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Palau: Rock Islands

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Rock Islands | Palau | Oceania

[Visited: January 2016]

When it comes to nature in Palau, the Rock Islands in the south are hard to beat. It is impossible not to have the image in your head: pictures of specks of green islets in a turquoise sea are to be found everywhere the moment you touch the ground - on posters, on travel guides, on pictures, on postcards, on billboards. Unfortunately, flights almost invariably arrive and leave during the night, so unless you join one of the special sightseeing flights, the only way to see them is from the sea. We get out first taste of the Rock Islands on the way to dive sites on our first day. Organizing a day visit to the Rock Islands is very easy, but almost inevitably means joining a group tour. So we board a boat on our second day, get instructions and explanations from a Korean guide who turns out to be quite funny, and are off to the first sight: the Milky Way. We ride through a passage between green hillsides rising steeply from the sea, until we reach a spot where the water is more white than green. The setting is mesmerizing: steep cliffs covered in green trees rise from the almost white water in this small sheltered spot. The guide shows how to dive for limestone mud, take it up, and deposit it in a big bucket. We have fun doing this until we have collected a fair amount of mud, get back on board, and apply the mud with healthy properties (the Korean guy assures us we will be ten years younger after the treatment) after which is it picture time. We let the mud do its magical work on our skins, and dive back into the water to wash it off. The spot gets a lot less special when boatload after boatload of tourists arrive and do exactly what we are doing.

Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): Some of the small Rock Islands covered by trees

From the Milky Way, it is a short ride to a spot in tranquil waters where we can get on kayaks for a while. Our guide shows us a natural bridge; passing under it, we reach a small lake in which we find our first jellyfish, gently pushing themselves through the water. It is only a very modest appetizer for the real Jellyfish Lake that we will visit later. We set off for some more exploring of what looks like a fjord, but basically is a passage between various islands, see a tiny beach, green islets rising dramatically from the translucent waters showing the sandy bottom. We paddle back to the boat, and then, sail past some small islets with big waves breaking on the reef just behind them, until we reach yet another islet where lunch is planned. Many other boats are already here, and even though we could be in paradise here, it is way too crowded to truly appreciate. Chinese women (and one man!) are wearing mermaid-suits and posing for pictures on the beach. Most benches are taken with people having lunch, but even here, just walking around a rock in the sea means finding unspoilt beaches. The views around are great: everywhere you look, there are islets completely covered with trees, green mushrooms jutting out of the green-blue waters.

Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): Dazzling white beach on one of the Rock Islands

Only for a short while though: we are now on our way to Jellyfish Lake, or Ongeim'l Tketau in the local language - the most curious sight of the Rock Islands. A short walk over a ridge takes us to a lake, where we take off our shoes, put on our masks, and swim to the other side. The unique conditions of the lake (there are two layers in the water which do not mix), and the fact that it is only connected to the sea through tunnels and fissures in the limestone of an ancient reef, mean that the species living here have developed differently from others elsewhere. The golden jellyfish here is harmless as it has no predator, and therefore, it is perfectly safe to swim here, and admire the enormous cloud of jellies (according to some estimates, several millions!) move slowly through the water on their daily migration from one part of the lake to the other. Seeing the enormous amount of jellyfish in the water is an amazing sight, and I could not resist diving through the cloud, trying to avoid touching the jellies. Too bad I didn't bring an underwater camera... Believe it or not, there is a sign asking people not to take jellies; apparently, some visitors have come with buckets to collect jellyfish here and have them for dinner. On our way back to Koror, we stopped at a snorkelling spot and then the biggest natural bridge of the Rock Islands. A truly beautiful area, a World Heritage Site - but one would wish a better planning, so that visitors would be dispersed over the islands and the sea, making the experience more intense.

Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): The Milky Way is one of the attractive spots of the Rock Islands
Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): Rock island seascape with tree-covered rock
Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): Many of the Rock Islands are just small, tree-covered outcrops jutting out from the sea
Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): One of the many jellyfish floating in a small lake in a rock island
Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): Rock islands separated by translucent sea
Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): The turquoise waters in the south of Palau are full of rock islands
Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): Rock islands seemingly floating on turquoise water
Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): One of the many rock islands with tiny beach
Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): The most famous of the natural bridges of the Rock Islands
Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): Inner lake of a rock island
Picture of Rock Islands (Palau): The tranquil waters between the rock islands expose coral heads

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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