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This trip was a club organised effort with
Aqua-Action divers in Canberra, through Dive Adventures travel agents. As a club, we usually organise 2 or 3 overseas trips a year within the south pacific area (usually). Previous trips have included the Cook Islands, Maldives, Kaviang (PNG), Palau, Solomon Islands,
Vanuatu and Madang
(PNG) as well as countless Australian trips. This trip saw 10 of us heading off to
Micronesia on a protracted series of flights.
To get to Palau from Canberra is an odyssey in itself! At the
time of our departure, the only way was to leave from Cairns on
Continental Airlines; transit in Guam and then leave for Palau from
there! Take into account the trip from Canberra to Cairns (via Brisbane)
and that is almost 2 days flying there and another two days back..Sheesh! The good news is that the newly formed Palau Micronesia
Airlines is about to start flying out of Darwin DIRECT to Palau. Should
shave 30 hours or more off the trip.
Did I mention the fact that Continental's only flight to Guam leaves
just AFTER midnight from Cairns international airport.....
Anyway, we each made our own way to Cairns from Canberra, and met
up at the "Cock & Bull" pub for dinner and a cordial or two.... Then off
to the airport (around 9:30-10pm) for international check in.
Surprisingly, the duty free did open for the flight so all the last
minute shoppers were catered for.
Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Cairns itself, BUT it's a great stepping off point for dive trips
for the Barrier Reef or - in this case-
Not a great deal to say about Guam. Essentially looks like a
generic US city (yep - I know it is NOT a US city..). Hard Rock cafes, McDonalds etc etc. Perhaps the main
give-a-way are all the signs in Japanese. Apparently a popular spot for
first time overseas travellers from Japan given its history.
A spot for transiting and having a shower between flights but I wouldn't
miss it if it wasn't a required stop on our way.
Palau is another world altogether! Still very much a developing
nation, with typical islander people and their (from our perspective)
relaxed attitudes that welcome visitors. Security has been beefed up
over the years (I gather), and at the time we were there, they were
preparing for the national arts festival so a "beautification" program
was running full steam ahead.
As you can see from the map (its coming...) the island is not that far from the
Philippines, and accordingly, there quite a few Philippine nationals
living there as well. English is the lingua fraca although Palaun is still spoken as well.
Time change is trivial ( One hour
behind eastern Australia); the local currency is the American Dollar;
Electricity 110 volts (ONLY) with a US plug configuration; no major health risks; drive on the right
(wrong..) side of the road, and the locals do NOT recommend drinking the
We landed at Koror airport late at night; were met by both Sam's and The
Carolines resort staff. Sam's gave us the plan for the following morning
and Carolines took us to the resort. Flawless.
There has been an outbreak of Dengue fever in Palau. Take appropriate
The Carolines Resort
Known as the little resort on top of the hill, The
Carolines is a seven
bungalow boutique resort that was repeatedly nominated as the best place
to stay by any of the locals we talked to. Their
web site is comprehensive,
but for an insiders view:-
The rooms are very well appointed.
wooden floors and mats with a great finish to the walls. Excellent
air-conditioning as well as ceiling fans. A double and a single bed in
each room. There is a (cable) TV and a VCR for those who must.....
A small bar fridge is provided and well stocked with soft drinks as
well as the local and some imported beer. There are also some white and
red wines provided - but you'd be braver than me... the one chardonnay
that we opened was BROWN (presumably the heat). The rooms are
serviced daily and a 1.25 L sealed bottle of fresh water provided
daily free of charge. They also have the cheapest laundry service of any
hotel/resort that I have ever come across! US$1 per item ( $1.50 if
ironed) or $1 for 3 pair socks or underpants!
The bathrooms are standard with a decent shower and good lighting and
mirrors. A note, however: they do NOT have international shaver plugs -
just the US 110V plugs. You may need an adaptor. In general there are
plenty of power points in the rooms.
The rooms have a balcony that overlooks the ocean (down the hill a fair
way), and where we sat for breakfast.
Each room has a telephone, and you can make international calls but the
operator has to dial those.
Out of room facilities are limited BUT guests have complete access to
the nearby Palau Pacific Resort with its sauna, spa pool etc etc (
Didn't get there myself).
