a sandy bottom with nobody around but the garden eels, so I reluctantly ended my dive after 72 great minutes. The trip back to Koror in and out of the islands was once again spectacular.
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Dive day three and our last day with Sam's Tours, was planned for two dives and then a trip to Jellyfish Lake. First dive was Ngerchong outer reef. This dive took over where we left it the day before with some turtles and some sharks. Also a huuuge sea fan. At one point the reef came to a point which was swept by a nice current. Here 3-4 reef sharks hung out - and so did I ! Again the dive masters were happy to let me cruise around at the outskirts of the group and make an "extended safety stop" - it is nice to be around dive masters who know what they are doing and when. Many other times I have been stuck with less experienced dive masters and then ended up doing their job - not here. I really got my moneys worth both in service and in dive quality.
For the surface interval we stopped at Dog Island to relax at the beach before heading back out to Blue Corner. The dive was just as awesome as the day before, with much the same to be seen. The visibility wasn't nearly as good as the day before though.
Then it was time for Jellyfish Lake. It was a bit of a shock to see so many people there. We had to stand in line to cross the jungle to get to the lake and once at the lake, we had to basically swim in line to get out in the lake. Once we got away from the hordes, we started to see the jellyfish. Isolated here in the lake for a long time, they have almost, but not entirely, lost their stinging ability. Still, they don't seem to need it, as the lake is absolutely crowded with jellyfish. Somehow they manage to eat anyway. Aaron had to rescue a chinese woman from drowning (?). People who think they are drowning even though they are wearing a swim vest maybe shouldn't go near the water ....
Back at Sam's, Jordan and I decided to bleed our tanks on a muck dive off the jetty. Jordan was on the look-out for mandarin fish and I was happy to join him. I didn't have a clue what they looked like ! Anyway, we were welcomed by a seasnake as soon as we hit the water. There were plenty of other interesting fish as well, aside from the mandarin fish. At one point the sea snake bumped into Jordans mask and gave him a right fright !! I think I have read somewhere that they sometimes do this because they can see their own reflection in the glass .. or maybe I'm making things up. I don't remember, but Jordan got a good scare either way. We also came across a small something-fish which suffered a severe case of epilepsy - check it out on the video. I still don't know what is was - a juvenile for sure, but of what ?
Friday we went out to Carp Island - a privately owned island close to Blue Corner. I did two dives based from here. First dive was at Big Dropoff (I think). Funny how a dive with a couple of turtles and a few sharks all of a sudden seem ordinary ! But fact is that this dive on the dark side of the island was the least interesting of my dives in Palau. It was also clear that the dive master wasn't quite as "on" as the guides at Sam's. I don't particularly like to trawl for tuna during my surface interval ! Second dive was much better. We went to the manta cleaning station at German Channel. The Germans blew this channel in the reef during their colonization of Palau, in order to bring home the phosphate from the mines on Angaur Island, the island just south of the main protective reef in Palau. Here, in the shallow waters, mantas come to get themselves cleaned up. Big mantas ! The one we saw had a wingspan of 3½-4m, is my guess. It was nice to see that everybody kept their distance and didn't bother the poor manta. Many other places you can see divers getting too close to mantas, who are curious but shy animals. "Our" manta hung around for a few minutes before taking off again. Unfortunately the viz was pretty bad, so my video didn't turn out too good. Anyway, I have made a little film from the dives. I never intended to shoot a film when I was on Palau, so of course I lack many sequences to make an INTERESTING film ! I also might not have hit the nail with the music I have chosen ... Still, watch it if you like.
First the video in poor quality but smallish file size: