Category - Pacific

Palau Travel Guide

Bai at Aimeliik.

Palau Travel Guide

Date Visited: February 2017 – March 2017

Introduction

There I was – on a dive, 20 metres below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, clinging to a large boulder that was firmly embedded in the seabed of the German channel. The current washing through the channel from the outgoing tide was strong but I was determined to keep my grip and await the arrival of a creature I had always dreamed of seeing up close. I would not be disappointed! After some time a large shadow slowly loomed over me, blocking out the rays of the sun above, it was a large adult Manta Ray – a species who can grow to seven metres in width. It was soon joined by another – equally large – Manta Ray. I was positioned at a cleaning station in the channel – the two giants floated two metres above me, being cleaned by an army cleaner fish. To be so close to such magnificent creatures is an unforgettable experience – a highlight for any diver.

Diving is Palau’s main draw-card. The island nation is well known for its abundant marine life, anti-shark fishing policy and strict environmental regulations which apply inside the Palau National Marine Sanctuary – the world’s sixth largest sanctuary, covering an area twice the size of Mexico. At the centre of the sanctuary are the Rock Islands – 300 uninhabited limestone bumps surrounded by the most amazing turquoise water teeming with marine life.

Rock Islands, Palau.

The spectacular Rock Islands.
Source: http://www.allamazingplaces.com/rock-islands-palau

Palau also has a fabulously rich, complex and unique culture – one which is still actively practiced. Colourful, traditional meeting houses, known as Bai’s, dot the landscape. Wooden carvings, known as ‘storyboards’, tell traditional folk stories. All of this makes Palau an interesting and engaging destination for those willing to get off the beaten track. This remote, pristine Pacific island nation is not easy to reach – and – once there, is very expensive – but – it’s definitely worth the effort and cost.

Detail of traditional Bai.

Detail of traditional Bai.

Location

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Palau is located in the middle of the Western Pacific, about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) southwest of Guam and 1,000 km (600 miles) east of the Philippines.

History

The first inhabitants of Palau arrived 3,000 years ago from the Philippines. The first Europeans to make contact with the islands were the Spanish in the 16th century – they made Palau a part of the Spanish East Indies in 1574. Following Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American war in 1898, the islands were sold to German who administered them as part of German New Guinea. The Japanese captured Palau during WWI and occupied them until their defeat in WWII by the United States.

Traditional Palau 'storyboard' wood carving.

Traditional Palau ‘storyboard’ wood carving.

In 1947, Palau (along with the Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands) was made part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which was administered by the United States. In 1979 Palau voted against joining the newly independent Federated States of Micronesia, gaining full sovereignty in 1994 under a Compact of Free Association with the United States. The official currency of Palau is the US dollar.

For a more comprehensive history, please refer to the following Wikipedia site.

Sights

Palau National Marine Sanctuary

The star attraction of Palau are the incredibly beautiful (World Heritage listed) Rock Islands – 300 (uninhabited) emerald-coloured, limestone/ coral mounds sprinkled throughout the stunningly picturesque turquoise-coloured southern lagoon between the islands of Koror and Peleliu. Helicopter tours of the islands are offered by Palau Helicopters, who charge $1,400/ helicopter for a 30 minute sightseeing trip or $1,800/ helicopter for a 45-minute trip.

As part of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, this pristine, virgin environment is protected by a host of regulations. It’s here that you’ll find Palau’s most popular dive sites such as Blue Corner, Blue hole, German Channel and the famous Jellyfish lake – a lake that was home to thousands of sting-less jellyfish. At the time of my visit (March 2017), there were no jellyfish present in the lake so snorkeling trips were not being offered. Scientists believe droughts caused by El Niño may be to blame – you can read more about this in this National Geographic article.

I did two dives – one at German Channel and one at Blue Corner – with local dive operator Fish ‘n Fins. Like everything else on Palau, diving does not come cheap, with a two tank dive (including full equipment rental and a permit to the Marine Sanctuary) costing me almost $300. Prices do become more reasonable if you book multiple days of diving.

German Channel – named after the Germans who blasted a channel through the reef to facilitate transportation of phosphate into Koror – is famous for it’s Manta Ray cleaning stations. The stations are located at a depth of 20 m and on my dive we saw several of these huge, majestic creatures receiving a clean. The current can be quite strong during tidal movements but there are plenty of rocky outcrops to hold onto. The rock I used as my anchor was home to a beautiful octopus who kept sticking his head out of his hiding hole to see if I was still there. Between him and the Manta Rays it was a wonderful hour-long interaction.

 

Blue Corner

Blue Corner
Source: Kristine Barsky

Blue Corner is an underwater promontory sticking out of the reef like a triangular terrace twenty meters deep. Precipitous walls surround the terrace and are the favoured congregating ground for large schools of fish, including barracuda, jacks and lots of reef sharks. All of these schools attract plenty of predators and during our one hour dive I lost count of the number of sharks we saw. The abundance of marine life in this little corner of the Pacific is truly amazing.

Babeldaob

Capitol Building, Ngerulmud, Palau

Capitol Building, Ngerulmud

Back on land, I spent one day exploring the main (largest) island of Babeldaob in my rental car. Driving around the island is very pleasant thanks to the well-maintained, American-built Palau Compact road. The road circuits the island and can be easily driven in a few hours. Making stops at the various attractions along the way, you should allow half a day.

Babeldaob is home to Palau’s airport, it’s capital – Ngerulmud – and ten of the sixteen states. Each state on the island charges visitors an ‘entrance fee‘ to visit any sites within it’s boundaries. The fees can be up to $20 per person per state so it’s best to decide in advance which sites (and hence which states) you wish to visit. There are almost no restaurants on Babeldaob – the one place I was directed to was the wonderful seaside Okemii Deli & Internet Cafe in Melekeok. The cafe offers grilled local seafood along with other cafe staples.

Emerald tree skink at Papago International resort in Airai state

Emerald tree skink at Papago International resort in Airai state

The first state you enter after crossing the causeway from Koror to Babeldaob is Airai. Here you can decide to turn left onto the Palau Compact road and travel clock-wise around Babeldaob or turn right and travel anti-clockwise. Airai is home to the airport and several significant war ruins, including Kaigun Sho – a bombed Japanese communications centre. The state ‘entrance fee’ for visitors is $20 and eager government rangers are out in force patrolling sites to ensure tourists have paid their fee.

Palau Travel Report: Papago International Resort

Mangrove walkway at Papago International Resort, Airai state

One place worth visiting is the Mangrove walkway at the Papago International resort (5 minutes drive from the airport). For a small fee, visitors can access the resorts’ mangrove boardwalk. It’s a great place to spot birds and other wildlife.

Bai at Aimeliik.

Detail of Aimeliik Bai

Travelling in a clockwise direction around the island, the next state you enter is Aimeliik – home to one of the oldest villages in Palau and also home to a beautiful hilltop Bai. The state ‘entrance fee’ for visitors is $10 and can be paid at the ticket office next to the Bai.

Palau Gravel Gudie: Bai at Aimeliik.

Bai at Aimeliik.

At the northern end of the island, you can visit Badrulchau monoliths – 37 basalt stone pillars (believed to be foundations from a building) from around 100 AD. Just south of the monoliths – on the north-east coast is the tiny state of Ngiwal (population – 220) – home to one coastal village with sandy beaches.

Beach in Ngiwal state.

Beach in Ngiwal state.

Continuing south you will eventually reach Melekeok state, home to the national capital enclave of Ngerulmud. The capital complex is very grand and impressive but not too interesting. You are not allowed to access any of the buildings (I did try to enter the Capital building and was promptly asked to leave by security) but you can wander around the grounds and take photos. Okemii Deli & Internet Cafe is located on the beach downhill from the capital complex. There is (apparently) an impressive Bai in Melekeok state but this was closed for renovation at the time of my visit.

Capital buildings, Ngerulmud.

Capital buildings, Ngerulmud.

Koror

Koror is the centre of action on Palau. With 70% of the population and almost all tourists services, Koror is where visitors spend most of their time. This narrow, busy island is traversed by one long, main (permanently congested) road. Along this road are hotels, dive shops, banks, shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, government offices etc. The southern end of the island is home to upmarket resorts, built around quiet, pristine coves.

Traditional Bai at the Belau National museum in Koror.

Traditional Bai at the Belau National museum in Koror.

There are two museums on Koror – the older Belau National museum (oldest museum in Micronesia) is home to a beautifully painted Bai and two floors of exhibits, which detail the complete history of Palau.

Detail of Bai at the Belau National Museum.

Detail of Bai at the Belau National Museum.

The newer Etpison museum (named after a former president) is the place to come if you are looking for somewhere to develop a better understanding of Palau culture. The admission cost of $10 is a little steep for such a small museum – but this is Palau. Displays include; a model of a bai; local tools; artifacts; money; clothing; photos showing the childbirth ceremony and more. For Australians visiting the museum – you might be surprised to be greeted by two friendly sulfur-crested cockatoo’s that are kept in a cage inside the front door. Cockatoos were previously introduced to Palau from Australia.

Translucent turtle-shell bowls at the Etpison museum in Koror.

Translucent turtle-shell bowls at the Etpison museum in Koror.

If you’re impressed by the traditional ‘storyboard’ wood carvings displayed at the Etpison museum, you should ask staff for directions to the resident expert carver. His roadside studio is located in a side street a short walk north of the museum (turn left at the Blue Bay petrol station).

Traditional Storyboard wood carver in Koror.

Traditional Storyboard wood carver in Koror.

Storyboards were introduced into Palau by a Japanese artist during the Japanese occupation of Palau and adapted by the islanders to record their own traditions. The stories that are told on the Palau storyboards are usually old Palauan legends. You can watch the carvers at work and purchase directly from them (no bargains here).

Traditional Palau 'storyboard' wood carving.

Traditional Palau ‘storyboard’ wood carving.

Accommodation

Most hotels can be found on the island of Koror – a 30 minute drive from the airport. Like everything else on Palau – accommodation is not cheap. I stayed at the Japanese-owned DW Motel, which is located on the main road close to downtown. The first half of my stay coincided with their peak season, which meant I was charged $140 per night for my single room (definitely not worth the money but it was the cheapest place I could find). The second half of my stay was charged at $70 per night which was more reasonable but still over-priced. Breakfast is not included but you are provided with a clean, small, spartan (TV-less) room.

On the south side of the island are larger, more upmarket resorts. Many of the hotels on the island are Taiwanese-run and not registered on OTA’s (Online Travel Agent) sites such as booking.com

You should ensure you organise airport shuttle transfers in advance – do not assume taxi’s will be available at the airport when you arrive.

Eating Out

While traditional island cuisine is based on root vegetables, pork, chicken, and seafood – there has been enough outside influence (especially from America, Japan and – more recently – Taiwan) on the island that ensures local restaurants cater to a variety of tastes. Strung along the main road of Koror is a good selection of restaurants.

One of my favourite places is the fabulous Rock Island Cafe, an American-diner inspired restaurant staffed by friendly Filipino’s (they constitute the main labour force on the island). The cafe is open from early morning, offering possibly the best (and most reasonably priced) breakfast on the island. They have a bakery next door which supplies the cafe with amazing cakes which are sold very cheaply along with their freshly brewed coffees.

In the south, on the small island of Malakal is the Drop Off Bar and Grill. This outdoor, waterfront venue is perfect for sipping drinks and enjoying fresh local seafood and more.

Visa Requirements

Palau passport stamps

Palau entry/ exit stamps

Some visitors require visas to enter Palau, check your requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

By Air

Flights to Palau arrive at Palau International Airport, 6-km north of Koror.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Palau:

  • Asiana Airlines – flights to Seoul-Incheon
  • China Airlines – flights to Taipei
  • Delta Air Lines – flights to Tokyo-Narita
  • Korean Air – flights to Seoul-Incheon
  • Palau Pacific Airways – charter flights to Hong Kong and Taipei-Taoyuan
  • United Airlines – flights to Guam, Manila and Yap

Departure tax from Palau is a hefty $50 and is comprised of $25 terminal fee and $25 environmental fee.

Getting Around

Bus

There is no public transportation on Palau.

Taxi

Taxi’s are available around Koror – but almost non-existent elsewhere. It’s always best to book a taxi in advance rather than trying to hail one on the street. The fare from Koror to the airport is $25.

When I arrived at the airport (early evening flight from Guam) there were no taxis available. The friendly lady from the tourist information desk tried to arrange a taxi, but no drivers were willing to come out to the airport. She closed the information desk and drove me in her car to my hotel (providing me with a guided tour of the island along the way).