Eating is limited at The Carolines with a
menu available if you book dinner and order before you leave in the
morning. We only had one dinner at the resort and it got mixed reviews
from our group. In general we booked a restaurant in town and the resort
organised transport there and back in the resort bus. Lots of seafood,
Indian curries, oriental food available. We didn't go hungry.
The staff were very pleasant and helpful.
I would go back here if I
return to Palau. Top
Sam's dive tours - The Dive Shop
I suspect we have all seen the
Sam's tours advertisements in the
magazines by now. Well, they are accurate. Our impression was of a well
run, professional organisation. They have upwards of 8-10 boats and run
multiple dives each day. As a group, we got our own boat and the same
dive guide each day. Initially we were offered 2 dives a day, but its a
long way to go for 8 dives! There was no problem re-organising to 3
dives per day. A double boat dive in the morning, and another single in
the afternoon. Night dives available on request.
The tanks were well filled (never less than 230 bar) and never any
suggestion of contaminated air. Nitrox was also available at an extra
cost, which I used for two dives. Both fills at 33% O2. Why only 2
Dives? Well, many of the dives were potentially a little deep for this
mix (my choice). Also, the general dive guides didn't seem too enthusiastic about it.... Having said that,
the system is well set up - you are given an O2 analysers to check your
own tank before you set out; record the details and your MOD. The tanks
are identified by a different colour and the record of the O2% you have
marked on them. There is also a technical diving side to the operation
for those wanting to learn.
divers is located at
Sams Dive Tours
The dive guides are good and seem professional. As always the first dive
is selected to see if your going to kill yourself or them; but once they
are secure with your abilities you have the say on were you are going to
dive from then on. Choice of wreck, drift, muck etc. More of that in the
Other than the diving per se, Sam's is well set up. A decent dive
shop full of equipment and clothing (T Shirt heaven!), decent rental
gear if required. Also the bottom time bar and grill. A great place to
unwind at the end of the day. Beer / mixed drinks. Finger food or full
meals and reasonable prices. Recommended!
I hope to have some more information on the Photo-pro and facilities in
a few weeks - still making up my mind about how much to say.............
O.K. I've seen the "trip video" and CAREFULLY considered what I want to
say. Our group has previously been to Palau and bought EXCELLENT trip
video footage which was shot by Kevin Davidson himself. HOWEVER this
trip video was shot by someone acting as his agent WHILST being the
second dive guide for the group (without our initiating a request for
the video). Lets just say - for a (at best) home quality movie with no
titles; no credits; no soundtrack; no underwater lighting; fogged or
dirty lens; auto exposure ensuring backlit subjects are uniformly black
and unidentifiable; poor auto-focus (fogged lens didn't help there I
guess), no (discernable) post camera editing and no story line or
production - all offered at the (fluctuating) price of US$80 - $180 it's
not great.....We made our thoughts know to KD and suggested (!) it was
not up to scratch AND grossly over priced - but said we would buy ONE
copy for the club at US$100 IF he would put some 20 minutes or so of HIS
stock footage on it. He Agreed. We didn't review it before departure
(last day). Well...the 20 minutes are the shots taken of another group
as THEIR trip video - I guess. Quality is a little better and not fogged
but sheesh.... I'd be embarrassed to send this out as my work.
KD has an excellent reputation BUT this does him no credit. IF you can
get KD HIMSELF to shoot the footage AND agree before hand WHAT is shot
and the cost (per person and per group) then MAYBE you will be happy.
This episode in NO WAY detracted
from our appreciation of Sam's Tours in general.
There is a variety of dive types in Palau.
The classical dive
a drift, and there is plenty of it! Lots of drifts along walls and
drop offs as well as Channel drifts where the tide is moving. Generally
the viz is good on these dives (As you'd expect) and we certainly didn't
have any problems getting back on the boat - they simply followed our
bubbles ( and the conditions made that easy fore them.) Just to be safe,
at the end of the dive the DM would inflate a SMB and hang off it at 5
meters doing his safety stop - plenty of time for the skipper to find
we did drifts: German channel ( also the check out dive); Big drop-off;
New drop-off, Barnum's wall, Ulong Channel.
