The Republic of Palau offers stunning vistas, underwater life in abundance and onshore expeditions – little wonder it’s listed by superyacht owners as a “must-visit”
“Palau is a great destination for yachts. Not only is it stunning but five minutes from the main Malakal harbour, you feel like you have dropped off the map,” says Dr.No superyacht Captain Christian Tuter. His recent excursion through one of the most stunning locales on the planet left him firmly enamored with the westernmost nation in Micronesia. And with good reason.
Take into account these geographic and nautical charms: The Republic of Palau, which is located fairly close to the Philippines in the northwest Pacific Ocean, has over 700 islands in a pristine archipelago; It is dubbed one of the Seven Underwater Wonders of the World for it’s amazing marine life variety; and for someone sailing into these islands, you can explore for weeks and not run out of beautiful anchorages or things to do.
Number one may be the northern bay of Macharchar Island, about a mile south of a popular snorkeling site called Clam City, which features beds of various sized tridacna clams, including many of the giant clams. The site is out of the path of day trippers so one never sees another vessel. There are 20 to 30 small limestone islands in the larger bay of Macharchar, so it is easy to “disappear” behind one. This anchorage is located at 7'10.28N and 134'21'67E and in 22 metres of water. This is directly in the middle of five stunning limestone and jungle-covered islands and is a perfect haven in all weather. It is also just ten minutes in a tender to get to the famous Jellyfish Lake and Clam City.
Palau has over 50 marine lakes deep in the limestone maze in the center of the country known as the Rock Islands. It has more of these types of islands than anywhere else on Earth by a large margin. Jellyfish Lake is one of those “bucket list” snorkeling experiences. Literally millions (by some estimates 16 million) jellyfish live in the lake and follow the sun, forming dense populations. They have developed a symbiotic relationship with a small plant that feeds on sunlight. So they roam the lake as the sun travels across the sky, sending light shafts through the high jungle surrounding the lake. Isolated for eons, they have all but lost their stinging ability. People can swim without fear into a sea of harmless jellyfish for an otherworldly experience.
One of the Dr. No guests described her experience: “It was like being in a different world, hearing only to the sound of my breath as they rotated and spun past me, pulsating to their own tune. Now I don’t know about you, but any creature that has evolved into something as self sufficient as that I find pretty impressive!”
Another favourite is on the northern side of Ulong island in a small bay. Ulong sits father out near the barrier reef with a deep channel leading out to open sea. This channel mouth is a favorite diving site. And Ulong was where the British first landed and became the first Europeans to see the Palau Islands. Aside from a monument to this landing, high above the beach are uplifted limestone caves that hold glyphs from Palau’s ancient past. It is a beautiful and historic place.
When the wind is from the southwest, northern Ulong is an ideal anchorage. If the wind is from the east, one can go around the other side next to a perfect beach that features great sunsets over the sea. There is a little channel that traverses the island for exploring in the tender, with a hidden lake in the northern bay that appears after a 200-metre hike.
The western lagoon of Ngeruktabel is an anchorage in the bay where the WWII Japanese Nagisan Maru wreck lies. The great thing about the western lagoon of Ngeruktabel is that one can change anchorage every day for a week and still only travel 15 miles. Each anchorage is a little different to the last, with towering cliffs dripping vegetation onto pristine reefs that sit just below the surface.
“Kayaking is a must in Palau for any yacht. It allows the guests to really explore the wonder at their own pace,” says Captain Truter. Many vessels will have kayaks on board but they can be easily rented for the trip from Planet Blue which is owned by the extremely knowledgeable and personable Ron Leidich. A yacht can get Ron on board for at least a day to talk to the guests about Palau’s diversity on land and in the sea. He can also suggest destinations and lead tours.
“We kayaked everywhere we went and then did an adventure with Ron to find baby blacktip sharks and dugongs. One thing that stuck in my mind was his tale of a 500-year old village in the rock islands that was untouched and barely explored,” says Truter
One can also venture north to Babaldaob Island to see the Ngaardmau waterfalls and kayak up that river to see old Japanese pineapple fields and the remanants of a pre-war cannery. The far north in Ollei holds a pilar site that may have been the foundation to huge buildings built by people who inhabited Palau before the time of Christ. The famous dive site for manta rays, Devilfish City, is also located here.
Or go to the far south and see Peleliu. It was once a Japanese stronghold and site of one of the longest and bloodiest battles of WWII. Now one can see rusting amphibious vehicles and small tanks, limestone caves with associated guns and artifacts and monuments to US soldiers and lost Japanese. Peleliu had the highest casualty rate of any battle in the Pacific theatre.
Back closer to town, one can hike up to the vista of a German-era lighthouse - well preserved with a great view.
And then there is the diving. One can’t pass up a few days under the sea along the famous southern dropoffs. It is a world class diving region that many international scuba buffs make pilgrimages annually to visit. Dr. No’s group hired a boat from Sams Tours to rendezvous with the ship. Guests would go off for a couple of dives to see the sharks and massive fish schools at Blue Corner and New Dropoff, the mantas at German Channel and the sea fans of Big Dropoff. Saturated with sensory overload, they would then be dropped back on the yacht.
At the end of the day Palau is great because one can explore and it is safe. There are no military with guns around the corner so guests can just take a kayak and pottle along, go for a snorkel or just enjoy the perfect anchorages. In one day, yachtsmen and their guests can dive with sharks, snorkel through a cave into a marine lake, walk through a stone age village and stumble onto debris from World War II and see no one. The more you look the more you see. One could wax lyrical about Palau for hours but at the end of the day one just has to see it.