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Touted as one of the world's best diving destinations. This is one place that deserves its reputation.

Palau is only a couple of hours from Guam by jet (Continental Micronesia run regular flights). But when the plane circles for land¬ing and the incredible beauty of the Rock Islands comes into view, visitors soon re¬alize that they are worlds away from any other site in the region, or even the hemi¬sphere. Simply put, Palau is one of the most lush and exotic dive destinations on the planet.

Palau is blessed with a full range of hotels such as the charming Marina, which is also home to Fish 'N' Fins divers. It sits right on the water in the main town of Koror. The five star Palau Pacific Resort, situated on an isolated beach surrounded by jun¬gle, is home to Splash Divers. Carp Island Resort is located in the heart of the Rock Islands and is a great getaway that offers daily dives. Sam's Dive Tours is a popular Koror-based dive centre with a new programme of tech diving packages.

They arrange packages in conjunction with The Carolinas resort. NECO Marine is a long-established dive operation which also of¬fers packages. There are a number of op¬tions catering to most budgets, including the downtown VIP Hotel or the DW Motel.

Liveaboards

Four liveaboards offer big dividends for those who like to dive a lot. The Ocean Hunter(for smaller groups), the Palau Aggressor and the Palau Sun Dancer have seemingly unlimited diving programmes and can stay out at sea for anything from one to two weeks. The Eclipse, run by Palau Sail Charter is a sailboat for groups of up to four people and offers unlimited diving, kayaking and sailing. Captain John McCreedy can arrange a customized itin¬erary for groups.

The Rock Islands

The variety of reefs in Palau make it good for all levels of diver, from the occasional snorkeler to the tech-studded pro. Although Palau is small in terms of population — it has about 19,000 people — it is huge in terms of geographical area, stretching more than 160km from each tip of its im¬mense outer barrier reef. It is to the south¬ern end of this reef that divers flock.

To get to the reef, boats must take divers through the maze-like Rock Islands. Seven hundred islets of varying size cre¬ate this gem of nature. Formations like The lush Rock Islands make Palau in southwestern Micronesia one of the most exotic dive destinations in the Pacific these are found in few places and are a refuge for wildlife that ranges from exotic cockatoos to saltwater crocodiles.

Blue Corner
Blue Corner, off the Ngemelis islands, is one of those dives that is consistently elec¬tric, providing fish action in every imagina¬ble shape and size. There are few places like it in the world. Full-grown and juvenile sharks are common, as are sea turtles, grouper, barracuda and small tropical fish. Napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrotfish and the odd moray eel, sea snakes and large rays have also been seen here. The amazing thing about Blue Corner is that 90 percent of the marine animals that can be found here are spotted on every dive.

A typical dive starts with a descent through schooling fish down the coral wall to 25m passing at least a dozen reef sharks drawn by the noise of the diver's bubbles. Prior to the tip is a cut in the wall that boasts immense gorgonian fans as well as feath¬ery-black coral trees. Back at the 15m level, schools of fish seem happy to pose for hours. Some schools mix together, with as many as four different species swim¬ming in one dense formation.

Because Blue Corner is so alive with a massive variety of marine life, it has become a Mecca for world-class underwater photographers to build on their portfolios, and should be considered a must for every serious diver. It is, however, an advanced dive because the currents here can be powerful and unpredictable. Reef hooks are used by wary divers and the knowl¬edgable always use a safety sausage —There are often a lot of boats in the area and surfacing divers should take care.

Soft Coral Arch
There are also areas within the Rock Island that are easy to explore. One is Soft Coral Arch. The currents flowing through this hole between the islands feed nutri¬ents to a huge garden of multihued soft corals. Because many are so close to the surface, it is best just to snorkel here. Not far away is the famed Jellyfish Lake where thousands of non stinging jellyfish gather, ready to surround the diver in a strange dance of pulsing golden forms.

Chandelier Cave
Chandelier Cave is a real departure from reef diving. The entry is through a jungled undercut in a small cove in the Rock Is¬lands about 7m below the surface. Divers must take special care to stay up and away from the silt-covered ocean floor. The cave is shallow and consists of many chambers and a high ceiling that rises above the water level, allowing divers to surface and walk around. Chande¬lier Cave is also being used to train tech divers in cave diving tech¬niques. Sam's Dive Tours offer advanced training on dives and diving equipment in these areas.

The Siaes Tunnel
On the outer reef of the Rock Islands there is another great underwa¬ter cave dive. The Siaes Tunnel is a huge cavern in the sea, located along Palau's outer barrier reef west of the Uulong Channel. This is probably one of the most exciting dives this little group of islands has to offer. It was discovered quite by accident a few years ago by one of Francis Toribiong's Fish 'N' Fins guides. Known for its sheer wall and active ma¬rine life, this mammoth underground cave is the home to wispy black coral trees and sleeping sharks.

Peleliu Wall
One popular dive site runs between the Peleliu Wall and Peleliu Tip. This is the southern convergence point for currents from both sides of the archipelago. Large schools of fish surround divers and the ma¬rine and invertebrate life along the sheer wall is equally prolific and spectacular. You also have a great chance of seeing huge blue marlin, sailfish and tiger sharks on a dive at this site.

The spectacular reef offerings around Palau give a popular tech dive training location. Entry to the and explore the many side chambers.

Palau offers visitors a variety of dives along its many reef walls, but at Blue Corner the quality of marine life is electric. On almost every dive you can see large and small sharks, turtles, grouper, barracuda, snapper, Napoleon wrasse, moray eels and sea snakes

A multi-hued coral garden awaits divers at the end of Palau s rainbow. Access to some of the best dive sites is by boat through the maze-like Rock Islands.

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