Palau Trip Report
Palau is legendary among divers, often placed near the top of their top ten destinations in the world. Described in brochures as the “Paradise of the Pacific,” I was looking forward to some electrifying diving in the clear, warm waters these islands were so famous for. This was the start of an incredible two-week adventure, but first we had to get there.
Now somewhat famous for hosting Survivor Palau, the country is located half way between the Philippines and Guam in the Western portion of the Caroline Islands (known as Micronesia). Getting to the Republic of Palau isn’t exactly easy, quick or inexpensive. The long flights to Hawaii and then Guam are followed by a pleasant flight to Palau, landing late in the evening. The crew from the Palau Pacific Resort met us at the airport and managed to get all of the passengers loaded in a bus and the loads of dive gear stuffed into vans and headed to the resort.
The Palau Pacific Resort is in a class all by itself as far as hotels go in the lush jungles of this quiet backwater. It is expensive, but we were only staying one day and they spoiled us completely. The service and meals were all excellent, and the snorkeling was simply stunning just off the beach along the reefs of this old WWII seaplane base.
We ran into many of the divers just getting off of the Aggressor at the hotel, and had a chance to compare notes, and find out what the previous week’s likes and dislikes had been. Then, late in the afternoon, the crew from the Palau Aggressor II showed up at the hotel and bused divers and luggage off to this luxury live aboard. We were quickly assigned rooms and given safety briefings, and we all set about putting our dive gear together in anticipation of some great diving in the morning.
The boat is tied up to the dock overnight, but they provide a night watchman to keep an eye on all of the expensive gear sitting out on the dive deck. In the morning, after an excellent breakfast, we headed out to Lion Fish Rock for our check-out dive.
The Aggressor fleet runs a first class operation, and the boat, which was actually built in Friday Harbor, Washington, was very comfortable. Safety was definitely a prime concern. Every diver was issued a cutting device, safety sausage and every buddy team was issued an underwater EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), just in case.
All dives were conducted from a large skiff, which is hydraulically lifted up between dives, so divers get the comfort of the live aboard with the fast mobility of the skiff. As is the case with most live aboard dive boats, you set your gear up once, and they fill your tanks in place between dives. You’ve gotta love the convenience.
In order to complete five dives a day via the skiff, the boat sticks to a pretty tight schedule. Divers are herded into and out of the skiff and admonished for being slow, late or staying in the water for over an hour by being awarded “the chicken.” While this is done in good-natured fun, I would not characterize the pace as relaxed but instead would use the term rushed, which is unfortunate on such an expensive vacation.
The crew was stellar, and the boat performed flawlessly. Ike, the second captain was amazing to dive with, coasting along slowly, pointing out many of the underwater wonders of the Palauan reefs. He kept us well informed about boat movements, weather and schedules and in truth I thought he was one of the best captains I had ever worked with. We had nice 60 minute dives at almost all of the sites we visited. There was only one pair of divers NOT diving Nitrox, and they often had to surface from dives early due to ‘no decompression’ limits.
Highlights from our first two days included flying through the German Channel looking for Mantas, an incredible dive through Siaes tunnel, and a night dive on Matt’s Wall where I spotted a beautiful Oscillated Lion Fish.
On Wednesday morning, we were up and headed for a dive at the famous Blue Corner. This site is generally known in diving folklore as one of the world’s greatest dives. The Aggressor crew carefully plans the dives at this site so they are always very early or very late in the day to avoid the day boats.
We were able to dive the “Blue Corner” on three separate occasions during our week in Palau. We spotted a lone hammerhead, several gray reef sharks as well as several cat-like white-tip sharks. Hooking in with a reef hook and floating weightless in the surging currents is certainly a lot of fun, and worth the price of admission. However, the site can get crowded with boats from Koror and in all the dives we did, there were far more divers on the site than sharks.
Other highlights from our week on the Aggressor were the amazing dives in Ulong and German Channel complete with Manta Rays, Turtles, Sharks and lovely lettuce corals. Large Anemones and Giant Clams can frequently be spotted as you drift by in the fast currents. The Anemone fish are quite colorful and photograph beautifully, and the anemones that host them are very impressive.
We found cuttlefish at the Ngedebus Coral Garden and on the Iro. We spotted several banded pipefish on the Depth Charge Wreck, where we also watched a very entertaining Lion fish feeding for quite a while. My luckiest dive was at New Drop Off, where the dome port on my housing wasn’t actually screwed in for the dive. The water pressure held everything in place without leaking until I handed the camera up to the boat. The set it down on the back of the skiff and the dome port popped off. No leaks, no damage. WHEW! That’s what I call lucky!
The weather came up due to a tropical depression forming between Yap and Palau, which made for a big swell and heavy surge at several sites. This made the dives at Blue Holes and Shark City pretty poor due to heavy surge and very low visibility. The harbor was also closed on our last day, which meant no visit to Jellyfish lake. We weren’t too disappointed as we had already decided not to dive on Saturday because we were flying to Truk that evening and wanted to leave a good 24 hours prior to flying so our blood was clear of dissolved nitrogen.
As I reflect back on our week in Palau, I’m sad to report that it was a bit of a disappointment after our previous adventure on an Aggressor live aboard. I suppose we had become a bit spoiled by all of the big action and spine-tingling diving at Darwin’s Arch off of the Galapagos Aggressor II. We expected similar exhilarating action at the famous Blue Corner off of the Palau Aggressor II, but in fact, the diving is much tamer in Palau and the action lackluster by comparison. This is not to say that the diving isn’t good, because it certainly is good, and I don’t regret going. However, I wouldn’t classify the diving as great, and I doubt that I’ll ever consider going back. Now, on to Truk Lagoon!