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Palau

story by: Tom Ricketts

Remote and untouched, Palau is blessed with hundreds of rainforest clad islands surrounded with waters rich in marine life. And only receiving 100,000 tourists a year, it’s one of the world’s last untouched destinations.

Palau is an island nation lying in the far northwest corner of Oceania, much closer to Asia than New Zealand or the other Pacific Islands. The small population of 21,000 is spread across 500 islands, although half that population lives in the largest town and former capital of Koror. This is also where the sole international airport is located which has a handful of flights to Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul, Manila, and sometimes Hong Kong.

Just south of the town is Palau’s biggest tourist attraction, the spectacular Rock Islands. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a smattering of 250-300 small islets over a 47 square kilometre area. The small islands come clad in lush green palm forests, fringed with small white sand beaches, and surrounded by emerald blue lagoons teeming with fish and coral. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect island setting. Cruises and scenic flights while here are a must, but don’t miss a day out snorkelling or kayaking around the islands either.

One of the Rock Islands hides Palau’s other major attraction, a small, 30 metre deep lake. Small lakes on the islands are common (there’s about 70) but they’re not real lakes, they’re attached to the ocean via underground fissures and tunnels. However this one lake is distinctly different from the rest. It’s home to an estimated six million jellyfish! Gross yes, but look at the pictures, they’re pretty amazing! The lake was once fully submerged by the sea, but cut off about 12,000 years ago. As it happened, two species of jellyfish were caught in the lake that day, and thanks to this particular lake not actually being connected to the ocean any longer, they have been caught in the lake ever since. Over the 12,000 years they have evolved so much that they’re now their own species. Snorkellers can swim amongst the millions of jellyfish which do sting, but not badly enough to affect most people.

Snorkellers and divers are spoilt for choice in Palau, with so many different island lagoons, coral reefs, and wrecks (from WWII) to be explored. Palau is also home to the world’s first shark sanctuary (which apparently is an attraction for divers!) as well as dolphins, manta rays and sea turltes. There is a five star PADI dive team in Koror and serious divers will no doubt have heard tales of the amazing diversity of sites found in the country.

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