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A WEEK IN PALAU - FANTASTIC DIVING WITH SAM'S TOURS Trip Report - Palau, Micronesia, 2017

The Palau Hookers - Having a cracker of a time with Sams Tours - June 2017

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZF6B4kAtPo[/embed]

 

 

Day 1

Meeting at the airport in preparation for our night flight, our carry-ons packed with slippers and PJ’s, we passed the time between check in and take off getting to know each other a little better, and browsing for last minute goodies in the Duty Free shops.   We boarded China Air for our flight to Taipei, settling in with a meal and the in flight entertainment to lull us to sleep. Nearly everyone dropped off to the land of nod, with lust myself unable to get any more than a snatch of sleep here and there. We arrived in Taipei in the morning, and spend our stopover exploring the unusual airport, with its repeating wings/arms designed exactly the same, even down to the same shops in each arm! After investigation this to be sure i was true, we settled into a cafe and swapped dive stories, until dusk was approaching and we boarded our direct flight to Koror, Palau.
With excited nerves kicking in, we landed that evening and were picked up by our transfer agent and taken to the Palasia, home for the next 12 days. Hot showers later we settle in for an air-conditioned sleep in the muggy weather of Koror in anticipation for tomorrow.

Day 2

Up not long after the sun, our accommodation package included breakfast each morning, so we headed down the the restaurant for a massive buffet breakfast of many different styles. Everything from fresh fruit, juice, cereals, to bacon, fried rice, traditional Palauan breakfast items  all the way to sweet breads and  a short-order chef ready to make us eggs exactly to order. The lovely matre D and chef know our names and even omelette orders by the end of our stay – wonderful staff!
Sams Tours came to pick us up soon after – a little later than our normal pickup timing would be – to give other diver time to ‘clear the decks’ so we could complete our shop induction and paperwork before gearing up and heading out for our first dives. As the majority of the group had already completed these in advance, I had forwarded back to Sams Resort, so the paper-chase was virtually a non-event! Great! Lets Go! We geared up, got orientated to our skipper, dive guides and vessel for the week. Damien, Sharon, Jeremy & ‘Silver Tip’ – The dove boats at Sams are names after species of shark – in reference to Palau being a massive shark sanctuary.
We analysed our Nitrox (free for the boat dives during our stay – Yay!) and were away on the calm seas. Zipping past bright sand in the shallows, past coral heads and channels, we headed to Grasslands/Sandbar for our shakedown dives to get ourselves settled in to 30 degree warm water with amazing visibility and minimal weights required.
 
 
The viz, even in the shallows was excellent, with the reef wall sloping down to white sands. A lovely way to start the trip with Rod stopping for a manicure at a Cleaning station, with two very efficient cleaner wrasses tending to his fingers. Mantis shrimps and garden eels and all manner of fish
Back onto the boat we delved into our pre-packed lunches – Japanese Style Bento boxes, and relaxed in the shade for our surface interval to pass. Moving to Ulong Channel for our next dive, this gap in the reefs carries good current flow, and we were whisked between shallow reef walls, with heaps of cods darting our of our way as we  danced past a massive stand of lettuce coral,  quite famous in the area for its incredible health and size, massive giant clams, that must be well over 100 years old, and amazing healthy and colourf
ul coral in all directions. At the end of watch dive, Sharon or Jeremy popped up their SMB’s so that Damien could meander in closer for us to only swim a short distance to the boat at the end of the dive. 
 
Cruising back to Sams with massive grins on our faces, we packed up and headed back to the Palasia for a sundowner drink on the verandah bar before some dinner and hitting the hay.

 

Day 3

Waking up and breakfast done and dusted, we noticed that the carpets in the elevators were changed each night so that people know what day it is! – Very handy as were were already losing track! Another thing to make us smile was the ‘Weekly’ weather report – each day over 30 degrees, and chance of a rainstorm! The best notice in the place was the one in regards to Internet connection in Palau. It was something like: “We apologise that sometime continuous Wifi is impossible with satellite connection affected by our remote location and weather patterns. We encourage you to instead of contacting people on social media, go out and experience something amazing here in Palau and make a memory to tell them about it later instead” Love it!!

