After spending much of our first three days in Palau diving, on the fourth day we decided to explore the Rock Islands. As we previously told you, they are a large number of small limestone islands located between the islands of Koror and Peleliu. Most of the sandy beaches of Palau are located on these islands.
As you might expect, visiting the islands requires a boat ride. Therefore, we decided to hire a tour with the IMPAC company (Imperial Palau Corporation). Like many other Palau tour operators, it is a Japanese company. Japanese companies and restaurants are frequent in Palau, as these islands were a Japanese colony for several decades. Also, a large number of tourists visiting Palau come from Japan. We found the Rock Islands tour offered to be the most comprehensive. The price was about $100 per person, including lunch and snorkeling gear.
After picking us up at our hotel, we went to the docks of IMPAC (where they will provide you with snorkeling equipment if you need it), and we headed towards the Rock Islands. During the journey, make sure not to miss the abundant and diverse formations present around the Rock Islands, as well as their crystal clear waters!
The first activity of the day was a kayak route through the Rock Islands near the island of Ngeruktabel, in the Long Lake area. By kayaking, we were able to make stops to better appreciate the details of the Rock Islands and their surroundings, such as their thick tropical vegetation (including again the national flower of Palau), their limestone formations and the abundant coral reefs. In addition, during the tour you can access small interior lagoons, even going through narrow tunnels where you will have to be careful with your head! It was a very relaxing kayak trip that allowed us to enjoy unique landscapes, and without a doubt it became an unforgettable experience. Towards the end of the tour, we made the mistake of hitting the trunk of one of the tres of the islands, causing many ants and other insects to fall on us! After taking a bath to get rid of them, we went back to the pier to return the kayaks.
Kayak around Rock Islands
The next destination was the lagoon known as “Milky Way“, also located on the island of Ngeruktabel and named after the large amount of white mud in its shallow waters. The mud not only gives it a beautiful turquoise color, but you can also use it to cleanse your skin with a mud bath! The crew took care of extracting abundant clay, and after covering with it, we jumped into the water to clean ourselves.
After this fun natural treatment, we continued by boat towards the south, heading to the island of Mecherchar.
We stopped at the small island of Ngermeaus, located between Ngeruktabel and Mecherchar. On this island you can find one of the few sandy beaches in Palau. It is an incredible tropical beach, with very fine white sand and surrounded by crystal clear waters full of coral reefs from where you can enjoy magnificent views of Mecherchar and the rest of the nearby islands. It is easy to spot close to shore reef sharks and their offspring.
After a short lunch break and having explored the beach in detail, we jumped into the water to do some snorkelling. We recommend swimming away from the shore a bit, until you reach the coral reef (which is several meters deep) to enjoy a more diverse marine fauna (where, in addition, most tourists do not usually go). We saw large schools of tropical fish, as well as numerous reef sharks. This time, the most abundant were the black tip reef sharks, characterized by the black color of the tips of their fins (most easily seen on their dorsal fin).
These sharks are more shy than white tip sharks, and, like other reef sharks, they do not usually display aggressive behaviors towards people. However, in shallow waters they can mistake our legs for prey. To avoid unwanted accidents, it is better to swim in such shallow waters rather than walking. In any case, if you go to the deeper areas you will not have any problem.
After enjoying everything that this amazing beach had to offer, we returned to the boat to head to the next stop: Jellyfish Lake (called Ongeim’l Tketau in Palauan). Jellyfish Lake is one of the many marine lakes that exist in the Rock Islands of Palau, and the only one that can be accessed by tourists. Since it is a marine lake, most of its water is salty. It is located on the island of Mecherchar, and is connected to the ocean only by small fissures and cracks in the limestone rock that surrounds it. Such conditions of almost total isolation from the rest of the ocean caused the species that live in it to evolve independently.
Specifically, the lake is inhabited by millions of jellyfish, which have evolved to lose their stinging cells almost completely (although not entirely), making it possible to swim among them without fear of being stung. There are two types of jellyfish: golden jellyfish (the majority) and moon jellyfish (present in much smaller numbers). Another feature that makes the lake highly unusual is that it is made up of two layers of water that never mix with each other. In the world there are about 200 lakes of this type (known as meromictic lakes), but almost all of them are freshwater. In the case of Jellyfish Lake, the upper layer (up to about 15 m deep) contains oxygen, while the lower layer (from 15 m to the bottom, at around 30 m of depth) does not. In the lower layer are large amounts of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas that can be absorbed through the skin and be fatal. Therefore, only snorkelling is allowed in the lake, while diving is forbidden.
After disembarking at Mecherchar, you must once again show the permit to access Jellyfish Lake. There, we were sprayed with water to remove any sunscreens that we could have put on, which can be toxic to the jellyfish. We then continued through a short path until we reach the lake itself. We jumped into the water, and, following recommendations that we had heard days ago, we swam towards the center of the lake, where there is a white buoy. Once there, we found ourselves surrounded by thousands of golden jellyfish, literally!
