Palau - Micronesia










   

 

 

 

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Pre amble Cairns Guam Palau The Carolines Resort
Sam's Dive Tours The Diving Photographers Perspective Conclusion

Pre-Amble


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. Top
 

Cairns


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- Palau.      Top
 

Guam

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. Top 
 

Palau


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 water.
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.    

STOP PRESS:
There has been an outbreak of Dengue fever in Palau. Take appropriate precautions. Top
 

The Carolines Resort


Carolines ReceptionKnown 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. Carolines RoomPolished 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. Palau technical 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 diving section.

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.............

UPDATE:

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.   DISAPPOINTED.

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.
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The Diving


There is a variety of dive types in Palau.

The classical dive here is 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 you.
Places 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 smaller stuff, 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.

Blue 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!

Other 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 get lost.

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
 

Photographer’s perspective


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 air gun.

Recharging 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 spectacular.

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. Top
 

Conclusion


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  :-). Top

 


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Page updated  Tuesday, 15 November 2005