Scuba Travel MD Ang was out in Palau last month on the sumptuous Ocean Hunter 3 along with her other half. And what an amazing time they had. Still not sure if Palau should be on your diving wish list? Then check this report out!
“Shoals of sharks, large mantas, fantastic World War II wrecks, caves to explore and a unique lake, all in one week. When it comes to fantastic diving, Palau delivers, on every dive. I have been lucky enough to dive across the world, but to me the Pacific Ocean has always been the most intriguing ocean in the world. Palau is a group of small jungle islands on the edge of this vast ocean, and yet it holds some of it’s most famous dive sites.
It was not until I stood at Heathrow with the boarding pass in my hand that I could believe that I was actually going there. Even though Palau is almost located on the other side of the Planet you can reach this amazing group of islands in just over a day thanks to China Airlines and their fast routes via Europe and Taipei. Park your car in a dark and rainy car park outside Heathrow, and a few movies and some sleep later you can be standing on a beach feeling the Pacific ocean between your toes.
Our first stop in Palau was the Landmark Marina, a modern hotel located next to the Fish’n’Fins dive centre and the departure point of the Ocean Hunter fleet. After looking at the boat from our balcony we decided to start our discovery tour of Palau by visiting the hotel bar (well why not!).
Next morning we went over to Fish’n’Fins to check out the dive shop and to fill in our paperwork. The Fish’n’Fins dive centre is very welcoming with a well-stocked dive shop, a cafe/bar, a marina for their boats and a camera room. After purchasing the obligatory T-shirt and some bits and bobs in the dive shop we went over to the café and where we meet some of what would become our fellow guests for the week. Everybody was very excited about the week and when we eventually embarked on the boat it felt like the beginning of an adventure.
Ocean Hunter III began her life as a research vessel in Australia but was renovated and brought to Palau for a new life as a luxury liveaboard. All areas are very cleverly designed and everything is made with scuba diving in mind. The lower deck is mainly cabins and on the second floor, there is a kitchen, lounge, dining room, camera room and dive deck. The camera room is one of the biggest camera areas I have ever seen on any boat and the perfect home for my SLR for the week in between dives. The second floor holds three more cabins, staff cabins, sun deck (with two Jacuzzis!) and the control room for the Captain. It was clear from the start of the trip that this week was going to be something special.
After a short presentation of the boat and the crew, it was time for the check out dive This was what we had come for! To our delight, the first dive was to be conducted on a World War II wreck! Everybody set up their equipment straight away and it was not many minutes until we sat down in our dive boat heading for the buoy that marks the “Helmet Wreck”.
The Helmet wreck starts at 9.5m and was an active part of the Japanese navy and now it serves as one of many reminders of the war. The ship was mostly loaded with Helmets and Depth charges and many of these are still intake on the ship. Since it’s been on the seafloor for almost 70 years nature has taken over many parts of the wreck you can also find some beautiful marine life on the wreck like staghorn corals, brain corals and lettuce corals. I have never done a checkout dive on a wreck before, and I had not dived many World War II wrecks so this was a fantastic start to what would become a great week.
After the first dive, we headed out to the outer islands to do the reefs and the walls. One of the keys to the fantastic diving in Palau is the current that surrounds the islands, the currents are fast but they are also the bringer of great marine life. Many times we just hooked our reef hooks into the top of a wall and then just enjoyed the shoals of fish, turtles, sharks, mantas and other fantastic creatures that happened to swim by.
When diving in Palau there is always something happening and as a diver this means that you never have a dull moment. Palau offers very diverse diving, more diverse than any other place I have ever been, Walls, channels, wrecks, planes, caves and the most famous of them all, the Jellyfish lake.
Palau’s Dive Sites
The Jellyfish lake
I remember when I was a child and saw pictures on TV from a strange lake on the other side of the planet where it was called “the Jellyfish lake” and little did I know at that time that I one day would have the opportunity to snorkel in it. The lake is on a small island just a few minutes walk from the beach. All you need to do is to go over a small ridge in the jungle and then you are there. I have never taken much notice of Jellyfish before, but seeing this huge amount of jellyfish all in this lake and reading about the evolution that led to them being able to survive really amazed me. And since this is the only place in the world where you can see this I feel really privileged to have snorkelled there and it was a fantastic experience.
Every diver who comes to Palau has to have the blue corner on their wish list. Blue corner is home to some strong currents and it’s this current that attracts the huge amount of marine life that can be seen here. A quick drift to the channel opening then hook on to the reef with reef hooks and just relax and watch the fascinating and impressive activity on display in from of your eyes. Loads of Sharks, Turtles, Tuna, Eagle rays, barracuda and huge schools of fish will keep you captivated. We did many dives on the Blue Corner and the dive sites surrounding it and they where all absolute top class.
In 1944 Palau was an important harbour for the Japanese navy and therefore an important target for the US fighting forces. This resulted in the sinking of quite a few ships here and even if some were salvaged just after the war many are still there without being touched since the day they sunk. The inner waters of Palau are quite shallow and most wrecks lie in 15 to 30 meters and are easy to access for all levels of divers. My two favourites were the Jake sea plane (fun and easy dive on a very photogenic wreck) and the Iro (143.25m long, 14 050 Tons Japanese freight ship standing up right with a maximum depth of 40m)
Just like the wrecks most of the underwater caves are very easy and safe to access for scuba divers. The two on top of my list is the Blue holes and the chandelier cave. I can really recommend all divers to visit both, especially the chandelier cave which is a dive out of the ordinary. with air pockets in the ceiling, this is a safe way to discovers a fantastic cave made of four amazing rooms filled with stalactites and stalagmites located under Rock Island.
Life onboard Ocean Hunter III
The crew onboard the Ocean Hunter III is very helpful and they all help each other out and you can see how much they love what they do and how much pride they take in serving their guests. And I have never been on a boat with such high quality on the food and I have never been on a boat that offers so much food. Apart from Breakfast, Lunch and dinner, there was a good supply of other goodies served between the dives. Imagine yourself coming up after an amazing dive, you saw sharks, turtles and should of fishes, the sun is shining and just when you did not think that life could get any better you get served a freshly and perfectly baked chocolate brownie!
On Ocean Hunter III you are normally offered to do 5 dives a day. And an average day will look something like this:
06:30 – Gourmet coffee/tea and sweet rolls.
07:00 – First-morning dive
08:30 – Full Breakfast
10:00 – Second-morning dive
11:30 – Snacks
11:45 – Third dive
13:00 – Lunch
14:30 – Fourth dive
16:00 – Fruit smoothies and cake
17:00 – Dusk dive
19:00 – Night dive
20:15 – Dinner (three course dinner)
Our flight home did not leave until late in the evening so we decided to take a half day 4×4 off-road trip organised by Fish and Fins. If you plan to do this trip you’ll need to bring some suitable clothing, trust me, you will get very muddy and soaked, but it’s worth it. We visited old Palauan buildings, WW II forts, fantastic viewpoints, muddy roads and a lovely remote jungle waterfall. The tour was guided by a fantastic guide who taught us a lot about the local culture and history. Normally the last day is a bit of a bore just waiting for the flights, not this time, this was an epic day and the perfect way to end an amazing week.
After many of the trips we had, on the way home started to plan where to go next. This time things where different, all we talked about was when can return. There is so much more to see and Palau has many things left that we did not have time to experience.”