From Mandarins to Mantas

Palau: for divers it is one of those destinations that is “on the list”.  You tell friends and family where you going, and they look blankly at you and say “where?” and that’s just how we divers want to keep it.  This is one of those destinations where the diver is treated to the psychedelic mandarin fish and 10ft wide mantas all in the same day.  The islands are beautiful, the weather idyllic and with a diversity of diving that is hard to match.

Getting There
We will skip the flight path since this is different for everyone.  Upon arrival in Koror, we spent the night at the Desekel Plaza Hotel.  This is a very basic hotel above a grocery store.  Since we were only spending the night there it was fine, but I would not recommend it if you were staying more than a day.  The local museum is worth the walk, giving you a decent history of Palau.  If you need to buy a couple of books to read during surface intervals or for the flight home, your best (and only) bet is the Community College book store.

Ocean Hunter II
This is a well known operation with a very good website:
(NOTE: Our trip may not have been a “standard” trip.  Our shipmates were 9 gentlemen from the Republic of San Marino/Italy.  They were very friendly and vivacious, but came with booze and “entertainment” that would put most bachelor parties to shame.  From this point on they will be referred to as “the Guys”.  I mention this as it did have some impact on schedule and what dive guides we dove with.  Let me say they always waited till Julie and I retired for the night to start the festivities.  Though when the Guys opted out of the night dive, you occasionally surfaced to one of them “feeding the sharks Bacardi” off the swim step.  (The crew mentioned they were the most “challenging” group they have dealt with below and above water.)

Julie and I had the “Master Suite” which was very roomy by any live-aboard standard.  We had a queen bed, couch, small desk, large head and plenty of storage.  Also included; TV, DVD player, mini fridge and your own private deck w/lounge chairs looking over the bow of the boat.  This became our sanctuary.  Food was plentiful and very well prepared.   Standard continental breakfast was provided before the 1st dive, full breakfast after, lunch, dinner and snacks between.  Arlee the cook did an excellent job.  If you are a vegetarian, make sure to let them know.  Julie’s only comment was she wished they had more fruit available, I am sure if she had mentioned this WHILE WE WERE THERE Arlee would have been happy to accommodate her.

The dive deck was a bit cramped when all 12 divers were on deck but very functional.  I had the seat closest to the swim step and it was literally just 3 steps into the water.  The camera table/s are large with plenty of room for all.  An 80cf tank with a hose and nozzle is provided for drying off camera equip.  The galley/lounge area is comfortable and there is a large upper deck for lying out.  While well-suited to its purpose, this is not a boat built for heavy weather.  We had to skip going to Pelilu due to rollers, and I know the Blue Explorer made it down there.

 The Routine
Due to the fact the Guys were not arriving till 9pm on the first day of diving our schedule was thrown off a bit.  It was the typical live aboard routine: board in the morning, move into your room, set up gear, general briefing.  We went out that day and did three dives on wrecks close to Koror and then returned to pick up our shipmates, heading out that night for the more standard dive sites.

Dive Day: 7am Continental Breakfast 7:30; Dive 9:00Breakfast; 10:00 Dive; 11:00 Surface Interval; 12:00 Dive; 1:00 Lunch; 3:00 Dive; 4:00 SI;  6:30 Night Dive; 7:30 Dinner. 
Another “Note”:  The Ocean Hunter II site shows a schedule with 6 dives. At no time did we do 6 dives.  This was in part due to tides and the Guys.  Your group will have to be very organized to get in 6 dives per day.  We did five most days and were capped at 4 two days due to depth and having to move the boat.  I did every dive possible in our 10 day schedule and managed 46 dives.

The dive guides Eddie and Jade were excellent.  True to advertising, there was no cap on bottom time which we appreciated.  Eddie was herding the Guys so we did not have much of an opportunity to dive with him.  That said, he and Jade were great at finding the small, hidden creatures and we never felt pressured to cut off a dive.  A special thanks to Captain Ken who is incredible at finding everything from Mantas to Mandarins.  No offense to Jay or Eddie but if the Captain is in the water, he is the guy you want to follow.
  We dove all the classic sites and they all lived up to theirreputations.
 Turtle Wall & Turtle Cove: Nice spot for Nudis.  Only spotted 1 turtle.
 Big Drop Off: Several large napoleon wrasses. Schools of jacks, barracuda and some bumphead wrasses.
Blue Holes: Bring your wide angle lens for cave/diver shots.
 New Drop Off: Nice schools of jacks & barracuda.  Plenty of white tip and gray reef sharks surfing by.  One highlight is a very friendly napoleon wrasse named Leon.

Ulong Wall/ Channel:  Decent shark action at the mouth of the channel. We hit this the afternoon of a full moon and large exchange.  The fun of this dive is zipping down between to incredible walls of coral.  At one point there is an incredible stretch of lettuce coral unmatched by anything we have seen anywhere.


  German Channel:  It was a bit circus-like due to its popularity. Viz was down due to the plentiful plankton, but of course this attracted the mantas.  We watched 4 feeding in pairs and singly.  This is where Captain Ken’s experience shined!  He just swam out into the blue, and then voila!… there were the mantas!
 Blue Corner: Some nice barracuda schools and shark action.  We dove this site 2-3 time
Coral Garden: 3 HUGE cuttlefish that seemed perfectly happy to patiently pose.
Jelly Fish Lake: Great experience but bring a rash shirt or lots of sun block.  There were plenty of burned backs from all the snorkeling.
 Mandarin Lake:  Mandarins come out at dusk and can be found in all sorts of spots.  Some of the best places were in about 3-4ft of water.


Devil Fish City:  We had three mantas come in for cleanings.  Good current but not much to see if the mantas no show.


 In the End
You have Palau “on the list” for good reason…the diving is magnificent! It is one of those destinations with so much to see that you have to be very focused while diving. As you watch another gray reef shark pass by you probably swam past four leaf fish and two incredible nudibranchs.  So cut back on the lattes, beer, pizza, heat, water, and take Palau from the “to do” list  to the “been there, done that” list. 

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