Monday, May 24, 2010

Palau... An Untouched Paradise

A virtually untouched series of limestone islands is now easy for Australians to reach, writes David Barbeler for The Age Traveller.

As a Westerner who's visited numerous stunning countries corrupted by tourism, I initially had trouble understanding why the people of Palau were getting so excited.

Located 800km east of the Philippines, the Republic of Palau is a series of more than 250 limestone islands virtually untouched by tourists.

Many compare it to the feel of Bali 30 years ago.

Up until April, it use to take Australians about 24 hours to travel there through a limited number of interconnecting flights and/or boats.

However a new A310 Airbus service, operated by Pacific Flier, has just opened the door to Australian tourists for the first time, with a direct flight from Brisbane cutting the trip down to a mere five and a half hours and costing $799 return. Kids can fly for $79 return during the airline's launch period.

Rather than this very traditional Pacific island nation wanting to keep this paradise all to themselves, they are bursting at the seams to show off their Eden to the rest of the world.

What makes Palau so special is that it is virtually surrounded by reefs, many of which are world renowned in underwater recreation.

Home to the world's only shark sanctuary and 1387 species of fish, there's no shortage of snorkelling and diving spots to choose from.

But it's not just its reefs and wrecks that make for good diving in Palau's waterways.

Over countless centuries, many sections of the jagged, limestone landscape have slowly given way to the relentless tides to form a plethora of underwater caves to snorkel through.

Perhaps even more spectacular is Jellyfish Lake, which was cut off from the main ocean at the end of the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago and is home to 13 million stingless jellyfish.

Because the thick blanket of jellyfish that inhabit the lake have been isolated for so long, they've had the luxury of no natural predators, and thus, no need to develop any toxins.

Another must during any visit to Palau is a trip to one of the country's most famous reefs - The Big Drop Off - which runs for several hundred metres along the west coast of Ngemelis Island.

During extreme low tides, the top of the reef is exposed, before dropping a staggering 274 metres straight down to the ocean floor.

But if you just can't get enough of snorkelling and kayaking, then the best place to stay is undoubtedly at the five star accommodation, the Palau Pacific Resort.

More than half of the resort is surrounded by water, and as its "2010 Best Diving Resort" award suggests, has its very own reef to snorkel.

To read the full article visit The Age Traveller.

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