If you like ‘big stuff’, Palau is the capital. One of the best places in the world to dive with sharks, mantas and big schools of pelagic fish, including jacks, barracuda, snapper and bumphead parrotfish. Diveplanit Travel’s Deborah Dickson-Smith shares a few reasons to add Palau to your dive bucket list.
Never Been a Better Time to Visit
While Palau’s borders have been open to international visitors for months, getting there has been nigh impossible, with expensive, ever-changing flights, and ghastly 12-hour layovers. But that’s all changed with two exciting new flight routes.
A new fortnightly Australia-Palau connector is an initiative funded by the Australian Government’s Pacific Flight Programme. This Air Niugini flight commenced 13 December and flies from Brisbane directly to Koror, with a short stopover in Port Moresby. Sounds like a good reason to stay two weeks! China Airlines has re-commenced flights to Koror from Sydney, with several flights per week and easy connections via Taipei.
Take an Underwater Flight Along Ulong Channel
For Diveplanit Director Simon Mallender, Ulong Channel is reason enough to dive Palau. “Since my first drift dive round Portland Bill off the South Coast of England over 30 years ago, I’ve never lost that temptation to spread my arms wide, assume the posture of a Spitfire flying at high speed and low altitude over the terrain below. Start the dive reef-hooked on, watching Ulong’s Shark Show, the sharks almost parading past us, until our dive guide calls us over to start flying.
“The Channel has a coarse sandy base with coral of all types lining the shallow sides which are abundant with fish. We fly over lemon sharks, reef sharks, large potato cod, giant clam shells and the flight ends in what can only be described as an entire forest of lettuce coral.”
Discover the Rich Pacific World War Two history Diving Palau’s Wrecks
For author and underwater photographer Nigel Marsh, it’s Palau’s wrecks that are the main attraction.
“Most people think of Palau for sharks, mantas and beautiful corals – which is true, but the wreck diving in Palau is also amazing with many wrecks to dive and most in accessible depths.
“The Iro Maru stands out for me as memorable and fantastic wreck and well worth a few dives. After taking a direct hit to the engine room the Iro now sits in a perfectly upright position in 40m of water with the deck at around 25m. At 143 metres in length there is so much to explore, with large guns on both the bow and stern. If you wish to go deeper into the wreck you can take a swim around the bathroom and cabins and then a slow swim back to the bridge area, which is covered in beautiful corals. The masts are the perfect way to finish your dive with large anemones and clownfish, lionfish and excellent corals in the shallows – perfect for the safety stop.”
Watch the Manta Ballet at German Channel
German Channel would have to be one of Palau’s most-famous dive sites. Underwater photographer Jayne Jenkins explains why, recalling one of her most memorable dives here.
“At German Channel there is excitement from the moment you drop in the water. Manta rays are the highlight at this dive site, so our dive plan was to swim to the two manta ray cleaning stations, but we got distracted by a leopard shark just below the boat and then massive schools of circling jack fish delayed our plan further.
“Arriving at the station we were not disappointed as two mantas cruised by to be cleaned and soon joined by three more. The way they can glide with the slightest of motion or just hover in the current is simply mesmerizing. Having one of these intelligent creatures look into your eyes is an experience never to be forgotten. A few reef sharks joined the mantas nose down for a clean to complete the experience.”
Snorkel in Jellyfish Lake
Palau was Diveplanit Content Director Deb Dickson- Smith’s first big dive adventure, and her favourite Palau adventure is Jellyfish Lake.
“Most people that have heard of Palau have almost certainly heard of Jellyfish Lake, a lake created when water levels surrounding this limestone island changed, trapping two species of jelly fish within. The two types of jellyfish here, the golden and the moon jelly fish, are harmless, having lost their sting in an evolutionary process.
“While these jellyfish are trapped inside the lake, their natural predators are trapped outside. The lake connects to the ocean by cracks in the limestone rocks and although it connects to the ocean, the environment is closed off mbto changing conditions.
“The golden jellyfish follow the sun and move around the lake so always look where the sun is shining. When you first take the plunge you may notice one or two, and gradually they increase in number until before long, you find yourself surrounded by thousands, and it feels like you are snorkeling through a massive lava lamp with the blobs of jelly-like substance floating around. It is an experience not to miss.”
Witness Full Moon & New Moon Spawning Events
Possibly most-exciting Palau diving adventure for Jayne Jenkins is the New Moon bumphead parrotfish spawning event.
“After 45 years of diving, this was one of, if not THE, mostexciting dive I have ever experienced.
“When I was told it was a 5am start I wondered if the effort was going to be worth it. Dropping into clear blue water we swim a few minutes before the bumpheads slowly began to cruise by with numbers increasing by the minute. It was amazing, imagine 1,000 bumphead parrotfish swimming by, and then the excitement when they spawn.
“It is definitely one of the biggest adrenalin rushes being in middle of this circling mass orgy. Bumpheads form groups of up to ten individuals, charging to the surface to release their eggs. The speed they travel is incredible and when the eggs are released, they continue on their journey. The whole experience lasts about an hour.
For Diveplanit’s Deb and Simon, the Full Moon snapper spawning event was a similar adventure, departing before sunrise from a small resort on Peleliu Island and plunging into strong current at Peleliu Point to witness an enormous aggregation of snapper.
“It was the largest group of fish I’ve ever seen, swirling in a mating frenzy, with some opportunistic reef sharks and the odd bull shark circling and grabbing a snapper snack or two!” “And was it worth the early start? A resounding YES.”
If you’d like help planning the perfect Palau itinerary, call the team of experts at Diveplanit Travel. Phone: (AU) 1800 607 913, (NZ) 0800 607 913 or (OS) +61 7 4039 0200 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Dive Planit
Photographs by Jayne Jenkins
This article was originally published in Scuba Diver ANZ #53.