The inside story of the world's greatest lagoon Chandelier Cave, Palau The name Palau is synonymous with spectacular wall diving and high speed drift dives. Few places on earth can compare with the excitement that can be experienced on these outside reefs. Yet there is an entirely different side to Palau which seldom receives the recognition that it well deserves. I was reminded of this fact during a recent holiday visit with Navot and Tova Bornovsky, owners of Fish 'n Fins. It was one of those rare weeks when a storm hundreds of miles away was creating heavy seas charging toward Palau's outer reefs. While the inside of the lagoon was pleasant enough, places like Blue Corner and Peleilui Wall succumbed to mountainous swells. For most destinations, this sort of condition would spell doom, but not Palau. As an expert Palau guide, Navot knew exactly where to take us when the outside ocean misbehaves. Having explored these waters for many years, he knows the inside of the lagoon as well as his living room. Chandelier Cave is an extraordinary system of cave chambers and connecting tunnels that burrow under one of the Rock Islands. The entrance to this natural wonderland lies 30 feet below the surface, up against the side of a small island. Traversing the entrance tunnel, we quickly found ourselves in the midst of an upside down forest of stone stalactites that hung from the ceiling like pointed pillars of marble. Protected from outside forces, the waters of this saltwater cavern are dead still and virtually transparent. Several chambers have air pockets in which we could surface, remove our mouthpieces and talk. The surface respite provided an opportunity to discuss our progress and plan for underwater photo opportunities. Colorful drip stones and chandelier-like crystal stalactites provided a glistening presentation of nature's underground jewels. Our cave excursion is only one of a half-dozen extraordinary dive sites inside the lagoon. Jellyfish Lake is unique in the annals of diving. A secluded saltwater lake is tucked in the center of one of a high ridged rock island. Originally part of the lagoon, seawater was trapped and isolated during a volcanic event in nature. The lake is connected to the outer lagoon by a network of cracks and channels through the substrata of the island. What makes this lake special is a school of thousands of jellyfish that circulate within the confines of this lake. Originally like the jellyfish of the open lagoon, these reddish orange creatures have lost their ability to sting. The lack of predators in this protected lagoon have caused these jellyfish to become biologically modified. It is a strange and eerie feeling to be among this great cloud of jellyfish and not worry about getting stung. Soft Coral Arch is a remarkable snorkel dive through an archway and a rock island. The formation is 20 feet in diameter with 5 feet of the archway above water and 15 feet underwater. The entire length of this archway is carpeted with colored soft corals. Measuring 5 to 12 inches in length, the small soft corals sparkle in hues of blue, orange, cream, yellow, purple, red and lavender. It is a beautiful experience to float through this archway while admiring the delicate corals below. Wonder Channel is an enchanting dive in a narrow gap between two rock islands. A gentle current carries divers through this 80 foot deep channel while they admire and photograph a cornucopia of stony corals, soft corals, crinoids, anemones, clownfish and damselfish. At the narrowest part of the channel, there is a depression in the wall filled with lovely purple soft corals. Clam City is a quiet spot in the lagoon shallows where scuba divers and snorkelers can observe rare giant tridacna clams at close range. Some of these mammoth bivalves are six feet in length and weigh up to 1,000 pounds. The great clams are solidly attached to the seafloor and display mantles of iridescent green, chocolate brown or neon blue. Hundreds of black dots along the mantles are actually the clams eyes. World War II Wrecks are regarded as the second biggest diving attraction of Palau lagoon. During WW II, an estimated 38 Japanese ships were sunk in the lagoon, plus many more aircraft. The wrecks include giant fleet tankers, cargo ships, sub chasers, mine sweepers, fighter zeros and sea planes. Helmet Wreck is one of my favorites. This 190 foot cargo vessel sank close to one of the rock islands and sits upright on a slopping sand bottom, with its stern at 40 feet and the bow at 90 feet. At the time of its sinking, the ship was loaded with war time materials including aircraft engines, machine guns, depth charges, gas masks and assorted materials. Yet, the most distinctive feature of this ship is are stacks of navel helmets still intact and fused together in the ship's cargo hold. It can be dived in any kind of weather. Paula's ability to provide world class diving both inside and outside the lagoon is what makes this coral atoll one of the best in the world. WHERE IS PALAU?Palau is located the southwest corner of Micronesia, only 400 miles from the equator and 500 miles from the Philippines. Because of it's far western Pacific location, Palau offers the greatest bio-marine diversity for a Pacific atoll. HOW DO YOU GET THERE? While Palau seems remote, and off the beaten tourist path, it is remakably easy reach. Continental Airlines and Continental Micronesia for a direct link between Palau and the U.S. mainland. You fly non-stop to Honolulu from eith Los Angeles or San Francisco. From Honolulu, you fly non-stop to Guam where you connect with a flight to Palau. It is modern jet airline srvice all the way. WHERE DO YOU STAY?Palau has number of excelent hotels, but we found a home at the Palau Pacific Resort (called the PPR). It is a luxury low-rise hotel located at the edge of the lagoon where you can marvel at the blazing tropical sunsets. The PPR is a favorite for visiting divers because it has one of the longest, best built boat docks where almost every Palau dive operator picks up their morning passengers. The PPR also has its own dive operation (Splash) at the foot of the pier, and a full-service underwater photo/video center (Photo Palau) close by. The convenience and creature comforts of this resort make it a real winner. For more information about diving Palau unusual dive sites, click on the home page below. For more information about staying at the PPR, click on the home page below.
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