Car

Palau car license plates

Palau is divided into sixteen states (most states have just a few hundred residents) with each state having their own number plate.

Hire cars are available, but like everything else on Palau – they’re not cheap. At the airport, Alamo quoted $70 a day for a compact car. I shopped around in Koror and found an old (compact) clunker which cost me $40 per day. Cars are often worn and old but the speed limit is 50 km/h and distances are not great.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Central Pacific Island Hopping

Guam Travel Guide

Guam Travel Guide

Date Visited: February 2017

Introduction

If you’ve spent time on neighouring islands in Micronesia, you will have become use to a sleepy, laid-back, slow-paced way of life. Guam however is bright lights, big city buzz – a mini Hawaii – and will snap you out of any relaxed, comatose state you may have gotten use to. Here you will find busy, congested highways, lined with shopping malls (anchored by stores such as Macy’s) and all the usual US chain restaurants. Expensive, high-rise resorts, which cater to a throng of Japanese and Korean tourists, line the shore of emerald-coloured Tumon bay (Guam’s version of Waikiki).

View from Two Lovers Point

View from Two Lovers Point.

Added into this mix are approximately 7,000 US military personnel (and their families) who are stationed at either Anderson Air Force base in the north or Naval Base Guam on the east coast. While on Guam it is impossible to escape the US military presence – in any restaurant you will most likely be dining alongside soldiers and their families, bars are full of soldiers and to get to these places you travel along roads such as South Marine Corps Drive, Army Drive etc.

I love Guam

Guam (population: 160,000) is the biggest and busiest island in Micronesia. The island is an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States (i.e. Guam is controlled by the US government but is not fully part of the United States – as such the US Constitution applies only partially). The official currency is the US dollar.

Guam is a fun place to spend a week, with many different attractions on land and in the pristine, tropical waters which surround the island. Being a US territory – services and infrastructure are well developed, which makes for easy traveling.

Location

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Located in the western Pacific (north of the equator, three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines), Guam is the southernmost island in the Mariana island chain.

Located off the east coast of the island is the Mariana Trench, which reaches it’s deepest point (10,911 metres/ 35,797 feet) at Challenger Deep, the deepest point on the planet. In 2012, famous Canadian film maker – James Cameron – was the first human to travel 11 km (6.8 miles) down into the depths of Challenger Deep on a solo voyage in a specially built submarine.

History

Magellan's obelisk at Umatac bay

Magellan’s obelisk at Umatac bay

Guam was settled around 2,000 BC by native Chamorros who are believed to have come from Southeast Asia and today comprise 38% of the total population. The first European contact was in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan landed on the island – it is here where Magellan encountered the first “indios” since leaving South America. Despite Magellan’s initial visit, the island was not colonised by Spain until the 17th century who then used it as a stopover point for their Spanish Manila Galleons, which sailed between Mexico and the Philippines. During the Spanish period, many Filipinos settled on Guam and today comprise 27% of the population.

Guam Territorial Flag

The Guam Territorial Flag

In 1898 the Spanish surrendered Guam to the United States as part of the settlement of the Spanish-American War. However, the island was then captured during WWII by Japan, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese occupied Guam for the next two-and-a-half years, before U.S. troops were able to recapture the island in 1944. The Americans have been in control every since.

Today, Guam is supported by its tourism industry, with its second largest source of income coming from the United States Armed Forces.

For a more detailed history, you can refer to Wikipedia.

Sights

Guam Beer fan

For sightseeing, Guam can be split into three regions:

Northern Region

A large chunk of the northern region is off limits to visitors as its home of the Andersen Air Force Base (AFB), with the base stretching along the entire north coast. One place worth visiting is Ritidian beach on the the north-east coast. The road to the beach is a pot-holed, rough, gravel road, which follows the perimeter fence of the AFB. While I was bouncing along this road I could look over into the base where I could see a perfectly paved road with absolutely no traffic. While back-roads on the island can be rough, it seems roads on the bases are in perfect working order.

Ritidian beach is home to the Guam National Wildlife Refuge Unit which provides two miles of coastal walking trails. The refuge is open daily until 4pm. After this time, a locked gate on the main road prohibits any access to the entire area, so best to come during refuge opening hours.

Coco Palm Garden Beach

Coco Palm Garden Beach

Another, much rougher, gravel road (left turn before the refuge gate) follows Ritidian beach. I drove my (rental) car along this road but it really is only suited to 4wd. Most of the beachfront property is private with fences, gates and ‘no trespassing‘ signs lining the way. There is nowhere along this road which provides public access to the beach. If you persevere, you’ll eventually reach Coco Palm Garden Beach. This is one over-priced tourist trap. For around $90 each, Japanese and Korean tourists are bused in from their Tumon Bay resorts, provided a welcome drink, BBQ lunch, access to the beach (rocky/ coral reef), towel and fish food (?). The whole place closes down early in the afternoon to ensure all tourists are back at their resorts in time for their dinner shows. I arrived at 4pm and was allowed 2 minutes of free access to take one photo of the beach. The staff were not at all welcoming and certainly not happy that I was getting free access.

On West Marine Corps drive in Dededo is the Micronesia Mall – the largest mall on the island. Okay – if you have arrived on Guam from the real world then this mall will not seem to be anything special, but for those who have spent an inordinate amount of time on any of the sleepy, less-developed neighbouring islands – this is big deal.

Love hearts at Two Lovers Point

Signed love hearts at Two Lovers Point

Just north of Tumon Bay is Two Lovers Point, a dramatic (400ft) coastal cliff from which it is said two lovers jumped to their death as the father of the girl wanted her to marry a Spanish captain which she refused in the most dramatic way possible. The views over the Philippine Sea and nearby Tumon Bay are spectacular, as are all the colourful love-heart shaped dedications written by visiting romantic tourists.

Tumon Bay from Two Lovers Point.

View south to Tumon Bay from Two Lovers Point.

Central Region

This is where all the action is and where you will spend most of your time. The central region is home to the tourist hub of Tumon Bay and to the island’s capital – Hagåtña.

Tumon Bay

Tumon Bay

Tumon Bay

With its stretch of high-rise resorts wrapping around the bay, Tumon is all about rest, relaxation, play and shopping. In between the resorts are large duty free shops catering to the needs of free-spending Japanese and Korean tourists. It’s here you’ll find US chain restaurants, Sushi & Korean BBQ restaurants, bars & clubs, spas, dinner theatres, specialty shops an Underwater World and everything else package tourists might need to enhance their tropical escape experience.

Tumon Bay Guam

Tumon Bay

During the day, the bay offers fantastic snorkeling – once you get well offshore (unfortunately too many tourists standing on the flat coral heads has killed all the coral close to shore). Although I wasn’t staying there, I was able to hire snorkel gear from the aquatic sports shop at the Hilton hotel and snorkel directly in front of the hotel (best snorkeling is out to sea from the cove).

Hagåtña

Guam Museum in Hagåtña

Guam Museum in Hagåtña

Guam’s capital is a small, relaxed, town which features a historic walking path, connecting all sights of interest.  A good place to start is the impressive Guam Museum – the museum tells the history of the island. Directly outside the museum is a sculpture commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul II to the island in 1981.

Across the road from the museum is the historic Plaza de Espana, which was the location of the Governor’s Palace during the island’s period of Spanish occupation. The palace housed the office and residence of the Spanish governor but was largely destroyed during the liberation of Guam in 1944. Today a few structures remain, including the the Chocolate House, the “Azotea” and the Almacen gate. 

Statue of Pope John Paul II and Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Hagåtña

Statue of Pope John Paul II and Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Hagåtña

Next to Plaza de Espana, is the contemporary Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica while behind the Plaza is the Senator Angel Leon Guerrero Santos Memorial Park. The park contains 8 ancient lattes. Nothing to do with coffee – latte’s were used in the Mariana islands as house supports, with a cap at the top to discourage rats and other vermin climbing up into the house.  

BBQ at the Chamorro village

BBQ at the Chamorro village

Towards the harbour, the Chamorro village is a great place for souvenir shopping and (only on Wednesday evenings) the best BBQ in town. The best time to visit is early in the evening with lots of pop-up shops and BBQ vendors. The earlier you order food the better as the lines get progressively longer as the night goes on, with everyone from locals, tourists and military families turning out.

Southern Region

The southern part of the island features small, quiet coastal hamlets built around picturesque bays. I covered this part of the island on a leisurely day trip following a circuitous route from Hagåtña by first crossing the island on highway 4 to the east coast (Pago Bay) then traveling clockwise around the bottom of the island back to Hagåtña. The east coast lies on the windward side of the island hence the beaches are much more dramatic and exposed than those on the west coast.

Talofofo Falls

Talofofo Falls

In Talofofo bay, Talofofo falls are worth the short detour off the coastal road. The falls consist of a series of scenic cascades on the Talofofo River and are reached by way of a very lazy cable car which transports you down into the gorge where the falls are located. A series of paths and bridges leads you around the falls back to the cable car.

Yokoi's cave.

Yokoi’s cave.

Also at the falls is “Yokoi’s Cave” – a replica of the original cave, which was located at the same sight but previously destroyed by a typhoon. This fascinating survival story involves a Japanese soldier who survived the US liberation of the island in 1944 by hiding in a small cave in the jungle. Yokoi survived for the next 27 years, sourcing water from the river and food from the jungle until he was discovered in 1972 by two local hunters. He believed Japan was still at war and didn’t want to surrender. He eventually returned to Japan to a hero’s welcome (and to receive $300 in back pay).

Fort Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

Fort Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

As you travel around the southern tip of the island onto the west coast, highway 4 becomes highway 2 as you enter Umatac bay. This picturesque bay was where Magellan landed in 1521. At the center of the bay is an obelisk monument commemorating his landing, bearing the inscription, “Magellan landed here.” It was also here in 1565 that Miguel Lopez de Legazpi dropped anchor and stayed for thirteen days, formally claiming Guam for Spain. On either side of the bay are two forts (Fort Nuestra Senora de la Soledad and Fort Santo Angelo), which were built during the Spanish colonial period to protect the bay from pirates and other European explorers.

Continuing north along the west coast you’ll soon reach Naval Base Guam. Next to the entrance of the base is the T. Stell Newman Visitor Centre, part of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park. The friendly, informative staff can provide you with a map of the park and information on what to see. Most of the points of interest (former battlefields, trenches and historic structures) lie along the coast north of the Naval base. The park tells the story of war in the Pacific and details the US liberation of Guam in 1944, which resulted in the defeat of the Japanese.

Continuing along the coastal road you’ll eventually return to Hagåtña, where you can reward yourself with an ice cold glass of craft beer at the Mermaid Tavern and Grille.

Accommodation

Hilton hotel at Tumon Bay

Most visitors to Guam stay in expensive resorts – such as the Hilton – on beautiful Tumon Bay

Most hotels on the island are located along the long curving shore of beautiful Tumon bay, a short drive from the airport. These hotels are large scale, high-rise resorts which cater to Japanese, Korean and (increasingly) Chinese tourists who jet in for a few days of rest and relaxation. These tourists arrive on fully escorted tours with lots of money to spend in a short time, hence hotels around the bay are never cheap. If you wish to check these options, you will find them on sites such as booking.com

I used Airbnb to find a more reasonably priced apartment, which was perfect for my stay

Eating Out

Thanks to it being a US territory (and home-away-from-home for thousands of military personnel and their families), Guam offers more dining options than any other island in Micronesia. All the usual US chain restaurants are represented on the island. You can start your day with breakfast at Denny’s, lunch at Applebee’s and finish with dinner at the Texas Steakhouse. Its a glutton’s paradise. Added into the mix are numerous Japanese and Korean restaurants in Tumon Bay, which cater to the throngs of Japanese and Korean tourists.

McKraut's German restaurant in Inarajan

Lunch at McKraut’s German restaurant in Inarajan.

If you’re in the mood for fine German cuisine, you cannot go past the legendary McKraut’s German restaurant, which is located in the village of Inarajan on the remote south-east coast. The drive from Tumon Bay is about an hour but if you are exploring the south east coast then this is the perfect place to stop for lunch or dinner.

One ‘must do’ culinary experience on the island is the weekly BBQ at the Chamorro village in Hagåtña (see that section for more details). While in Hagåtña, the Mermaid Tavern and Grille serves their own craft beers to live music and great food most nights.

