By Jim Caldwell
Far from the Strand or the beach in Redondo and that Californian beach experience, Palau opens the world of the tropics to the inquisitive vacationing traveler.
While Palau is known as One of the Seven Wonders of the Underwater World, there is more to do there than just diving, snorkeling and kayaking. Save at least one day to see the islands by land.
Babledaob Island offers a great hike to Ngardmau Falls and Palau’s largest rain forest. The hike takes about 30 minutes through shallow water falls and fresh water pools, great for taking a quick dip to cool off. At 60 feet, Ngardmau Falls is the largest waterfall in Micronesia. The hike offers a great look at the local flora, fauna and history past. There are few trains hidden in the canopies of vegetation growth, remnants of the days when Japanese mined bauxite over 70 years ago. The falls are fed by the rivers flowing from Mount Ngerchelechuus, the tallest peak on the islands of Palau. You can hangout behind the falls for a great view.
Local folklore says that an eel came out of the forest to rest on Ngardmau cliff’s edge. The tired eel eventually fell into a deep asleep, only never to awaken. The eel’s mouth became the waterfall, the body became the upstream winding river. Locals believe the eel had special powers, enough so, that they revered it as a god. Admissions into the park is $5.
Ngardmau offers another adventure with the Palau Eco Theme Park. A Korean company spent over $2 million building a course of three ziplines (and a monorail), each line runs around 1000 feet long. The rides last about 30 seconds to a minute. The lines traverse the tree tops through the waterfalls of Taki Falls and the rainforest at about 250′ above the ground.
Palau is surrounded by marine life in the wild. It also has one of the world’s foremost dolphin research facilities at Dolphin Pacific. The facility offers a great program for teaching the inquiring about dolphins. One of their great programs (Close Encounters) is swimming with the dolphins. The program, and Dolphin Pacific facility in general, is designed for everyone, including those with handicaps. Close Encounters runs about an hour for $30. Kids 12 and under are free.
The island of Peleliu offers a look back at WW II history and one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The Japanese had heavily fortified the island with massive concrete bunkers, over 300 man-made and natural caves buried into the hills from which they were able to inflict massive causalities against the eventual winning American forces. In 1985, Peleliu was designated U.S. National Historic Landmark. Much of the skeletons of history remain with cave tunnel systems, gun emplacements, bunkers, the Japanese headquarters buildings as well as carcasses of tanks, planes and other weapons.
“Unlike most museums that are roped off and no touch,
at the Peleliu Museum you can walk up and touch
the helmets, lanterns and other objects. It brings
history alive. You are looking at large guns
bent by the force of an explosion and imagine
the ferocity of what the American and Japanese
troops must have under went.”
Jim Caldwell, Redondo Beach
Palau’s largest and best collection of stone monoliths are at Badrulchau Ngarchelong. Not much is known about why or how Ngarchelong Monoliths came about. The views are incredible. It feels like you were dropped in a tropical paradise. Hmmm, maybe that why the monoliths were placed there?
If you are looking to get a quick understanding of the culture, history and geography of Palau, the islands have a couple of museums worth visiting. Belau National Museum is sponsored by government. The museum does great job creating a historical picture of what Palau was like through colonial possession of the Spanish, Germans and Japanese and possession by the U.S. Their collection of old photographs and art really give great feel for the Palauan culture and people. They also have a great natural history collection of marine artifacts so you can get an idea of what you seeing diving and wondering what the heck was that. Make sure to spend a little time on their outdoor exhibits. They have a collection of WWII guns, a botanical garden that is great to hang out in, some cool stone sculptures and a spirit house. Admission is $5.
The other museum is actually private, the Etpison Museum. The museum is one of the offshoots of the Etpison family and their company, NECO Marine. A series of traditional Palauan petroglyths adorn the museum’s front facade. The museum’s mission is to give a feeling for what Palau is like, from a history of people and their culture to the nature and environment that shapes them. The museum is constantly adding and improving to its collection so a trip one time may be improved upon on the next. Adding to their historical collection of photos, Mandy Etpison has published a series of books on Palau so they have great collection of photography to draw from. If you are interested in currency history, they have a fairly extensive collection of Palauan currency ranging from the days when transactions were based on beads and shells. The Etipsons and the museum also sponsored two of Wyland’s famed whaling walls. One is at the airport, the other at the museum. Admission is $5. Open everyday but Sunday.
Another cool way to make an adventure out of your vacation is to rent a bike for the day. It costs about $20 bucks.
When you are at the Rock Islands and looking to pamper yourself with a self spa treatment stop by the Milky Way lagoon. The locals claim it has fountain of youth properties, taking 10 years off your age every time you apply the lagoon’s white mud. If nothing else, it is a relaxing way to spend a bit of time.