Heading to German Channel another super flat ocean day, clear skies and seas. Here we saw an amazing scene of a reef shark being tended to at a cleaning station! The shark was desperately trying to stay still and almost vertical – which they are really not designed for!!
After lunch we headed to our first dive at the famous Blue Corner. Wow! The fish life, the coral! The sharks! The schools for triggerfish! The gorgonian fans! And our first try at reef hooking.
 
Heading back to Sam’s, Lynn, Rod and I fell in at the famous ‘Sam’s Macro Wall’ to see what all the fuss was about. And it deserves fuss!!! The wall exists to support the building of Sams, so immediately below is a rock wall and discarded rubbish (engines/concrete blocks etc) over the years. It has created an amazing zone for critters to hide amongst the large rubble for sanctuary. out from the wall is the diver training area, with flat black sand and some buoyancy training structures. beyond this is a ring of coral which then drops deeper. Everywhere had something awesome to find. From Demon dragonets in the black sand, to razorfish on the rubble (and laster, our prized Mandarinfish) a fishing boat wreck further down the wall and Pajama Cardinalfish in the outlying corals. What a sensational place for diver training – all not deeper than about 7m at the farthest!  A lovely long dive in the shallows while the rest of our group were on surface watch… from the Bottom Time Bar & Grill (you must try the locally brewed Red Rooster – my pick was the cider!). After the dive, and before the sun set, we made the Sams crew laugh with Erin, Izzy & I spotting Mandarin fish from the Jetty. lying down on it – getting completely in the way if it was actually not the end of the day. A very happy hour or so pointing at the shallows nursing a Red Rooster slightly smiling face 

Day 4

Along the drop off, every now and then, caves have formed inside the reef due to freshwater runoff millions of years ago, forming big grottoes to descend into, and then out to the reef wall. Blue Holes was our first experience of these grottoes, which are in general not claustrophobic due to their massive size, and the presence of light in some direction, even after descending into the dark shadows. Blue Holes is different with 4 access entry points in the reef top, and there is a small cavern opening where divers have had accidents – this is for trained cave divers only – and even then still dangerous. Your guides wont let you go anywhere problematic, so this is not something to worry about. Jeremy was keeping a very close eye on my as I approached the cave entrance, and buddy Lynn looked like she was about to tackle me if I entered. Just shining my torch in there guys… cant see a thing… not going in… promise….
Coming out the the reef wall, the drop-off yawned below, ad we looked up to see boat hulls in the very clear distance. Cruising along the wall, we swam through shoals of bright purple fusiliers, and bumped into juvenile napoleonfish!
Back again to Blue Corner to practice reef hooking, we had an Oceanic Silver-tip shark cruise through below us – awesome! After unhooking, we drifted over the shallows of the corner, bumping into schools of barracuda, moray eels, turtles, boxfish, anemonefish all over the place and and masses of bright orange anthias.
The afternoon had us back at Sam’s Macro Wall again, spotting mandarinfish everywhere this time(maybe our eyes had zeroed in better by this stage), finding banded pipefish and the clam farm!

Day 5

Our first dive was on the wreck of the IJN Wreck ‘Iro – unfortunately due to camera error I have no images/footage for you on this dive, which, while the visibility was low, was a cracker! This Imperial Japanese Navy Oiler was damaged by torpedo in Philippines, and was towed to Palau for repairs, where she was hit and sunk during Operation Desecration One. A massive hole through the bow allows you to swim from one side through to the other through the blasted metal. She lies on the seafloor upright, with king posts stretching towards the surface, the structure coated in marine growth – even the smokestack toppled on the deck.
The next dive was a big one for me – Big Drop Off not only has a great little chamber where juvenile reef sharks hide from the outside work, making for an excellent photo opportunity, but you will see a massive length of chain disappearing into the depth from a 6foot diameter steel ball. At first glance you would think it is a mine, but think of it as a propellor-tangler. During WWII chains were strung under the water surface between islands with these massive chains hung with huge metal balls, designed to foul propellors and vessels of the enemy, preventing access to the Japanese base in Palau. The chain has snapped in the past, leaving us with the sight of this HUGE metal sphere hanging on the wall, with the chain dropping into the blue below.  Further along the most RED anemone I have ever laid eyes on hosts Half moon anemonefish. Stunning under the light of a torch. This is a great spot for photos of divers & gorgonian fans as they virtually drip off the wall everywhere. Apparently this was also one of Jacques Cousteau’s favourite dives!