McKraut's German restaurant

Bar at McKraut’s German restaurant

For a taste of local Chomoro cuisine, the Meskla Chamoro Bistro in Hagåtña is an excellent choice. The restaurant was founded by a local celebrity chief (Peter Duenas) who’s aim has been to highlight Chomoro cuisine. This is a popular place so reservations are recommended.

Visa Requirements

Entry requirements for Guam are the same as the USA . Check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

UA154 arriving at Guam

UA154 arriving at Guam

By Air

Flights to Guam arrive at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport (named after the first delegate from Guam to the United States House of Representatives). The airport is built on a high ridge above Tumon Bay and is within a three hour flight of major Asian cities in Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and the Philippines.

The airport serves as a regional hub for United Airlines, however most flights are operated by Korean and Japanese carriers who carry hoards of holiday-makers to the island each day.

Guam airport is the terminus for the epic United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) – for more on this, please refer to my Central Pacific Island Hopping blog.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Guam:

  • Air Busan – flight to Busan
  • Cebu Pacific – flight to Manila
  • China Airlines – flight to Taipei–Taoyuan
  • Delta Air Lines – flight to Tokyo–Narita
  • EVA Air – flight to Taipei – Taoyuan
  • HK Express – flight to Hong Kong
  • Japan Airlines – flight to Tokyo–Narita
  • Jeju Air – flights to Busan, Seoul–Incheon
  • Jin Air – flights to Busan, Seoul–Incheon
  • Korean Air – flights to Osaka–Kansai, Seoul–Incheon
  • Philippine Airlines – flight to Manila
  • Star Marianas Airflights to Rota, Saipan
  • T’way Airlines – flights to Daegu, Osaka–Kansai, Seoul–Incheon
  • United Airlines – flights to Chuuk, Fukuoka, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Koror, Kosrae, Kwajalein, Majuro, Manila, Nagoya–Centrair, Osaka–Kansai, Pohnpei, Sapporo–Chitose, Sendai, Shanghai–Pudong, Tokyo–Narita, Yap
  • United Express – flights to Rota, Saipan

Getting Around

Guam travel guide

Bus

The Guam Regional Transit Authority operates inexpensive public buses which cover most places on the island. Services are not very frequent and only operate Monday – Saturday (no service Sunday or public holidays). If you wish to maximise your time on the island then car rental is the best option.

Taxi

Taxis are available in the main tourist areas with a fare from the airport to Tumon Bay costing about $6.

Car

Hire car Guam

The best way to explore Guam is with a hire car.

While public buses provide island-wide service, many attractions are off the beaten track, hence the best way to explore Guam is with a rental car. Daily charges on Guam are much more reasonable than those on neighbouring islands, with all the main rental companies operating from the airport. I hired a car through Alamo at a very competitive rate. Signage on the island is poor (typical for the region) so either a good map or navigation device is recommended.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Palau Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Central Pacific Island Hopping

 

Chuuk (Formerly Truk) Travel Guide

Fujikawa Maru

Chuuk (Formerly Truk) Travel Guide

Date Visited: February 2017

Introduction

As my torchlight made a sweep of the dark, watery space, I could see five Japanese war planes – Zero bombers – parked side-by-side, disassembled to facilitate transportation. I was 26 metres below the Chuuk lagoon and had just descended into one of the holds of the wrecked Fujikawa Maru. Built in 1938 by the Mitsubishi Company as a passenger and cargo carrier, the Japanese Navy took possession of the Fujikawa in the early days of WWII and converted her into an aircraft ferry. Just prior to “Operation Hailstone”, the Fujikawa Maru had arrived in Chuuk where she off-loaded thirty bombers at a Japanese airfield. She would never leave Chuuk and on the day of Operation Hailstone she was still carrying the Zero bombers in her hold – the bombers that I was now diving around.

Welcome to Chuuk, one of the states of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the premier wreck diving capital of the world. In other places you can dive a single wreck, on Chuuk you can dive a whole fleet. While Chuuk is another beautiful, remote, Pacific atoll, the main reason travelers come here is to dive the plethora of wrecks which lay at the bottom of the lagoon. Chuuk offers world-class wreck diving and with over 60 wrecks, from supply vessels (Maru) to planes and a submarine, there is plenty to keep divers busy.

Truk or Chuuk? What’s in a name?  

To the Chuukese, their home has always been ‘Chuuk‘. To the Germans (who once colonised the island), Chuuk was difficult to pronounce – to them it sounded like ‘Truuk‘. Once the American GI’s arrived, they pronounced it ‘Truk‘ and that name stuck during the many years that Truk was part of the (US-administered) Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI). Following independence, the island reverted back to it’s original name of ‘Chuuk‘.

Stormy skies over Chuuk.

Stormy skies over Chuuk.

Location

Chuuk is located north of the equator, between Hawaii and the Philippines. It’s one of the four states of FSM, with the state of Yap to the west and Pohnpei and Kosrae to the east.

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At a circumference of 225 kilometres (140 mi), the lagoon is the world’s largest – it’s protective barrier reef (the remnants of an ancient volcano) enclose a cluster of small islands, which were once the mountain peaks on the volcano. All services (and infrastructure) are to be found on the administrative island of Weno, with everything being connected by one (not too long), main road. Weno is the atoll’s capital and, with a population of 12,000 people, is the largest city in the FSM. The outer islands are either uninhabited or contain villagers living a subsistence lifestyle.

Map of Chuuk lagoon

Map of Chuuk lagoon. Source: https://www.trukodyssey.com

History

The early history of Chuuk is unknown but it is clear from archaeological digs that people have inhabited the area since the 1st or 2nd century BC. The first recorded sighting of the islands were made by the Spanish in 1528. The Spanish would later claim the islands (by simply raising a flag) but never established any permanent settlement. In 1899, the Spanish sold the islands to the German empire, but following Germany’s defeat in WWI, the Japanese where given control of the islands under a mandate from the League of Nations.

During WWII, the Japanese used Chuuk as their main Naval base in the South Pacific. From here, they launched operations against Allied forces in the region. Japanese military engineers converted Chuuk into a formidable fortress, with roads, trenches, bunkers, caves, airstrips, seaplane bases, a torpedo boat station, submarine repair shops, a communications centre and a radar station. All of this came to a spectacular, fiery end on February 17, 1944 during Operation Hailstone (see following section).

Following WWII, Chuuk was made one of six districts of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), which were administered by the United States under a UN charter. Independence was finally granted to the Federated States of Micronesia (Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk & Yap) in 1990.

More recently, a ‘Chuuk Independence’ movement has gained popularity which, if successful, could see the break up of the FSM.

Operation Hailstone 

Operation Hailstone

Operation Hailstone.
Source: Wikipedia

If it wasn’t for Operation Hailstone, Chuuk would be just another quiet, remote backwater. On February 17, 1944, the island’s place in history would be ensured forever when American forces commenced a three day bombing campaign, the aim of which was to completely destroy the naval base and all ships in the lagoon. The relentless aerial bombardment resulted in the sinking of more than 60 warships, planes and a submarine. A 10 minute propaganda film – Yanks Smash Truk (filmed by an embedded cameraman aboard one of the bombers), provides you with a sense of the ferocity of the bombardment.

Diving

Franko map of the Chuuk Lagoon Wrecks

Franko map of the Chuuk Lagoon Wrecks

As a result of Operation Hailstone, Chuuk lagoon is the world’s largest ship graveyard, with the wrecked Japanese fleet now known as the ‘Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon‘. The fleet was first brought to the world’s attention in 1969 when Jacques Cousteau and the Calypso team explored the lagoon and it’s wrecks, producing the TV documentary “Lagoon of Lost Ships“. The documentary put Chuuk on the world diving map and changed the fortunes of the island.

A local diver, Kimiuo Aisek, who as a 17-year-old witnessed Operation Hailstone, opened the islands first dive shop in 1973 at the Blue Lagoon Resort. Today the dive shop is one of two on Weno offering dive trips. A museum at the resort displays artifacts salvaged from some of the wrecks. Today the island is a magnet for divers with the majority of wrecks being within recreational diving limits (30-40 metres / 100-130 feet) and close to shore. For those who prefer zero commuting to their dive sites, a few live-aboard options are available, these include the SS Thorfin, Odyssey and the Truk Master

The boat jetty at Truk Stop hotel.

The boat jetty at Truk Stop hotel.

An excellent map of the wreck’s is printed by Franko Map’s (see above image) and is available for purchase on Amazon. The Truk Lagoon Dive Centre offer an online, interactive map, which provides detailed information on various wrecks. I did four dives with Truk Lagoon Dive Centre, these were:

Heian Maru

Heian Maru wreck.

Heian Maru wreck.

The largest wreck (11,600 tons) I dived was the giant Heian Maru – this was featured by Jacques Cousteau in his original documentary. Located between 12 metres and 33 metres, the Heian carried supplies for Japanese submarines. We explored inside the forward hold’s, where we saw long lance torpedoes and then into the companionways, where we saw periscopes and other equipment.

Yamagiri Maru

Yamagiri Maru wreck.

Yamagiri Maru wreck.

On the Yamagiri Maru (located at a depth of 15 metres – 33 metres) we explored a hold which contained a supply of huge 18.1″ armor piercing shells, with each shell weighing 1,400kg. Also on-board was a steamroller and other construction equipment.

Fujikawa Maru

Fujikawa Maru wreck.

Fujikawa Maru wreck.

Located at a depth of between 9 metres and 34 metres, the Fujikawa Maru is considered the best dive site in Chuuk – this is a ‘must dive’. The main smoke stack is reached at just 6 metres, with her deck at 18 metres. On the bow of the deck is an impressive (coral encrusted), 6-inch (152 mm) bow gun. In one of the forward hold’s are four disassembled Mitsubishi fighter aircraft along with machine guns, shells and other ammunition. Other structures we explored included the galley, engine room, staterooms, bathrooms and the pilothouse. The entire ship is covered in an abundance of soft corals, which attracts a wealth of marine life. A magical diving experience.

Shinkoku Maru

Shinkoku Maru wreck.

Shinkoku Maru wreck.

The Skinkoku Maru is one of the most popular dives in Chuuk. The ship served as a naval tanker and offers a myriad number of rooms (all largely intact) for the diver to explore. The ship was sunk upright with a large bomb hole visible in her port side. She lies between 12 metres – 38 metres, with her main deck at 18 metres. During the dive we explored the crew quarters, engine room, sick bay, wheelhouse, the galley (complete with porcelain dishes, stove, utensils and other kitchenware) and the deck. The deck is covered in an amazing array of soft corals which attracts a huge amount of fish.

Island Sights

The terrestrial attractions on Chuuk are limited, which isn’t a problem since most visitors are here for the underwater attractions. A walk along the main street will hold your interest for about 1 hour, during which time you can check out the shops, purchase super cheap local coconut oil ($2 for a 1L PET bottle) or buy some fresh fruit. All Chuukese ladies wear the traditional Chuukese dress, which are sold in shops along the main street.

Shop on Weno selling traditional Chuukese dresses.

Shop on Weno selling traditional Chuukese dresses.

Outside of town there are some walking trails which will take you up onto the surrounding hilltops. The trails are rough and poorly marked so a local guide is recommended. You can also visit neighbouring atolls for the day, however there are no services or facilities available on these.

Coconut oil for sale on Chuuk.

A bottle of local coconut oil costs $2.

Accommodation

UA154 on the runway at Chuuk International Airport with Hotel Level 5 in the background

UA154 on the runway at Chuuk International Airport with Hotel Level 5 in the background

There are just a few hotels on Weno, but these are more than enough to cater to the small trickle of travelers who make it here.

Directly opposite the airport is the Level 5 Hotel. I stayed here and I’m glad I did. I visited every hotel on the island and, in my opinion, this is the best. The spacious, comfortable rooms are newly renovated and the ground floor features the best cafe/ restaurant on the island. The hotel also features the only elevator on Chuuk but interestingly the locals avoid it – they are either afraid of it or just not use to using one. When it comes time to leave, the airport is across the road. Despite its close prximity to the airport, the hotel offers a shuttle service and will be waiting to pick you up when you arrive – the shortest shuttle connection I’ve ever had.

Also within walking distance of the airport is the High Tide Hotel. This family-run hotel offers older style rooms and a good restaurant, which serves reasonably priced, generous portions of local seafood.

