PALAU

Republic of Palau Message Forum A spectacular 400 mile long strand of pearls laid across blue sea best describes this jewel of the Pacific. Made of limestone coral reefs lifted above sea level and undercut by ocean currents which over time have notched the basis so that from the air they look like giant mushrooms, the Republic of Palau, in Micronesia, is truly nature at its most majestic. The tightly clustered Palau archipelago consists of the high islands of Babeldaob, Koror, Peleliu and Angaur in the south, the low coral atolls of Kayangel to the north east and Ngeruangel and the limestone rock islands of which there are more than 200. Apart from Kayangel, Ngeruangel and Angaur all the islands are inside a single barrier reef. Only eight islands are inhabited, for the entire population is 17,235 with the majority of them living in the provisional capital of Koror. There are an additional 2,500 foreigners mostly Filipino labourers.

The Spaniards named the group Los Palos (the native name is Belau) and laid claim to them in 1898, selling them to Germany a year later. In 1946, Palau became one of the trust territories of the Pacific islands under the governance of the U.S.A. In 1994, it gained its independence and was admitted to the United Nations as its 185th member.

The island group is divided into 16 states each maintaining the traditional clan system with English and Palauan the official languages. The people are warm, hospitable and generous and, though they look more American than other Micronesians, they continue to follow their old matrilineal culture.

Aerial view of Palau islands Koror, the capital, has breathtaking views of the islands, Japanese stone lanterns and the only Shinto Shrine outside Japan, a reminder of Japanese occupation during the war. There is a national museum founded in 1955 which displays a bounty of island treasure and on special occasions you can see young Palauan women dressed in grass skirts covered in coconut oil and turmeric perform ancient native dances on the museum's grass.

Palauan lady dancers performing traditional dance There are international standard hotels, the largest being the 165 room Outrigger Palasia Hotel and the Palau Pacific Resort with 160 rooms, as well as motels and guest houses. Restaurants cater for all tastes, the best being American, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and local eateries.

Palau storyboard From Koror you can take a tour boat to one of the many islands for an all day picnic, take up the new sport of kayaking round the Rock Islands snorkelling on the way or go swimming,

scuba diving and shelling out at the reef. If you prefer fishing, cast a line from the beach or a dinghy and catch a swag of tropical fish.

Snorkelling on Palau outer islands A village tour of Babeldaob is where you can see some of the impressive historic and cultural sites such as stone walkways and hedges of immense sizes. There is a Palauan story equivalent of the biblical Lot story - an ancient statue of a mother and child who were turned to stone when the mother peeked inside a village men's house found in Koror.

Overnight accommodation here is not available so visitors can ask to stay with a family. If you do this, return the hospitality by bringing with you gifts such as bread, coffee, canned meat and cigarettes. It is a custom to remove your shoes before entering a house.

Palau Cultural Centre Three ocean currents converge on Palau and bring with them marine life that is four times as rich as that in the Caribbean. There are over 1,000 species of fish and more than 700 species of coral. Divers can scale the 60 foot vertical drop-offs including the Ngemelis Wall descending some 1,000 feet to a dazzling array of multicoloured sponges and fish, black coral

whips and soft corals. Giant clams sit on the reefs and moray eels hover nearby as do sharks who appear to be too well fed to be interested in you.

For the more adventurous, there are the underwater catacombs filled with massive ancient stalactites and stalagmites, the best being the Blue Corner and Blue Hole. In the Mecherchar Island Group, visit Jelly Fish Lake, a magical stretch of water trapped inside a Rock Island that is fed by rainwater. It is home to thousands of jellyfish that have mutated from a salt to fresh water habitat and who have lost their sting. Snorkelling with them - and there are thousands upon thousands of them crammed together as they have no natural predators - is a fascinating, surreal experience.

Snorkelling, Palau lagoon A good road system on Peleliu permits extensive exploration by land to many fine sandy beaches and you can sit in a half submerged Japanese zero fighter plane or visit the quarryscarred island from which Yap seamen carved their legendary stone money. Ten miles southwest of Koror is Ulong Island with its ancient rock paintings and further south in Angaur, a quiet retreat with spouting blowhole and monkeys, descendants of two animals let loose during German times. Kayangel, the northernmost island, is the only true coral atoll in the group and Melekeok, the future capital, has a deep water port and five "stone face" monoliths, while on the northern tip of the island a further 37 monoliths stand in two rows on prehistoric terraces. For hikers, local guides will lead the way to Palau's largest waterfall and highest peak 713 foot high Mount Ngerchelechuus where you can see 70 species of orchids and wild life. Paradise Air operates regular and charter services between several islands. There are also twice weekly boats. Taxis are not metered so ask your driver to show you the rate card before starting the journey. You can rent cars if you wish to be independent. DIVE Palau is rated as one of the Seven Under Water Wonders of the World by CEDAM International. This is not surprising when you can stand atop a reef edge in knee deep water and see it drop away to 320 metres vertically. It is believed that there are more than 50 WW2 wrecks sunk in the lagoon.

For a truly unique experience, how about diving in a land locked lagoon with 100,000 nonstinging jelly fish! Dive sites offer stalactite-filled caves, giant undersea tunnels and gorgonian fans that stand up to 3 metres tall.

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