Day 6

 

   

Our next day took us to Siaes Tunnel & Siaes Corner,  more amazing grottoes in the reef, with lush coral growth on the reef top and filter feeders off the drop-off. More schooling fish everywhere – awesome stuff!  So many exits from this grotto there is beautiful blue light streaming in for many directions. Back to Sams and a couple of dives at Sams Macro Wall, squeezing a night dive into the action. More incredible interactions with Mandarinfish, tiny pufferfish, Rod even found a new pair of sunglasses and the glass faceplate from a dive mask! Everyone’s macro-eye has started to tune in now, with tiny shrimps spotted in feeding mushroom corals,  families of pipefish perched on specific rocks each night, and tiny critters living deep amongst the sines of the sea-urchins who come out at night. Another 2 dives on the Macro wall that day, 1 afternoon & 1 night dive – which was absolutely fantastic!

Day 7

Another amazon grotto dive at Virgin Blue Holes. When we emerged from the cavern, we find the wall is studded with anemones and their fish, this wall feels more sheer than others.  After the surface interval we chose a relaxing dive at Dexters Wall – a place where turtles are found in high numbers, hiding amongst the soft coral coating the area. It became almost ridiculous as we pointed out turtle after turtle to each other. Jeremy states that we may have set a record that day at 35 individuals – which I believe still stands a year later. Best moment of the dive – I went in to take a turtle selfie with a young green turtle snoozing in some soft coral on the wall. She appeared to wake up, look at me,… and the ‘fall out of bed’ as her weight shifted and the soft coral perch bent underneath her. Very Very funny. This was about the time we discovered Jeremy is not as enamoured with turtles as we are… which we used to our advantage each and every dive thereafter. “Hey Jeremy!! Look it s a turtle!! Did you see it?”  On our way home we headed to a super-secret spot and were rewarded with sightings of seahorses in the sunlight. It was awesome!!
 
That afternoon we opted for an extra boat dive – which we took on the remains of what is called The Helmet Wreck”. Another casualty of Desecration One, this ship was sunk after a massive hit, however this did not set off all the ammunition still lying within her.  Depth Charges, Aircraft engines, and for her namesake – Soldier Helmets. The coral gwoth is amazing inside the harbour where the visibility is lower, the bow and front gun just densely packed with life. Epic Dive.  That night on the macro wall I was rewarded with some lovely footage of a ‘school’ of razorfish moving gently amongst the branching coral. Awesome!!
 

Day 8

Something we had opted into prior to arriving was the famous ‘Blue Corner Specialty Course’. Today was our day for this training to  occur. Our instructor Daniel  led us through the details and special ecosystem that has been created by the water flow here, and the specifics of diving here safely to our best enjoyment. We then conducted two reef hooking dives on Blue Corner under his supervision. Two fantastic dives in great conditions, and we completed the requirements for our new, very special certification – Blue Corner Diver! While hooked and spent time relaxing against the pull of the current, watching sharks come in much closer for a look of us while we were not in forward motion.

Day 9

Our last day underwater started off with a return to German Channel, with no current and clear water. Some of the most amazing ‘fields’ of amazingly health, unbroken branching coral that seemed to stretch forever, interspersed with massive coral heads. German Channel was originally created during the German occupation of Palau, while Guano mining was mined in the southern islands. To bring it to town they blasted a channel through the reef. Many moons later the channel is packed with life.  Rays on the sand and a cruising mantaray!