For divers who prefer to stay somewhere with an onsite dive shop, there are two options:

  1. The closest to downtown is Truk Stop Hotel. This is a family run hotel, whose American owner has been a key proponent of the local tourism (i.e. diving) industry for many years. The 23 hotel rooms are old and dated but a new wing was under construction during my visit (Feb 2017). Besides being home to just one of two dive shops on the island, the hotel offers a restaurant and two bars. If you wish to socialise, this is the only real option on the island.
  2.  The other option, Blue Lagoon Resort, is the most upmarket property on the island and the most expensive, although rooms here are in need of renovation. The resort dive shop was the first established on the island by local diving pioneer Kimiuo Aisek. The resort is located 8 km south of the airport away from the downtown area. The shared ‘town’ taxis (which regularly shuttle along the main road) do not travel this far south (the road is in terrible condition) so you will need to hire a taxi to reach the resort.

Eating Out

Options are limited, with the few hotels providing the only restaurants. My favourite place (and the ‘go to’ place for the best coffee) is the restaurant/ cafe at the Level 5 Hotel. This is a sister operation of a cafe in Honolulu and features the only espresso machine on the island. The cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is a popular spot for those waiting for the (often delayed) United Airlines Island Hopper.

The restaurant at Truk Stop Hotel is very popular, with a good selection of food and drinks and always a good ambiance. There’s a restaurant at the Blue Lagoon Resort (the only dining option at this end of the island) and at High Tide Hotel.

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for the Micronesia – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

UA154 on approach to Chuuk International Airport.

UA154 on approach to Chuuk International Airport.

By Air

Chuuk International airport.

Chuuk International airport.

Flights to Chuuk arrive at Chuuk International Airport on the island of Weno. This sleepy airport is a short walk from the downtown area and several hotels. For more details on UA154 and Chuuk Airport, refer to my Central Pacific Island Hopping blog.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Chuuk:

  • Air Niugini – flights to Pohnpei and Port Moresby with connections onto Australia and other destinations.
  • Caroline Islands Air – charter flights to Fais, Houk, Onoun, Pohnpei, Ta, Ulithi, Woleai and Yap
  • United Airlines – flights to Guam, Honolulu, Kosrae, Kwajalein, Majuro, Pohnpei
Asia Pacific Airlines (seen here at Chuuk Airport).

All freight in Micronesia arrives courtesy of two companies – Matson Shipping Line or Asia Pacific Airlines (seen here at Chuuk Airport).

Getting Around

Bus

There are no public buses on Weno.

Taxi

Taxi’s on Weno cost between $1 to $2 depending on distance traveled. The distance from the airport to the Blue Lagoon resort (one end of the island to the other) is about 5 miles.

Car

The Level 5 Hotel offers expensive (US$70 per day) car rental but there’s no need to hire a car on an island with one short road, which is covered by frequent (and cheap) shared taxis.

Chuuk license plate.

Chuuk license plate.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Central Pacific Island Hopping

Pohnpei Travel Guide

Smiling girl on Pohnpei

Pohnpei Travel Guide

Date Visited: February 2017

Introduction

After an hour of climbing in the sweltering, humid, heat – under the direct glare of the tropical sun – I’d finally made it to the summit of Sokehs ridge – a point marked by a very unceremonious communications tower. From here I had a panoramic view of the northern tip of Pohnpei. In the valley below, the capital – Kolonia – was slowly being enveloped by a fierce tropical storm. Like a deer staring into the headlights, I stood and watched as the storm clouds slowly rolled across the landscape towards me. Then the inevitable happened – first one drop, then another, then the heaven’s opened up – but after the long, hot climb, all that cool water was so refreshing. I had found a sheltered place for my camera bag, but as for me – I stood out in the open with my arms and mouth open, getting soaked and slurping the tropical rainwater.

Storm moving over the capital - Kolonia, Pohnpei

Storm moving over the capital – Kolonia, Pohnpei.

After the storm cleared, I had a magnificent view of Sokehs rock, a 100m high exposed basalt volcanic plug that shoots up out of the lush green landscape and is the most striking feature of Pohnpei’s topography. The island gets it’s name from this feature – “upon (pohn) a stone altar (pei)”. Just a few days earlier I had had a bird’s eye view of the rock from my seat (32D) on board the United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) as we passed by the rock on our final approach into Pohnpei airport.

Nature abounds on Pohnpei - the 'garden of Micronesia'.

Nature abounds on Pohnpei – the ‘garden of Micronesia’.

Pohnpei (formerly ‘Ponape’) is one of the four states, which comprise the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and bills itself as ‘the Garden of Micronesia‘. You don’t need to spend much time on the island to realise this is not some over-hyped slogan created by local tourism officials. Due to it being one of the wettest places on earth (annual recorded rainfall exceeding 76-cm/ 300-in), Pohnpei is full of lush, tropical, vegetation, a place where colourful, flowering plants frame every view. Visiting Pohnpei is like holidaying on an over-sized botanical garden – it’s that beautiful.

The island is surrounded by a fringing reef, which provides protection and so much more for the island. Surfing is popular on the reef and more and more intrepid surfers are finding their way to this remote island to ride the famed waves of Palikir pass. The reef also offers diving, snorkeling and fishing opportunities.

UA154 on approach to Pohnpei (PNI) passing over the fringing reef.

UA154 on approach to Pohnpei (PNI) passing over the fringing reef.

Almost all services on Pohnpei are located in the capital of Kolonia so this is the place to base yourself during your visit. The town has a population of 6,000 (almost the entire population of neighbouring Kosrae) so if you are coming from quiet Kosrae you will notice the hustle and bustle. There’s one road which circumnavigates the island and provides access to all the sights of interest.

The island has many natural attractions and many good restaurants and bars in Kolonia – enough to keep you busy for a few days.

Pohnpei - the garden isle.

Very cute! Flowers everywhere and for everyone on Pohnpei.

Location

View of the fringing reef that protects Pohnpei.

View of the fringing reef that protects Pohnpei.

Pohnpei is located in the middle of nowhere, midway between Hawaii and The Philippines. It’s part of the Federated States of Micronesia, being located at the eastern end of the Caroline Islands group. The island is volcanic and mountainous, with those mountains being covered in verdant rainforests and cascading waterfalls.

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History

I will provide a brief overview of the history of the island, for a more detailed history – please refer to this Wikipedia site.

Archaeologists estimate that people came to Pohnpei between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago from Southeast Asia. The first European contact was with the Spanish in 1529. The Spainish made the island part of the Spanish East Indies (along with The Philippines) and founded the city of Santiago de la Ascensión. This city was later renamed Colonia (Spanish for colony) which was in turn renamed to today’s Kolonia.

The elusive Pohnpei Lorikeet.

The elusive Pohnpei Lorikeet.

Rule of the island passed from Spain to Germany to Japan then (following the defeat of the Japanese during WWII) to the United States. The US administered the island (under UN auspices) as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands until 1986 at which point the island obtained independence as one of four states (along with Yap, Chuuk, and Kosrae) comprising The Federated States of Micronesia. 

The standout historical feature of the island (and it’s top attraction) is the impressive ancient ruins of Nan Madol – the most impressive ruins complex in the Pacific. For more on Nan Madol, refer to the sightseeing section below.

Sights

With the exception of Nan Madol and a few colonial relics scattered around Kolonia, most sights on the island are of the natural kind. The other joy of travelling on Pohnpei are the locals. Without exception, they are friendly, warm and welcoming.

Due to the complete lack of transport on the island you will need to hire a car if you wish to explore beyond Kolonia (you should definitely get out of town). There is one ring road around the island which is 130-km in length. You can cover all sights in one full day. There are very few petrol stations outside of Kolonia so better to have a full tank before leaving town. I’ve covered the sights as you will approach them if you travel in an anti-clockwise direction around the island, with Kolonia at the 12 o’clock position.

Girl on Pohnpei.

No shortage of smiles on Pohnpei.

Kolonia

With a population of 6,000, Kolonia is the capital and main city of Pohnpei. With a few roads, a handful of shops and all of the (limited) tourist services on the island, the town is the centre of action but very quiet and relaxed. There are few sights (a German clock tower and a Spanish stone wall) but it is a pleasant place to spend an hour or two exploring.

Sokehs Ridge

Sokehs Rock, Pohnpei.

Sokehs Rock, a gigantic exposed basalt volcanic plug is the most striking feature of Pohnpei’s topography

Overlooking Kolonia is the impressive Sokehs Ridge . The hike up to the top of the ridge offers a good workout and is best done early morning or late afternoon. If you have a car you can park it in the car park of the police station at the start of the tarmac road which leads part way up the ridge. Eventually the tarmac road becomes a dirt road (still passable in a 4WD) before reaching a level ridge from which point you must walk. This is the start of a very steep trail which climbs up to the ridge from where you will have the most amazing views of Kolonia and the Pacific. This is a long, sweaty slog on a remote ridge so ensure you are carrying ample water.

Japanese war memorial on Sokeh's ridge.

Japanese war memorial on Sokeh’s ridge.

Once you reach the top of the ridge (you’ll probably have the ridge to yourself) you can follow trails which take you to Japanese WWII ruins and eventually onto the communications tower from where you have panoramic views of the northern side of the island.

Palikir

FSM capital, Palikir

The FSM capital, Palikir, is located in a small administrative enclave on a side road of Pohnpei.

Just 8-km south of Kolonia is a right-hand turn off the main road, which leads to Palikir – the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia. The capital is a tiny planned enclave of little consequence, with uniformly designed buildings arranged around a small park area. I visited on a weekend and had the place to myself – there was no sign of life – no cafes, restaurants or services of any kind.

Government buildings in sleepy Palikir.

Government buildings in sleepy Palikir.

Nan Madol

Diagram of Nan Madol

Diagram of Nan Madol (source: Wikipedia)

Located in a remote coastal setting, about 90 minutes south of Kolonia (along the east coast), Nan Madol is the one ‘must see’ attraction on Pohnpei. If this was anywhere else in the world you would be lining up to buy a ticket and jostling with hoards of tourists who would be constantly photo-bombing your shots. But here – on remote Pohnpei – you will probably have the sight to yourself. The ruined city is very impressive and extensive, but the addition of being in such a remote place makes a visit a truly unique experience.

You reach the ruins after a 10 minute walk along a track, which leads you through a steamy mangrove forest. You have to pay three different  property owners an ‘access’ fee along the way, the last payment (US$5) is to the man who transports you across a narrow channel in his kayak, dropping you at the main entrance to the ruins.

Nan Madol, Pohnpei

The incredible Nan Madol

It is believed Nan Madol was constructed by the same people who built the Leluh site on Kosrae (for more on that refer to my Kosrae blog). The city was constructed in a lagoon and consists of a series of small artificial islands (nearly 100) spread over an area of 1.5 km by 0.5 km.

There is no public transport to Nan Madol, you can reach the ruins either by car or by joining a tour.

Kepirohi Waterfall

Pohnpei Travel Guide: Kepirohi waterfall

Kepirohi waterfall.

Located north of the Nan Madol turnoff (look for the roadside sign) is this beautiful Basalt waterfall. To access the falls, you first pay an ‘access’ fee to the property owner who occupies a shed by the main road. You then have a 5 minute walk along a lush, forested trail to the falls. This is a great place to cool off after a sweaty day of sightseeing so don’t forget your swimmers.

Accommodation

Like everything else, Kolonia is where it’s at in terms of accommodation options on Pohnpei. I stayed in the conveniently located 7-stars Inn, a short walk from the downtown area. Rooms here are spacious and comfortable and include free WiFi. One of the more popular restaurants in town – The Riverside Restaurant – is located in the basement of the hotel – along with one of the only sports bars on the island.  The hotel provides a free airport shuttle service.

Another popular (but more expensive) option is the Mangrove Bay hotel. The hotel is a little further from downtown Kolonia but is more relaxing and includes a PADI dive shop and boat transport for surfers wishing to catch a ride to Palikir pass. For all hotels it’s best to book using booking.com

Eating Out

There are plenty of wonderful restaurants, bars and cafes on Pohnpei – all located in Kolonia.

One place which deserves a special mention is the friendly, Japanese owned Sei Pepper shop. Mr Sei grows his pepper on a farm located on the southern side of the island, however the only place to buy his pepper is from his shop on the main street of Kolonia (located a short walk from the 7-stars Inn.) At the shop you can buy black and white Pohnpei pepper and Pohnpei coffee – all products are organic. Attached to the shop is a curry house where you can sample tasty curries, made from the local pepper. A specialty of the restaurant are their fiery Pohnpei pepper donuts, which you can wash down with a cup of Pohnpei coffee. The restaurant is the base for the local Japanese expat community, a collection of friendly elder men.

There are numerous restaurants in Kolonia – my favourite was the restaurant at the Joy Hotel. This restaurant serves amazing Japanese food (including the freshest sushi and sashimi) at very reasonable prices. All ingredients were fresh and nicely presented. I ate here more than once and would especially recommend ordering the ‘Joy special’.

