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Palau Love, Manta Love

The tribe has spoken….

I guess that’s the line that comes to mind for most people when they hear the word Palau… Either that or “where the hell is Palau?” But as divers, we know better, we know the rock islands hidden away in the outskirts of Micronesia are home to some of the best diving in the world.  A group of Abyss divers made the trek (and it is a trek!!) from Cairns to Palau for 12 amazing days of diving, mantas, laughing and making new friends!!

A photo by Blake from the helicopter. It really is this beautiful!

The view from our room at Bayview

Anyone who has ever visited Micronesia knows that getting there can be a total pain. The adventure started with a group of 9 people sitting at the Cairns International airport at midnight waiting for our flight to leave at 1am to take us to Guam. All in all the flight isn’t too bad, it’s only around 4 1/2 hours, they feed you and at that time of the night it’s pretty easy to sleep. We arrived in Guam at around 5am and after grabbing our bags and clearing the crazy US airport security (eventually they let Brett through, strangely enough this happened on pretty much every flight, he must look a bit dodgy) we were transferred to our day room at the Bayview Hotel. For anyone who has ever been to Guam you will know there are only a few options of things you can do there… Chill on the beach, shop for designer brands, shoot some guns, drink at a bar or go to a strip club. So naturally after we had all had a bit of a nap we headed down town to Hard Rock cafe for some lunch. When I first thought of Guam, immediately pictures of a third world country popped into my head. It couldn’t be further  from the truth. The whole place is bordered with beautiful beaches, tourists, hotels, high rises, designer duty free stores and American style bars and restaurants. When some people travel to Micronesia they will never even leave the Guam airport. I have done trips to Truk Lagoon where I get off my flight from Cairns, sit in the airport for 4 hours, then hop straight back on a plane. While it makes getting there quicker, having done it both ways I now have to say I would much prefer to stop off in Guam for the day to have some rest and check the place out, it’s definitely worth spending some time there, I also hear the diving can be quite good! So after killing some hours eating and chatting at Hard Rock Cafe and the highly recommended Green Lizard bar (which might I add has great daily drink specials!), we grabbed our stuff from the hotel and headed back to the airport for our last flight. Finally we were on our plane and one step closer to Palau!

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Chilling at lunch time. Well Blake and Brett are chilled. Im terrified 3 feet off the ground

The first thing that struck me about Palau was it was a completely different feel than a lot of tropical dive destinations. I have been on dive trips to Truk Lagoon, Solomon Islands, Thailand and Papua New Guinea and as soon as I stepped off the plane I could tell this was going to be different. Not in a better or worse way, and until you have been here it can be kind of hard to explain. Every place I have been to has a total resort feel, you sleep there, eat there, hang out there and dive there, all from the one place. But Palau is different, there is so much more infrastructure, you stay at a hotel, get transferred to your dive operator (and there are LOADS to choose from, we dived with Sam’s Tours which is by far the most popular) and while there is a bar and restaurant in your hotel, there are heaps of great restaurants around town to try out so we ended up eating outside the restaurant every night. I think a few of the notable faourites were The Taj (great Indian food) and Kramers (arguably Mexican) which had great food and a great vibe.

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The Abyss crew, our boat, boat driver and ‘Sexy’

Anyway, down to what we’re here to talk about… DIVING! I can not sing enough praise for the quality of diving in Palau. When people talk about it being one of the most amazing places in the world to dive, even though I haven’t dived everywhere by a long stretch, I can’t imagine it’s far from the truth. Not only that but Sam’s Tours was incredibly professional and organised. Apparently they put around 160 divers in the water per day! Each morning of diving we were transferred to the dive shop from our hotel, we had our own boat, boat driver and dive guide (Sicsey, or as Blake pronounced it, much to the confusion of the boat driver ‘Sexy’).