Our last boat dive, New Drop-Off is where two reef walls meet, and this one was a wild ride. Jeremy did warn us there was likely to be  a section with water pouring off the reef, creating a down-current while we were drifting along in the current on the wall.  We spotted this occurrence ahead of us, and despite our natural instinct, we followed Jeremys instructions and came out the other side of the swirling ‘washing machine’  with our feathers ruffled, but unscathed. A few shocked expressions behind masks though!! We spent a long time in the shallows at the end of this dive, knowing our boat dives were coming to a close this day, hanging out with very chilled turtles, moral eels and anthias.

Our last dive was in Chandelier Cave. A much anticipated dive, it was also our ‘ dress-up dive’ with Lynn choosing the theme of this trip – Tutu divers! A few divers hadn’t bought along a costume, but were keen to join in, so the previous night I had been searching the shops on Koro strip to find anything. Success came with some kiddie halloween options, finding  a couple of tutu’s (that needed slight adjustment ???? and insect wings! Chandelier Cave entrance is quite close to Sams, chambers are air filled spaces, with stalagmites and stalagtites showing evidence of being a dry cave when the sea level was much lower. The dive involves repeated ascents and descents, so to take care of equalising, it is usually done at the end of a trip. Its quite hard to describe exactly how awesome this dive is. Moving through 5 chambers, the water gets gradually more chilly and more fresh, plus the last chamber is 100 % darkness, where the others do have some light coming from the blue entrance.  It is not a tight wiggle scary cave. Large and roomy enough for or group of 7 easily. It is well worth the dive.

Day 10

Kayaking Long Lake

While David headed off to another day of diving, the rest of us took up paddles for a day Kayaking and snorkelling with our Guide Fonzie and Skipper Damien. We had all of the kayaks loaded onto the boat and headed out to start our kayak through the lake with mangroves and rainforest to explore.  I think Fonzie was a bit surprised at our efforts to help pick up any items of plastic we found… We went quite far afield if we spotted something…  Fonzie was excellent with explanations about the history of the area, creatures and critters, along with many bird calls and sightings. The most exciting moment was snorkelling through Einsteins Coral Gardens (a mass of brain corals in the outwash from a limestone tunnel) up to the Entrance to the ‘Tunnels of Doom’. we also stopped by Secret lake – the tide was low enough that we didn’t need to to duck dive though the entrance – simply snorkelling straight in. Brightly coloured coral species, mushroom Corals and juvenile fish ring the outside edge, with the centre dropping down to slightly cooler temperatures. Up in the far reaches, forest closes overhead – in the shade the shrimp-gobie relationship is spotted everywhere, only 60cm from your mask in the shallow sands. Upon our return journey, we stopped late in the afternoon at ‘The Milky Way’. Due to the time of day and it being the quiet season, we didn’t need to jockey for position, indeed only another 2 boats were in the area. We slathered on the white whiffy mud that apparently has amazing rejuvenating properties. I think with sunburn it doesn’t work the best!!

Day 11

Time to depart for home and I raced around getting a framed picture of one of my turtle shots made and signed by the team to present to Jeremy, mainly for his amusing reaction to our ‘TURTLE!’ habits. Lunch at the Bottom Time Grill and a farewell cider, hugs to the Sams Tours team, and the last logbook stamps, along with some shirts & souvenirs. Palasia organised our transit to the airport where we began our journey home.  This time around, there was a short time between flights, that in fact due to a storm delaying our first flight, had us trotting through the terminal with a China Air staff member to our connection… to find out that connection had also been delayed by the same storm!! All aboard and we caught some sleep, reliving our amazing escapades as we flew home to Brisbane.

Thanks again to all who came along, and all the Sams Tours & Palasia who helped make it such a great trip.

Erin, Izzy & James

Lynn

Rod

David

Our awesome team at Sams:

Jeremy, Sharon, Daniel & Damien & Fonzie!

The fantastic drivers who were so patient with us diving the wall every afternoon/night, and waiting for us to finish before driving us back to the Palasia –  Edwin, Swell & John

Of course all the crew behind the scenes who make it possible!