For more upscale dining, there is the waterfront restaurant at the Mangrove Bay hotel.

A refreshing drink throughout FSM is iced tea – always made from fresh black tea, which is served in a glass with lots of cool ice. The sweetener (always simple syrup) is served on the side so you can decide on your level of sweetness.

Iced Tea served with simple syrup on the side.

Iced Tea served with simple syrup on the side.

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for the Micronesia – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

By Air

Pohnpei Airport

Arriving at Pohnpei Airport

Flights to Pohnpei arrive at Pohnpei International Airport. If you are seated on the right side of the plane you will have a spectacular view of Sokehs Ridge on the final approach.  For more on Pohnpei airport, refer to my Central Pacific Island Hopping blog.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Pohnpei:

  • Air Niugini – offers international flights to Chuuk and Port Moresby with onward connections to Australia and other Pacific/ Asian destinations.
  • Caroline Islands Air – offers domestic charter flights to other FSM islands.
  • Nauru Airlines – offers international flights to Kosrae, Majuro, Nauru and Tarawa with connections to Australia (Brisbane) and Fiji.
  • United Airlines – offers international flights to Chuuk, Guam, Honolulu, Kosrae, Kwajalein and Majuro.

Pohnpei airport

Getting Around

Bus

There are no buses on Pohnpei.

Taxi

There are a few taxis available in Kolonia.

Car

There are very few rental companies on Pohnpei but you will need a car if you wish to explore on your own. I hired a car through my hotel at $65 a day. Although expensive – I had a very nice, brand new, KIA Sportage – perfect for the bumpy, potholed roads outside of Kolonia. I felt like a ‘boss’ cruising around in my SUV and definitely didn’t want to give it up but United couldn’t fit it on the island hopper flight. :-))

As mentioned previously, fuel supply outside of Kolonia is limited so best to ensure you have a full tank prior to leaving town. If you do get stuck you can find roadside stalls selling fuel by the gallon ($5/ gallon).

I saw just one petrol station outside of Kolonia. Elsewhere you can purchase fuel from small roadside stalls.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Central Pacific Island Hopping

Kosrae Travel Guide

View of Kosrae Island

Kosrae Travel Guide

Date Visited: February 2017

Introduction

Looking out the window from my usual seat on the United Airlines Island Hopper (32D), I saw a spectacular sight rising up out of the dark blue depths of the Pacific – a magnificent emerald-coloured, volcanic pinnacle. This must be Kosrae (pronounced “Kosh-rye“), the island of the sleeping lady  the most easterly state in the Federated States of Micronesia.

The profile of the main mountain range, which is said to resemble a 'sleeping lady'.

The profile of the main mountain range, which is said to resemble a ‘sleeping lady’.

Remote, raw, spectacular  a lush, green, veritable ‘paradise lost‘. There is no doubting from the moment you set foot on the tarmac at Kosrae International Airport that you have arrived somewhere special.

Despite being a nearly full flight only half a dozen passengers disembarked at Kosrae – clearing immigration and customs took just a few minutes. Outside the airport, there was an air of relaxed calm with a few persons waiting around to collect arriving family members. There was also the representative from my hotel – the Pacific Treelodge Resort, one of just two hotels on the island. It was clear I was the only tourist arriving today. I was later told that the island receives around 300 tourists a year. As is custom when someone arrives on Kosrae, the friendly hotel representative placed a flowery lai on my head, then we set off for the hotel, located on the other side of the island.

All visitors to Kosrae are welcomed with a flowery lai.

All visitors to Kosrae are welcomed with a flowery lai.

The first thing you notice on Kosrae is how quiet it is. With a total population of 6,600, the whole island is one big village with very little traffic. The national speed limit is set at 25 MPH (40 KPH) but locals tend to drive even slower. It’s life in slow motion. And why not? Where are you rushing to? The paved road network runs from the airport (north-west corner of the island) along the east coast, through the tiny state capital of Tofol, to the southern town of Utwe. It’s a leisurely one hour drive. The official currency on Kosrae is the US dollar.

Child on Kosrae.

There is something magical about tiny Kosrae, a magic that comes from the remote, spectacular beauty of the island – a remoteness that ensures you will have the island almost to yourself. A magic that comes from the relaxed, slow pace of life, the warmth and gentleness of the friendly locals, or the small group of resident expats who are building and living their dreams. After five days on Kosrae, the island had worked it’s magic on me and if you ever have the chance to visit you too will no doubt experience the magic that is Kosrae.

Location

Located in the central Pacific region, 600 km north of the equator, Kosrae is the most easterly of the four states which comprise the Federated States of Micronesia.

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Kosrae’s land area is 110 square kilometres sustaining 6,600 people. The population has been declining steadily over the years as more people move elsewhere to find work – especially the USA where Micronesians have the right to live and work. Tofol is the state capital. Mt. Finkol is the highest point at 634 metres.

History

Kosrae hasn’t always been so quiet. The ruined city of Lelu was established around 1250 AD, reaching it’s heyday during the 14th and 15th centuries with a population of 1,500 and covered some 27 hectares. The rulers of Lelu conquered and unified the whole of Kosrae. They ran the island under a hierarchical monarchy system similar to Tonga.

The first Europeans to make contact with the island were the Spanish in 1529 who were sailing from Indonesia to their colony of New Spain in present day Central America. At the time the population of Kosrae was estimated at 6,000 persons. The Spanish took nominal control of the island and since that time the island has passed from Spanish control to German to Japanese to US.

Following the end of WWII in 1945 and the defeat of the occupying Japanese, administration over Kosrae passed to the United States, which ruled the island as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

In 1979 Kosrae joined with the states of Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap to form a constitutional government, becoming a sovereign state (Federated States of Micronesia) after independence was attained on November 3, 1986 under a Compact of Free Association with the United States.

For more on the history of Kosrae you can refer to the following Wikipedia page.

Sights

Mangrove walkway at the Pacific Tree-lodge resort.

Mangrove walkway at the Pacific Tree-lodge resort.

The best way to get to know the island is to first book a tour with the local fauna and flora expert – Carlos. I organised the tour through Maria at the Pacific Treelodge Resort.

Carlos is a native of Puerto Rico who came to Kosrae many years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer. He fell in love with the island and its people and has stayed ever since. Carlos’ enthusiasm for Kosrae’s natural attractions is infectious, and it won’t take long before he has roped you into helping him find the elusive small blue-faced parrot finch (after a day spent searching, I still never saw one).

Curious green lizard.

Curious green lizard.

The first stop on our tour was the Wiya Bird Cave, located in Tafunsak (about three miles from the airport). The mouth of the cave has a large opening that goes back about 20 metres and is home to thousands of Island Swiftlet birds who have built their nests on the roof of the cave. There are many nests on the ceiling of the cave and some that have become dislodged sitting on the floor of the cave. As is the custom in Micronesia, there is an entrance fee payable to the family ($2) whom own the land where the cave is located. You must pay before you enter – their house is along the road from the cave entrance.

After the cave Carlos took me down some back roads in search of local wildlife and bird life. Carlos drives a little red Hyundai and it doesn’t take long to realise that this small car seems to possess 4WD capabilities. Carlos loves bouncing along muddy, dirt tracks pointing out fine soaring examples of the native almond tree (used to build the long canoes unique to Kosrae) and other amazing plant life.

Touring Kosrae with Carlos.

Touring Kosrae with Carlos.

After showing me some towering Almond trees, Carlos took me to a place where I could see two of the famed Kosrae canoes. Kosrae canoes are renown in Micronesia as they are much longer than those on other islands since the trees on other islands do not grow as tall and as straight as the Almond tree.

The really long Kosrae canoe.

The really long Kosrae canoe.

After he had driven me the length of the island, I invited Carlos to join me for a late lunch at the restaurant at Kosrae Nautilus Resort (see ‘Eating out’ below for more details), where his wife is one of the cooks. He convinced me to order the deluxe burger, which she prepared. It was amazing.

After lunch, Carlos drop me at the nearby Lelu ruins, the main historical and archaeological site on Kosrae. Similar to Nan Madol on neighbouring Pohnpei, Lelu was once a thriving city. The city is built of blocks of coral and basalt. It consists of housing, royal tombs and sacred spaces. Today it’s completely overgrown and visiting it requires you to have a little bit of an Indiana Jones spirit – at least there are no snakes on the island.

Kosrae (Micronesia) Travel Guide: Over-grown Lelu ruins.

Over-grown Lelu ruins.

Once you find your way into the complex you will find sections of the old stone walls which are still visible but most of the complex has been reclaimed by nature.

Lelu Ruins on Kosrae.

Lelu Ruins on Kosrae.

If you are interested in diving while on the island I would recommend contacting (and diving with) Mark at Dive Kosrae. Mark has been diving on the island for years and is a PADI Dive Instructor who runs Dive Kosrae out of the Pacific Treelodge Resort, of which he is the owner along with wife Maria. Mark took me on two dives at Hiroshi’s Point on the south side of the island. Because of the topography of the island (i.e. underwater drop-offs), dives on Kosrae tend to be drift dives along walls. Everything – from the equipment – to Mark’s guidance and expertise and the fresh tuna steak sandwich for lunch (prepared by Bully’s) was fantastic. It was a great day of diving and, due to the low visitor count on the island, we had the reef to ourselves. There is also a dive operation at the Kosrae Nautilus Resort with a resident Dive Master.

Once I had finished my dives I treated myself to a screen printed “Dive Kosrae” t-shirt from the Green Banana Paper Company. 

"Dive Kosrae" shirt - screen printed at the Green Banana Paper Company

“Dive Kosrae” shirt – screen printed at the Green Banana Paper Company.

During my meander around the island with Carlos, we stopped by the Green Banana Paper Company. This fascinating enterprise was created by Matt Simpson, a young American who originally came to Kosrae as a teaching volunteer. In between teaching and surfing, Matt developed a vision – “to create a company that could help the local community by creating jobs and sustainable products from renewable materials”.

Today, the company produces paper from various local plant fibre (banana, taro and pineapple) and recycled paper. This paper is then turned into an array of beautiful items by the company artisans. In addition to the paper business, Matt has also started a t-shirt screen printing business. The shirt designs are beautiful and unique – a great souvenir of Kosrae. The factory is located on the main road in the village of Finaunpes and is open for free tours during weekdays. There is an onsite gift shop where you can purchase the beautiful handmade products. The following images provide an overview of the paper making process:

The screen printing process:

Accommodation

There are just two accommodation options on the island, (both very good but very different) located a short stroll from each other; the Pacific Treelodge Resort and Kosrae Nautilus Resort (KNR).

I chose to stay at the Pacific Treelodge Resort. The resort is owned and operated by an enthusiastic wife and husband team – Maria (Italian) and Mark (American). Located on the main road on the north-east coast, facing the ocean and surrounded by a mangrove swamp, the resort offers spacious rooms laid out around the edge of the mangrove.

It is also home to the #1 restaurant/ bar on Kosrae – Bully’s Bar  (see the ‘Eating out‘ below for more details). Bully’s is also used as a venue for other activities. On the day I arrived, Maria invited me to join the weekly yoga class on the deck of Bully’s overlooking the mangrove. There is a movie night held once a week at Bully’s – complete with popcorn. Basically everything you need is in one place.

The warm, friendly staff at the resort ensure your stay is a memorable one. In between keeping the place spotlessly clean, they use the flowers from the garden to prepare floral lais for arriving guests, flower arrangements for the rooms and when in the mood will strum the ukulele in Bully’s and sing enchanting local folk songs. It all forms part of the magic of the island.

Mangrove swamp at Pacific Treelodge Resort.

Mangrove swamp at Pacific Treelodge Resort.

Mark and Maria are enthusiastic about everything they do and it shows. Mark operates Dive Kosrae (a “5-star” PADI-rated operation) from the resort. If you are planning on diving while on Kosrae then Mark is your man. Maria is a big fan of the local fauna and flora and was the one who suggested I do a tour with Carlos – one of the highlights of my stay. They are both passionate about recycling and are always finding inventive ways to incorporate locally recycled products into construction materials, which they then use around the resort. In the development pipeline during my visit were building blocks made from PET bottles. These will be used as an ‘anti-termite’ construction material.

Kosrae Nautilus Resort made worldwide headlines  in 2016 when the original Australian owners, who had spent 20 years building up the business, decided to raffle the resort instead of selling it to a rich developer. This created a worldwide frenzy which resulted in the sale of 75,485 tickets at US$49 per ticket in 150 countries.