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One of the many beautiful beaches we had lunch

Our diving days basically started with heading to the dive shop in the morning, hopping on the boat (with all our gear already there and set up!), roughly an hour boat ride which is amazing in itself cruising in and out of the rock islands, sun baking and listening to music. When we reached our dive site everyone was always in a mad rush to get in the water. Temperature was around 29 degrees and I dived the whole time in a Lavacore top and board shorts and never once got cold. Visibility is amazing, clear blue water, every divers dream! While all of the dive sites are obviously different, at each place there was never a shortage of beautiful reef, hundreds of colourful fish, Maori Wrasse (my favourite), reef sharks, turtles, rays and so much more, you were literally spending your time looking around like mad trying to see everything at once. We did a total of 19 dives on the trip and dived pretty much all of the popular dive sites like Ulong Channel, Blue Holes, Blue Corner, New Drop Off, Peleliu Express, Chandelier Cave and everyone’s favourite German Channel. All of these dive sites had something amazing to offer, whether it was huge drop off walls, hundreds of sharks or hundreds of trigger fish! On diving days we were out on the boat all day, pulling onto a different little beach every day for our lunch break. We even got to visit the Island that Ulong tribe had their camp on Survivor!

We were lucky enough on this trip to have the most amazing, unforgettable experience with Manta Rays at German Channel. This site is a well known spot for seeing Mantas, there is a channel that on high tide the Mantas cruise through to feed and visit the cleaning station. We did three dives here and it was on our second dive that we had a mind blowing encounter with a group of 6 – 8 Mantas.

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You can see just how close these guys got!

We dropped in blue water in the middle of the channel to about 10m. All of the other dive groups at the site had gone to the cleaning station on the reef at about 20m, but Sexy new better! He had us stay in shallow blue water and soon enough we caught our first glimpse of a giant black shadow coming towards us out of the blue. To sum up the experience, it was crazy… It was just our group, a big ball of baitfish and 8 mantas cruising back and forwards past us for an entire 60 minute dive. They swam, played backflipped and let us get up close and personal. To put it in perspective, they got so close that one clipped Brett’s hand with it’s wing while he was filming and turned off his camera! It was a magical and humbling experience to say the least and certainly not something any of us will ever forget.

Another must do experience in Palau is snorkelling in Jellyfish Lake. Due to geological shifts a lake was formed out of the ocean on a new island in Palau. Over thousands of years the jellyfish trapped in the lake lost their need to sting (no predators) and it left their gene pool. Now it is one of the most popular attractions in Palau and something certainly not found in many (if any) other places in the world. I think we could all agree that for the first few minutes, swimming around in a body of water surrounded by thousands of jellies is a bit unsettling. But after a while you get used to it and start to appreciate and really marvel at one of the most obvious examples of Darwinism and unique experiences you’re ever likely to have. We snorkelled around for a few hours, it really is amazing how long a lake full of jellyfish can keep you entertained. I think we were really all just after the perfect photo!

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Blake snorkelling with the jellies

It’s impossible to sum up everything that happened on our trip and keep it short enough for people to bother reading. We had so many laughs, great diving, snorkelling, night dives in torrential rain, lost wallets, cut feet, great photos in various locations around the hotel lobby. We drove the other guests crazy at times, made best friends with the bar staff, snuck into the pool past curfew (Really?), went thrift (sorry, gift**) shopping, played some interesting games of Jenga, rocked out at darts, next levelled our chilli cheese fries, the list goes on and on… Most of all, what I will remember is one of the best holidays of my life. Nothing quite beats meeting a group of strangers for the first time and 12 days and countless experiences later having a group of lifelong friends.

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Getting down and dirty in the mud…

So lastly, I would just like to say THANK YOU to Blake, Brett, Ryan, Abbie, Jason, Kris Kris and George for making an amazing holiday so much more amazing. I can’t wait to catch up with you all soon for some photo sharing, (real)Mexican food and surely a lot more laughs. I’ll leave you guys with Blake’s video from the trip which is a perfect summary of our 12 days…. If anyone is thinking about going to Palau the only advice I have is DO IT!

 

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