Plenty of soft corals and PLFs (pretty little fish :-) )as well
some bigger pelagics. Being drifts, less easy to spot some of the
but respectable number of Nudibranchs as well.
Special mention has to be made of Blue Hole and Blue Corner. These are
legendary dives in Palau, and in our groups opinion - worthy of it.
Hole is a straight drop down a shaft on the edge of a reef with
"windows" you can exit from at 20 meters or so, as well as 30 meters.
The viz was excellent and the scene looking back up was simply
spectacular! NOW - you add this to Blue Corner and it is simply a
massive experience. Blue Corner is the edge of a drop off in 20 meters
of water. The Current sweeps across and up the face of the drop off. You
use a reef hook to attach yourself to the edge of the drop off and wait
- flying like a kite in the wind. SCHOOLS of sharks come in to feed in
the current and are accompanied but pretty decent sized Napoleon Wrasse
amongst others. I've seen plenty of sharks, and been at some contrived
shark feeds; but this is all natural and to see schools of 10 - 12
sharks at a time was a real buzz......add in the occasional large turtle
grazing on the coral and then the schools of barracuda on the way "out"
and you can appreciate why we LOVED this dive. It's just about worth the
trip in its own right!
dives - Lots of wrecks for the rust heads. They're in good condition
too. We dove "Helmet wreck" , "Chuyo Maru", "Iro Maru", as well as
snorkelling the wreck of a Japanese Zero fighter in about 3 meters of
water. The Viz on the larger wrecks was NOT that good - around 5 meters
- on the days we were there. There is so much to see that it's very easy
to go into deco, so planning is important. There are heaps of
(portable) artefacts but I am pleased to say they are all left behind
where they belong.
We also dived Chandelier Cave. An easy dive that is quite special.
The entrance is in around 6-8 m of water following which there are 3
interconnected bubble caves. Inside the "bubbles" the limestone
formations are truly beautiful. Once you turn your torch off, the glow
of the entrance is visible from the most distant cave, so its not easy to
Lastly, I must mention Jellyfish lake. A landlocked brackish water
lake with 8 Million "stinger-less" jelly fish. You aren't allowed to
SCUBA in it (The bubbles get trapped in the JF which causes havoc) but
you can snorkel. It is truly weird swimming through masses of
jellyfish....you have to experience it. Top
Well, Palau has it moments. The temperature and humidity could
cause problems, but I was O.K. with loading everything in my
(air-conditioned) room, and didn't have any fogging issues. Generally
wide angle is useful especially for the sharks and pelagics but
macro can be good too - decisions decisions....
I used a 256meg CF
card and shot RAW as is my normal practice. It is not easy getting
decent shots on many of the drifts, and the poor viz on some of the wrecks also makes
strobe shots difficult. Natural light, silhouette types seem to be
the go. Pump up the ISO setting if needed. I tried to get a good idea
what to expect from the DM before the dive and planned ahead. Blue Hole
is a classic shot and worth thinking about before you get in - maybe get
a "model" to follow you with a torch etc. Once you are reef-hooked in
at Blue Corner, the current is much less of an issue. Also worth trying
some amateur video with your camera here.
The boats ARE photo savvy.
They provide a dedicated camera "bucket" and automatically reach for the
camera before helping YOU into the boat. The newer boats also have an
was easy back at base - and I carry a spare battery on the boat just in
case anyway. Each evening I down-loaded onto my X-Drive and performed
the requisite maintenance. It was probably possible to review shots on
the room TV but as we had a lap-top along no one bothered. Don't forget
that there is interesting shots above water too - the rock islands are
Lastly - Jellyfish lake. As I was snorkelling, I went for
natural light shots, or positioned the strobe BELOW the subject to get
some transillumination. An interesting variation - took me a few goes to
stop the strobe from flaring INTO the lens.
Palau was great. I was very pleasantly surprised by the
infrastructure in place to support divers, and the diving - in general -
was not taxing, but payed rewards. It is not a great soft coral
spectacular, but the combination of drift, wreck and pelagics make it
very special. Keep an eye out for Sam's newer innovations in the coming
months - you heard it first here :-).