The lucky winner was Joshua, a 27 year old accountant from Wollongong, Australia. On the evening the owners called Joshua to inform him that he had won a multi-million dollar, 18 room resort, he was at the pub having drinks with some friends. He thought his mates were on the phone playing a joke on him. Little did he realise that at that moment his life was about to change in a monumental way. Joshua had just been handed the keys to a resort which is free of debt, profitable and has more than 20 years remaining on its lease. Joshua first had to look on a map to check where in the world Kosrae was located, then hopped on a plane and the rest is history.

Joshua by the pool at 'his' resort.

Joshua by the pool at ‘his’ resort.

KNR offers an air-conditioned restaurant (important in this part of the world) and the only swimming pool on Kosrae. Surrounding the pool are lush tropical gardens, a vegetable garden (used to supply the restaurant) and eighteen fresh, modern rooms. For those interested in diving, KNR has a dive operation, Nautilus Divers, staffed by a resident Dive Master.

Both hotels can be booked on booking.com

Eating Out

When it comes to produce, Kosrae is blessed in many ways. Because of the rich volcanic soil, the whole island is one big fertile garden. Everywhere you look, you’ll see fruit trees, vegetable gardens and so much more.

A Kosrae Tangerine.

A Kosrae Tangerine.

The ocean waters surrounding the island provide an abundant supply of fish and as such, are favoured fishing grounds for countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Korea and the US. Tuna is king here but you will also find lobster everywhere on the menu. Whilst I was on the island, I enjoyed the freshest of sushi and sashimi at least once a day.

The awesome Sushi Deluxe special at Bully's.

The awesome Sushi Deluxe special at Bully’s.

There are just two restaurants on Kosrae, one at the Kosrae Nautilus Resort and one at the Pacific Treelodge Resort. The most popular of the two is Bully’s Bar. This restaurant/ bar is named after Bully Hayes, a notorious American-born ship’s captain who was variously described as a pirate, cheap swindler, bully, con man, thief and bigamist. Bully Hayes operated in the Pacific in the mid 19th century and always evaded capture. However he was eventually killed by his cook off the coast of Kosrae in 1877.

The tranquil view from the deck of Bully's.

The tranquil view from the deck of Bully’s.

Located on the edge of a lush, green mangrove, Bully’s is part of the Pacific Treelodge Resort. The head chef at Bully’s is a local man who worked for many years in a Japanese restaurant in Waikiki. He returned to Kosrae armed with a whole lot of talent and ideas. His creations are amazing (especially his freshly prepared ‘sushi deluxe’ platter) and the portions very generous. You can be sure that the sushi/ sashimi at Bully’s is prepared using fresh, local tuna, which is something everyone should get to tantalise their tastebuds with at least once in their lifetime. the restaurant can be reached along an elevated pathway, which takes you through the mangrove swamp. The pathway is constructed from concrete slabs, which contain colourful shards of locally recycled glass – another recycling project from Mark and Maria.

Pathway through the mangrove to Bully's Bar.

Pathway through the mangrove to Bully’s Bar.

Located at the front of Kosrae Nautilus Resort and facing the ocean is the one other dining option on Kosrae. Food here is also very good and since there are just two choices on the island there is a good chance you will end up eating here at some stage. Here you have the choice of dining in air-conditioned comfort inside the restaurant or outside by the swimming pool. As with Bully’s, you will dine on the freshest of local seafood. The resort has its own vegetable garden to supply the restaurant with the freshest produce possible.

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for the Micronesia – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

By Air

Kosrae International Airport.

Kosrae International Airport.

Flights to Kosrae arrive at Kosrae International Airport.  The airport is dramatically located on a slice of reclaimed land across a channel from the main island. It’s connected to the mainland by an ornate, marble-balustrade bridge built by the Chinese government as a gift to the people of Kosrae. For more details on Kosrae airport, see my Central Pacific Island Hopping blog.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Kosrae:

  • United Airlines – provides services to Chuuk, Guam, Honolulu, Kwajalein, Majuro, Pohnpei
  • Nauru Airlines – provides services to Pohnpei, Marshall Islands, Tarawa, Nauru, Brisbane and Fiji
UA154 departing from Kosrae.

UA154 departing from Kosrae.

Getting Around

Bus

There are no buses on Kosrae.

Taxi

There are three small taxi companies operating on the island.

Car

Cars can be rented through either of the two hotels or through agents in Tofol. I rented a car through Pacific Treelodge Resort at $30 per day. One day is sufficient to explore the entire island.

Kosrae license plate.

Kosrae license plate.

One quirk on the island is that cars are never re-fueled directly from a petrol bowser, but rather from one gallon containers, which have been filled from the bowser. It was explained that locals don’t trust what they can’t see so they will not use a bowser.

Re-fueling 'Kosrae style'.

Re-fueling ‘Kosrae style’.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Central Pacific Island Hopping

Marshall Islands Travel Guide

Stormy skies over Majuro as seen from MIR.

Marshall Islands Travel Guide

Date Visited: January 2017

Introduction

Yokwe! Welcome to the very remote Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Located across the International date line, five and a half hours flight west of Hawaii. RMI is the first stop on the epic United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) – a 14 hour, all stops, meander through the central Pacific from Honolulu to Guam. For more on UA154, check out my Central Pacific island hopping blog. The official currency of RMI is the US dollar.

Marshall Islands Passport stamps.

Marshall Islands Passport stamps.

RMI has a total population of 60,000. The capital and main hub, with a population of 27,700, is Majuro. Here you’ll find the international airport, shops, restaurants, hotels and all services. The highest point on Majuro is at a giddy 3 metres – this can be reached by walking to the top of the Majuro Bridge. There is just one road on the atoll so you will not require Google maps.

Majuro Bridge connects Delap island to Long island

Majuro Bridge connects Delap island to Long island. Source: TripAdvisor

The real attractions of RMI lie offshore on the myriad islands where you’ll find great diving, snorkeling and fishing.

Location

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Located in the middle of nowhere halfway between Hawaii and Australia and north of Kiribati, RMI is made up of two parallel island chains; the Ratak (sunrise) and the Ralik (sunset). The country consists of 29 atolls and 5 islands – the tops of ancient, submerged volcanoes.  RMI is the most easterly part of Micronesia .

The largest piece of real estate in this part of the world is Kwajalein Island. ‘Kwaj’ is a restricted US Army base, built on land the US government has leased from the RMI since pre-independence days. UA154 makes a stop here but non-military personnel are not allowed to disembark. The island is home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.

UA154 departing from Kwajelein.

UA154 departing from Kwajelein.

 

History

It is believed the RMI was originally settled around 1,500 B.C. by Micronesians, migrating from the west. The first Europeans to make contact with the islands were the Spanish in 1529. They were passing through on a return voyage from their colony in the Philippines to Acapulco, Mexico. The British were the next visitors – mapping the islands in 1788 under the direction of British naval captains Thomas Gilbert and John Marshall, for whom the islands are named (Kiribati to the south used to be known as the Gilbert Islands).

The islands remained largely untouched by Europeans until the Germans arrived in 1878 and set up a coaling station. They declared the islands a German protectorate. The Japanese seized the islands in 1914 and held onto them until WWII at which point they became major battle grounds until US forces prevailed and liberated the islands.

In 1947, all former Pacific islands occupied by Japan were grouped together to form the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands  – administered by the United States. The Trust Territory included Palau, Guam, The Northern Mariana islands, Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

In 1978 the Marshallese voted to leave the trust territory, declaring independence in 1979 with Amata Kabua being elected as its first president.

For a more comprehensive overview of the history of RMI, you can refer to Wikipedia.

Bikini

From atomic bombs….

Atomic bomb test at Bikini atoll.

Atomic bomb test at Bikini atoll.

Following WWII, US President, Harry S. Truman, issued a directive to US army and navy officials that testing of nuclear weapons would be necessary to determine the effect of atomic bombs on US warships. Due to its remote location, well removed from international flight paths and shipping lanes, Bikini Atoll had the misfortune of being selected as the site for such tests. The only problem were the 167 local residents.

On a quiet Sunday in 1946, the then US governor to the Marshall Islands, visited Bikini and, after the local church service had finished, asked the islanders if they would be willing to vacate the island temporarily. They have never been able to return home.

Once the island had been vacated, the US military relocated 242 warships, 156 aircraft and 25,000 radiation recording devices to Bikini ready for testing. Between 1946 and 1958, 23 nuclear devices were detonated at Bikini, some underwater, some on land and others in the air. The largest detonation was from ‘Castle Bravo‘, which resulted in a staggering 15 megaton yield (a megaton is equivalent to one million tons of TNT). The bomb was 1,000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. In total, the 23 tests yielded a combined 42.2 megatons of explosive power. The tests completely destroyed and contaminated this once pristine tropical paradise, rendering it unfit for habitation.

In the meantime the islanders, who had been transported on a US Navy boat 200-km to Rongerik atoll, were struggling to survive as the island offered no arable land for farming nor a reliable water supply. They were eventually relocated to another atoll, but not before some had died from starvation. Today you can visit the Bikini atoll town hall on Majuro.

…to skimpy swimsuits.

Bikini Model

Source: Vogue Magazine

Meanwhile, in 1946, a Parisian engineer by the name of Louis Reard, had just created a skimpy two-piece swimsuit and was looking for a catchy name. In the headlines at the time was news of the nuclear testing at Bikini atoll. The rest is history.

Majuro

Traditional Boat Building workshop in Majuro.

Traditional Boat Building workshop in Majuro.

Majuro is a quiet, relaxing place. Apart from one tiny museum, there are no sights to visit, but the experience here is to soak up the ambiance of the atoll and plan trips to the nearby islands. I rented a scooter, which allowed me to explore the entire atoll.

It’s a long drive to the last village of Laura (named by US GIs in honour of Lauren Bacall). On the way, you will pass through the equally sleepy village of Rita – (also named by US GIs after Rita Hayworth). You will also pass a Copra processing plant which you can visit (weekdays only).

Adjacent to the Marshall Islands Resort is a traditional boat building workshop. Early Micronesians were skilled boat builders and navigators who made long canoe journeys among the atolls. Navigation was made by way of ‘stick charts’. At the workshop, you can observe the art of traditional boat building and have someone explain how to use a stick chart. Who needs Google maps?

A 'Stick chart' - used for navigation purposes.

A ‘Stick chart’ – used for navigation purposes.

If you wish to rent snorkeling gear or arrange diving, there is a dive shop at the Marshall Islands Resort, operated by a Japanese dive master.

 

Around Majuro

Enemanit Island, Marshall Islands.

Enemanit Island, Marshall Islands.

There are various offshore islands you can visit from Majuro. Arno island can be reached using the ferry from Robert Reimers Hotel (see the ‘Getting Around‘ section below). There is one basic guest house on Arno.

A highlight of my visit to Majuro was a Sunday trip to nearby Enemanit island. The island was once used as an R&R base for US soldiers and it’s said Bob Hope once performed on stage here. The remains of the stage are still visible. Today, Enemanit is a private island owned by Jerry Kramer, a local businessman – originally from the US – who,  over the last decades, has built up a collection of successful businesses, which now span the Pacific. Despite his success and the fact that he owns his own tropical island, Jerry is very unpretentious and grounded and is a great personality. Spending a day with him, his family and friends was a memorable experience. I was treated to a BBQ lunch, lots of beers and great conversation on the beautiful sandy beach. Jerry runs a boat every Sunday morning from the dock of his shipping company (PII) to the island. Friends and visitors are welcome to join him. If you are interested you should inquire at the office of Pacific International Inc (PII) on the northern side of the Majuro bridge.

Enimanet Island - a short boat ride from Majuro.

Enimanet Island – a short boat ride from Majuro.

A highlight of a visit to Enemanit Island is the opportunity to snorkel above the remains of a wrecked passenger plane, which lies in shallow waters 100 metres off the beach. A few metres in front of the plane is a wrecked helicopter – all great stuff. Ensure you bring your own gear.

Wrecked plane off the beach at Enimanet Island.

Wrecked plane off the beach at Enimanet Island. Source: Huffington Post

Accommodation

The view from Marshall Island's Resort.

The view from Marshall Island’s Resort.

There are few hotels on Majuro – the largest, with 80% of beds on the island – is the Marshall Islands Resort (MIR). Being the biggest fish in a very small pond, most tourists (including myself) end up staying here. Formerly an outrigger resort, the hotel has seen better days. The rooms are old and tired, the pool is permanently closed due to problems with the filtering system, service is very lax, staff are less than enthusiastic and not very helpful. The hotel restaurant is the largest on Majuro and hence is THE place for celebrations/ functions. Food and service is hit and miss. Anywhere else this hotel would not be so busy but there are few other choices on tiny Majuro.