At the beginning, it is quite scary to be surrounded by such a huge amount of jellyfish and to get close to touch them. However, after trying it for the first time, we confirmed that, indeed, they were harmless! (Although, if you are especially sensitive to jellyfish stings, it is recommended to wear protective clothing, since as we mentioned earlier they still have tiny residual stinging cells). While swimming among the jellyfish we were also surprised by their texture, very soft to the touch. We also saw some moon jellyfish, although we avoided coming into contact with them as we had been told that they were a bit more stinging.
As you can see in the following video, the lake is inhabited not only by jellyfish, but also by other creatures such as small fish. There are also anemones that feed on jellyfish. The golden jellyfish avoid these predators by following migration patterns through the lake, moving towards the anemone-free areas at different times of the day.
After this unforgettable and unique experience, we returned to the boat and headed towards the last stop of the day: the “Rose Garden” coral reef. This shallow reef is also located near the island of Mecherchar, and is named after the abundance of disc corals, whose shape looks like that of roses. Its shallow depth, diverse marine fauna and abundant corals make it one of the best snorkelling spots in Palau. Once in the water, you can follow the guide or go on your own. We recommend going on your own, since by not being in a large group you will be able to enjoy the marine fauna better and more closely.
We saw plenty of tropical fish, multiple Napoleon wrasse, and even sea sponges. In addition, we came across multiple reef sharks, both white tip and black tip.
After a very complete tour of the Rock Islands, we started the way back to Koror. On the way you can get nice photos of the Rock Islands at sunset, when they get a rather different look. Once back at our hotel, we decided to walk around the city center again in search of one of the most typical Palau handcrafts: the storyboards. These are pieces of native wood carved by hand where myths, traditions or historical moments of Palau are represented. This type of representation in wood is very traditional in Palauan culture, although in the past it was mainly carried out at larger sizes, on the walls of traditional houses (bai).
However, during the 1930s, the Japanese looked for a way to export traditional Palauan culture in the form of easy-to-carry souvenirs. For this reason, the Japanese craftsman Hirikatsu Hijikata brought into the islands his techniques to make wood carvings with great detail. Nowadays, it is possible to find these handcrafts in many shops in Koror. They can also be purchased at Koror Prison, where inmates carve them. Their shapes and sizes are quite varied, although we found that many were carved in the shape of a stingray. After searching almost all of the stores where they were sold (including the Tebang shop, dedicated solely to these sizes), we managed to find a more traditional one with a rectangular shape that we really liked. Since they are handcrafted using wood of high quality, the price of the storyboards is not cheap. Ours, of a medium size, had a cost of $210.
To conclude a day full of adventures through the islands and the jungle, we decided to have dinner at Drop Off. We ordered again salmon poke, as well as fish of the day cooked with almonds. We took the opportunity to ask the Neco Marine team about the scene represented in our newly acquired storyboard. They explained to us that it was a traditional story from Palauan mythology, known as “The sinking of Ngibtal”.
A long time ago, an old woman named Dirrabkau lived alone on the island of Ngibtal, off the coast of what nowadays is the Palauan state of Ngiwal. Dirrabkau had a son, Mangidabrutkoel, but she hardly saw him as he was frequently traveling between villages. Ngibtal fishermen passed by Dirrabkau’s house every day after fishing, but they never offered her any of their catch. Therefore, all that the old woman had to eat were the fruits of the breadfruit tree (Meduu) that she had in her garden. On one occasion, when Mangidabrutkoel was visiting her mother, she told him that she could never enjoy the fish that she loved so much. Mangidabrutkoel took pity on her and cut one of the branches of the breadfruit before setting off on his next journey. Then, water began to flow water from the cut branch, to the rhythm of the waves that broke over the nearby shore. With each wave that reached the shore, fish came out of the tree, and so Dirrabkau was able to enjoy the fish that she had so much longed for.
But the rest of the inhabitants of Ngibtal found out about the existence of the tree, and they began to feel jealous of Dirrabkau. While they had to work hard to get fish, Dirrabkau just had to wait under the tree. Unable to contain their anger, they decided to cut down the entire tree. Then, the water began to flow uncontrollably from the trunk of the cut down tree, bringing with it all kinds of fish. The people of Ngibtal cheered with joy as they returned home with baskets full of fish. However, they did not realize that water was still flowing nonstop from the tree trunk. Thus, while they slept, the water made the entire island sink, along with all its inhabitants.
- Rock Islands
- Long Lake (kayak)
- Milky Way (Ngeruktabel island)
- Ngermeaus island
- Jellyfish Lake (Mecherchar island)
- Rose Garden (snorkelling)
- Hard and soft corals
- Black tip reef shark
- White tip reef shark
- Blue and gold fusilier
- Bluespotted cornetfish
- Golden jellyfish
- Moon jellyfish
- Napoleon wrasse
- Blue tube sponge
- Multiple tropical fish
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