One other choice is the much smaller Hotel Robert Reimers. The staff here are much friendlier and more helpful – this was my ‘go-to’ place whenever I needed information. The hotel is conveniently located downtown and includes the best restaurant/ bar on Majuro – Tide Table (see ‘Eating Out‘ below for more). You can book either of these hotels using Booking.com

Eating Out

The best bar and restaurant on Majuro is Tide Table, part of the Robert Reimers Hotel complex. With an array of flat screen TV’s on the walls, it has the feel of an American sports bar. The menu could also be best described as Sports Bar cuisine. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the burgers and pizzas are especially good. Happy hour is very popular and a great way to meet local expats.

The offerings at the Marshall Islands Resort restaurant are OK. This is the biggest restaurant on Majuro so you’ll probably end up here at some stage.

There is a weekly farmer’s market held every Saturday morning in downtown Majuro. On offer here, is fresh local produce grown on farms at the northern end of the atoll near the town of Laura.

Weekly farmer's market in Majuro.

Weekly farmer’s market in Majuro.

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for the Marshall Islands – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

By Air

Arrival at Majuro airport.

Arrival at Majuro airport.

All flights to Majuro arrive at Amata Kabua International Airport. For more details on the airport, refer to my Central Pacific island hopping blog.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Majuro:

Getting Around

Bus

There are no public buses on the island. Hotels operate minibus shuttles to/ from the airport.

Taxi

Shared taxis are the sole form of public transport on Majuro. They run shuttle services along the one main road between the airport and downtown. You never have to wait too long and they’ll go out of their way to drop you off at your front door. Fares are 0.50c for anywhere downtown or $4 for the 20 minute trip to the airport.

Ferry

Ferries to nearby islands, including Arno Island, operate from the dock at Robert Reimer’s. Best to ask the hotel reception staff for the current schedule.

Car

Marshall Islands License Plate.

Marshall Islands License Plate.

Hotels and various other companies offer hire cars on Majuro. I hired a scooter at $25 per day from MJCC (Marshall Japan Construction Company) in downtown Majuro.

With my scooter in the remote village of Laura waiting out a rain storm.

With my scooter in the remote village of Laura waiting out a rain storm.

 

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Central Pacific Island Hopping

Kiribati Travel Guide

Boys taking a mud bath on Kiribati.

Kiribati Travel Guide

Date Visited: January 2017

Introduction

Mauri! Welcome to Kiribati (pronounced ‘Kiri-bas’). You will get used to hearing the local version of ‘hello‘ as the friendly locals will greet you at every turn with a warm and welcoming ‘Mauri’.

Located in the central Pacific region, well off the tourist radar in the middle of nowhere is the surprisingly charming atoll nation of Kiribati. Very few people have heard of, much less visited this small country but that’s not surprising given its physical remoteness and lack of development.

Young girl on Kiribati.

Very cheeky!

With an annual GDP of just US$1600, Kiribati is the poorest country in the Pacific. This is no Hawaii or Tahiti. With grinding poverty, many people living in makeshift shelters along rubbish-strewn beaches (which are also used as toilets), over-crowded South Tarawa feels more like Africa than the Pacific. Aid organisations are changing things slowly with garbage collections now being implemented and sewage systems being installed.

If you are in search of a tropical paradise where you can enjoy a relaxing holiday in a plush resort with fine dining options then Kiribati is not for you. There are no resorts or fine dining restaurants and the beaches (at least on South Tarawa) are heavily polluted. South Tarawa is the capital and hub and home to all services and most tourist infrastructure. It’s an over-crowded, polluted, bustling, hectic, narrow atoll (just 100 metres wide in places), with one main road running along it connecting a myriad of villages. South Tarawa has a population of 50,000 (50% of the entire population).

Low tide on South Tarawa.

Low tide on South Tarawa.

Of the eight islands I visited on my island hop through the central Pacific, Kiribati was the highlight. What makes this place special are the people, they are some of the friendliest folks you’ll meet on this planet. Without exception, they are warm, welcoming and engaging. From the moment you arrive, you are made to feel welcome. After an amazing week in the company of the I-Kiribati, I was sad to say goodbye.

Ferris Wheel at Bonriki.

Ferris Wheel at Bonriki.

In 2013, the island recorded 5900 visitor arrivals; most of these ‘visitors’ were foreign aid workers. There is a large ex-pat population on the island working for various governmental/ NGO organisations. During my visit, the only other tourists I met were a Dutch couple. I was also the only tourist that they met. The official currency is the Australian dollar.

If you ever have the chance to visit – and you don’t mind roughing it a little – then Kiribati is a truly rewarding destination.

Traditional house on South Tarawa.

Traditional house on South Tarawa.

Location

Straddling the equator halfway between Hawaii and Australia, Kiribati is comprised of three far-flung island groups (Gilbert, Line and Phoenix). Within these groups, there are 33 low-lying atolls (most of them uninhabited) spread over 3.5 million square kilometers – an area of ocean equivalent in size to the continental United States.

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The date line has been diverted around Kiribati to ensure the Line Islands (closer to Hawaii than Tarawa) are in the same time zone (and day) as the rest of the country.

The International Date Line is shown in red.

The International Date Line is shown in red.

A Disappearing Nation

The average elevation of Kiribati is less than 2 metres. In places the width of the flat atolls is less than a 100 metres across. Many of the atolls are submerged during King Tides.

Just enough room for a two lane road on South Tarawa.

Just enough room for a two lane road on South Tarawa.

Rising sea levels and ocean temperatures caused by global warming threaten the people, economy, and very existence of Kiribati – some atolls have already disappeared. In 2014, the government of Kiribati paid US$8.77 million dollars to purchase a 5500 acre freehold estate on Fiji in the event that the nation must relocate.

History

Kiribati Flags.

The national flag of Kiribati features a gold Frigate bird flying over a golden sun with three blue/ white bands representing the ocean and the three island groups.

Formerly a British colony known as the Gilbert Islands, the islands were captured by the Japanese during the Pacific War in 1941. The Japanese spent the next two years establishing bases and fortifying the islands, until Allied forces (led by US Marines) invaded in 1943. The islands of Makin and Tarawa were the sites of major battles. Reminders of the battles on Tarawa can still be seen, especially on the smaller Betio (pronounced ‘Beso‘) Island. The assault on the island lasted 72 hours and cost approximately 6,000 lives on both sides. The Kiribati Cultural museum screens a short documentary of the American assault on Tarawa. The graphic footage was shot by an embedded camera crew and places the viewer squarely in the middle of the action. The film – “With the Marines at Tarawa” is 19-mins long but well worth watching as it gives you a real sense of the ferocity of the battle. The movie is available for viewing on YouTube:

With the Marines at Tarawa

The Allied forces eventually liberated the islands. The islands remained under British control until 1979 when they achieved full independence under the new name of Kiribati.

A wrecked Sherman tank laying in the sand on Betio Island.

WWII relic – a wrecked Sherman tank laying in the sand on Betio Island.

For more on the history of the island, you can refer to Wikipedia.

Sights

Kiribati has few sights as such. The real pleasure in exploring this tiny nation comes from the interactions you have with the friendly locals. I enjoyed walking around with my camera exploring different villages and neighbourhoods on both South and North Tarawa. The children especially loved the camera happily posed for photos.

Young girl on Betio Island.

Young girl on Betio Island.

Betio Island girls.

Children on Kiribati.

Boys enjoying a mud bath on Kiribati.

Boys enjoying a mud bath on Kiribati.

Discarded WWII relics litter Betio island the location of the ‘Battle of Tarawa’. Reminders of the battle remain scattered around the island and are now used as playgrounds by the local children.

WWII relics on the beach at Betio Island.

WWII relics on the beach at Betio Island.

 

Japanese Artillery installation on Betio Island.

Japanese Artillery installation on Betio Island.

The best way to find the relics is to follow the coastline around the island. There is a large, abandoned concrete Japanese bunker in the middle of town.

Japanese Bunker on Betio Island.

Japanese Bunker on Betio Island.

Betio is home to the main port and since this country imports everything there are plenty of containers on the island. However there is no container storage facility at the port so the roadsides of Kiribati are littered with rows of containers. Many shop owners use these containers for temporary storage.

Shipping containers line the streets on Betio Island.

Shipping containers line the streets on Betio Island.

The Kiribati Cultural Museum in Bikenibeu village is the only museum in the country. It will require about 30 minutes of your time – if it’s open. I turned up on two different occasions during the posted ‘opening hours’ to find the museum was closed. On the third attempt I got lucky. The highlight of the museum is the overview of the battle of Tarawa. There is a big flat screen TV where you can sit and watch the 19-min documentary – With the Marines at Tarawa.

Fishing is the main pastime on the island.

Fishing is the main pastime on the island.

As with other Pacific islands, the hub of each village on Kiribati is the community meeting house – known as a ‘Maneaba‘. These are similar to Marae’s in New Zealand. The Maneaba are used for all community events and the cool lino-covered floors are a popular place to relax in the mid-day heat. The most traditional and picturesque Maneaba is in the village of Bonriki (near to the airport).

Maneaba in Bonriki village.

Maneaba in Bonriki village.

With ninety-six percent of the population being Christian (more than 50% Catholic), there are some impressive churches on South Tarawa. Unlike churches elsewhere, there are no pews here. Instead, just like the Maneaba, the locals sit on the cool lino-covered floor.

Interior of St. Paul's church on Betio Island.

Interior of St. Paul’s church on Betio Island.

Separated from South Tarawa via a narrow channel – which can be crossed by foot at low tide – is the much quieter, more traditional island of North Tarawa. There is a daily ferry which connects the island to South Tarawa (Bairiki port). Accommodation options are limited to a few simple guest houses.

Low tide on North Tarawa.

Low tide on North Tarawa.

Accommodation

Most accommodation options are located on South Tarawa but even here options are limited. A good place to start your search is the accommodation page on the Kiribati Tourism website.

While on South Tarawa, I stayed at Utirerei Motel, which is located in Ambo village. This friendly, family-run hotel is staffed by enthusiastic staff who keep the place spotlessly clean and go out of their way to ensure your stay is memorable. Breakfast is included in the reasonable rate and the restaurant is one of the better places to eat on the island. You can book rooms using booking.com

Betio Lodge is another popular choice on Tarawa. The hotel includes a good restaurant and a cafe equipped with a proper espresso machine and the #1 barista in the country. The hotel is home to a fishing club which holds occasional tournaments.

Eating Out

Dining options are limited. Most locals cannot afford to dine out and there are few tourists requiring fancy restaurants. There are restaurants at the main hotels and also a few located along the main road.

BBQ fish at a roadside fish market.

BBQ fish at a roadside fish market.

The best cafe on Tarawa is Chatterbox, which is located inside a travel agent on the main road in Bikenibeu village. Everything here is very good from the latte’s and cappuccino’s to the food. This cafe is home to one of two espresso machines on Kiribati. Food supply on the island is erratic so the menu is kept simple. They also offer home made banana bread and other cakes. The whole place is kept clean and the air-con keeps things refreshingly cool. They also have a souvenir shop selling locally made handicrafts and a travel agent.

The one other place with decent espresso coffee is the cafe at Betio Lodge. The barista here (Peter) makes the best coffee on the island. Luckily it is at the other end of Tarawa from Chatterbox so regardless of which end of the island you are visiting – you are never far from a good coffee.

There is a roadside fish market near to the village of Bairiki. Do not be surprised to see live turtles being sold here.

Octopus for sale at a roadside market.

Octopus for sale at a roadside market.

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for the Kiribati – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

By Air

International air services into Kiribati are limited with just two airlines providing a weekly connection. Flights arrive at Bonriki International airport on Tarawa. Apparently Air Marshall Islands will resume service from Majuro on 6 April 2017.

Terminal at Bonriki International Airport.

Terminal at Bonriki International Airport.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Tarawa (TRW):

  • Air Kiribati – Domestic services to to all islands in the Gilbert group.
  • Fiji Airways – International service to Nadi
  • Nauru Airlines – International service to Majuro, Nauru, Kosrae, Pohnpei

Located in the car park of the airport is one of the best dining options on the island. Known as ‘Starbucks‘ – but so much better than it’s American namesake – the owner of this outdoor restaurant (actually a corrugated-iron shack) produces great tasting, delicious food over a gas cooker. It’s all wonderfully simple and unpretentious. Her banana bread is the best on the island.

Getting Around

Air

Air Kiribati flight arriving at Bonriki Airport.

Air Kiribati flight arriving at Bonriki Airport.

Domestic air services to the remote outer islands in the Gilbert Group are provided by Air Kiribati from their base at Bonriki Airport. Tickets are so reasonably priced (I paid A$56 return to Maiana Island), you can spend some of your time doing joy flights to different islands. The helpful station manager at Bonriki Airport will explain flight options from the schedule, take your payment (cash only) and issue you a hand-written ticket. Like everything on Kiribati, the airport operation is very friendly, low-key and casual.

My ticket's to Maiana Island.

My ticket’s to Maiana Island.

Air Kiribati tickets.

Some flights offer a circuitous, meandering journey stopping at four or five different islands before returning to Bonriki airport. Most of the outer islands have no infrastructure or services so they don’t lend themselves to overnight stays unless you are fully self-sufficient. If you’ve ever dreamed of being Robinson Crusoe, the outer islands await you.

On approach to Maiama island - one of the outer islands.

On approach to Maiama island – one of the outer islands.

Runways on the outer islands are simple dirt strips. The arrival of a flight from Tarawa is something that creates an air of excitement and you can expect most locals to be at the tiny airport to greet the plane and its passengers. The arrival of a tourist dials up the excitement level considerably.

Children playing around the plane at Maiana airport.

Children playing around the plane at Maiana airport.

Most tourists don’t make it beyond South Tarawa so you can expect quite a welcome along with offers of accommodation if you wish to stay – perfect for those seeking out a Gauguin-esque experience.

Friendly girls on Maiana island.

Friendly girls on Maiana island.

Seat allocation is not a problem on domestic flights, which operate more like an inter-island bus service. Children are nursed on laps, a family of four will occupy a twin seat – you just need to ensure your ventilation is working well.

Plenty of room for everyone aboard Air Kiribati.

Plenty of room for everyone aboard Air Kiribati.

Bus

Most of the 50,000 inhabitants of South Tarawa rely on privately operated mini-buses, which shuttle back and forth along the one main road on the atoll.  Fares are generally less than A$1. Despite running frequently, the buses are normally over-crowded (a la sardine can) but provide a great way to meet the locals and contract the latest cold or flu.

The Australian Government and Asian Development Bank (ADB) have recently spent A$60 million upgrading the main road on the island. This has greatly improved life for the inhabitants and introduced speed humps to the island 🙁

My trusty scooter on the newly upgraded road on South Tarawa.

My trusty scooter on the newly upgraded road on South Tarawa.

Taxi

There are no taxis on Kiribati. Hotels offer shuttle service from the airport.

Car/ Scooter

Hotels on South Tarawa can provide rental cars and scooters. I rented a scooter at A$30 per day from the George Hotel on Betio.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Central Pacific Island Hopping

Central Pacific Island Hopping

Island Hopping Route: Source - Great Circle Tracker

Central Pacific Island Hopping

Date of Island Hop: 26th of January 2017 – 3rd of March 2017

Introduction

Taking the United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) across the central Pacific has long been a dream. I recently got to live the dream when I incorporated UA154 into a longer journey from Los Angeles to Manila. This was a meandering odyssey from one side of the Pacific to the other, one which would take me to eight remote islands.

Along the way, I detoured from United’s network by making a side-trip with Nauru Airlines from Majuro to Kiribati. I’m glad I did – the people of Kiribati are the friendliest people I encountered on my journey. More on them and the atoll when I publish the Kiribati Postcard blog.

This blog provides an overview of air services in this remote region and describes my travel experience. I will publish separate ‘postcard’ blogs from each destination shortly.

Air Services

The following airlines offer services throughout the Central Pacific region:

United Airlines

United offers the most comprehensive network in the region. The Island Hopper (UA154) travels three times a week (Mon/ Wed/ Fri) on a 14-hour milk-run from Honolulu to Guam with 45 minute stops at Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Pohnpei & Chuuk. The same service operates in the reverse direction from Guam (UA155) also departing on Mon/ Wed/ Fri.

From Guam, United offer connections to other Pacific islands such as the Northern Mariana islands of Rota & Saipan, Yap (FSM), Palau and also Asia (Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai and various ports in Japan).

United Airlines Micronesia Routes

United Airlines Micronesia Routes.

Nauru Airlines

Nauru Airlines offer a weekly service every Friday (ON33) from Nauru to Pohnpei with stops on Kiribati, Majuro and Kosrae. The return service departs from Pohnpei on Sunday (ON32). From Nauru, you can connect to Brisbane or Fiji.

Nauru Airlines Route Map.

Nauru Airlines Route Map.

Air Niugini

As of December 2016, Air Niugini have commenced a weekly service connecting Port Moresby with Chuuk and Pohnpei every Saturday (PX072). The flight returns to Port Moresby every Sunday, with connections onto Australia and other Pacific islands.

Star Marianas

Star Marianas is a small airline offering a once-daily service between Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands (Rota, Tinian and Saipan). Their fleet consists of 12 single-engine Piper planes. Their office at Guam airport is located inside the freight building between the main terminal and the United ticket office.

Travel Costs

Not cheap!

Apart from swimming or building your own raft, almost the only way between these islands is via the thrice-weekly United Airlines Island hopper service. United operate largely in a monopoly environment and like any monopoly player they can charge what they like. There are no ‘deals’ on airfares in this part of the world. I paid just over US$1500 for a one-way economy class ticket from Honolulu to Manila. Ouch! You can get better pricing if you book a round trip.

Like United, Nauru Airlines operates in a monopoly environment, so there are no deals here. They are the only airline connecting Kiribati with the Marshall Islands with onward service to Kosrae and Pohnpei. The 75-min flight from Majuro to Tarawa cost AUD$385 return.

Air Niugini are currently selling one-way tickets between Chuuk and Pohnpei for US$83. United are quoting $289 for the same flight!

For travel between Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, tiny Star Marianas airline offers much cheaper airfares than United Airlines.

I met few other travellers on these islands – no doubt the high travel costs deter many.

In-Flight Service

United Airlines

United offered a level of in-flight service typical of US carriers – i.e. minimal at best!

Meals

As per the itinerary below, only one meal was served on the 14-hour flight from Honolulu to Guam. On two of the legs I was served a ‘snack’ which consisted of a turkey-loaf sandwich. On the remaining legs, you are offered a small packet of almonds or pretzels.  Non-alcoholic beverages are free, however if you wish to have a beer you will be charged US$7.99. Wine and spirits are available at various (higher) prices.

Meals offered on the 14-hour Island Hopper.

Meals offered on the 14-hour Island Hopper.

The one meal – breakfast  consisted of something that resembled a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. The over-processed offering was not prepared by United but was supplied by a 3rd party caterer and tasted awful. Best to bring your own food on this flight.

Entertainment

United’s Entertainment system is the old-style centrally controlled system, which is reset at the beginning of each hop. The only chance to watch a complete movie is on the 3-hour flight from Honolulu to Majuro. Since most hops are about one hour you will get to watch only the first hour of the movie of your choice. There are four movie channels to choose from. The flight map channel was never available. I recommend bringing a good book or providing your own entertainment.

Crew

Considering the crew on the island hopper work a straight 14-hour shift (with no crew quarters) they do a remarkable job at maintaining a friendly, professional level of service.

In order to satisfy FAA ‘flying-time’ regulations a 2nd pilot and co-pilot accompany the flight and takeover at some stage. They are seated upfront in seats 1A and 1B. Due to the fact that there are no mechanical services at any of the airports a United mechanic is also included in the crew. He is seated in the first row of economy class in seat 7C. All seats are blocked and marked ‘Crew Use’.

Nauru Airlines

Excellent service from this little-known airline. I would certainly fly with them again. Had I known they connected Majuro to Kosrae and Pohnpei I would have considered using them instead of United. Unfortunately, they only fly once a week. The airlines head office is located on Nauru but their principle place of business is Brisbane. The CEO is an Australian, maintenance is done at their facility at Brisbane airport and many of the crew have Australian accents.

Meals

A hot meal was served on all flights and all drinks were complimentary.

Entertainment

There is no entertainment, best to bring your own.

Crew

Very professional, efficient, Australian trained crew.

Itinerary

Boarding passes from the island hop.

Boarding passes from the island hop.

 

Honolulu – Majuro (Marshall Islands) – Kosrae (FSM) – Pohnpei (FSM) – Chuuk (FSM) – Guam (USA)

Itinerary - Honolulu to Guam on UA154.

Itinerary – Honolulu to Guam on UA154.

Guam – Palau – Manila

Itinerary - Guam to Manila.

Itinerary – Guam to Manila.

 

Majuro – Tarawa (Kiribati) – Majuro

Itinerary - Majuro to Tarawa

Itinerary – Majuro to Tarawa.

 

Island Hops

Hop 1: Honolulu (HNL) – Majuro (MAJ)

Honolulu (USA)

The first thing you notice when you check in for the island hopper is that the preferred item of luggage used by many of the islanders is the durable and robust Coleman cooler box. These are packed with all sorts of food and other goodies and wrapped shut with duct tape.

The most popular form of luggage in the Pacific - the Coleman Cooler Box.

The most popular form of luggage in the Pacific – the Coleman Cooler Box.

After checking in I decided to find some breakfast. Since I’d had an early departure (4:30 am) from my hotel in Waikiki, I was famished. The only dining options open on the air-side were Burger King and Starbucks. I chose Burger King and later, once on the flight, I was happy that I did. Breakfast is the only meal served on the 14-hour flight and breakfast this morning consisted of a cheap imitation McDonald’s’ Egg McMuffin.

Our flight left on time at 07:25 am. I would later learn (while waiting for a delayed UA154) that the flight is often delayed departing HNL due to the late arrival of the incoming aircraft from Guam.

Waiting to depart Honolulu on UA154.

Waiting to depart Honolulu on UA154.

Majuro (Marshall Islands)

During the flight we crossed the International Date Line into Saturday and landed on time at Amata Kabua International Airport on Majuro atoll (capital of the Marshall Islands).

Arrival at Majuro, Marshall Islands.

Arrival at Majuro, Marshall Islands.

With the exception of Honolulu and Guam, all airports on the island hop have small ‘1 gate’ terminals. There are no air bridges, instead United supplies a pedestrian ramp-way at each terminal. There are also no taxi-ways, planes make their turns at the end of the runway, which is no problem as there is almost no traffic.

Terminal at Majuro Airport.

Terminal at Majuro Airport.

Arriving at Majuro: Flight arrived on time at 10:35-amPassengers line up at immigration to hand their arrival form (supplied on the flight) to the friendly immigration officer who normally grants a 30-day stay. Once you have passed immigration, you wait for your bag to be delivered through an opening in the terminal wall. Everything here is done manually so things take time but normally there are few passengers disembarking. Most remain in-transit. Once you have your bag you clear customs and hand in your Customs declaration form, which would have been handed to you on the flight.

There are few hotels on Majuro and most of them provide a shuttle transfer from the airport. If one is not provided, there are many shared taxis, which shuttle along the one, long road on the atoll.  The fare from the airport to downtown is US$4. Fares around town are just 75 cents.

I stayed at the Marshall Islands Resort, which is where most tourists seem to stay.

Marshall Islands passport stamps.

Marshall Islands passport stamps.

Transiting Majuro: Passengers are allowed to de-plane to stretch their legs during the 45-minute stop. They are free to wait inside the small departure lounge where there is a kiosk selling snacks and a nice old Marshallese lady selling local handicrafts. WiFi is available for purchase. If you want a passport stamp as a souvenir of your stopover you can ask immigration. I saw transit passengers getting stamps.

Hop 2: Majuro (MAJ) – Tarawa (TRW) – Majuro (MAJ)

Tarawa (Kiribati)

While I was in this remote part of the world I decided to make a detour from the island hopper route and fly south to another remote atoll nation – Kiribati (pronounced: Kiribass).

Kiribati is one of the least developed nations in the Pacific. Most of its inhabitants live in make-shift constructions on the over-crowded atoll of South Tarawa. This is not a destination for those who dream of holidaying on a Pacific paradise isle. This is a developing nation, where most people live in grinding poverty. The beautiful turquoise waters of the Pacific are used as a toilet by the 50,000 inhabitants and the tiny atoll (100m across in most places) is covered in litter. Things are changing with large investments being made by the Australian & NZ governments in various aid projects, which include the installation of public toilets, sewage treatment plants and rubbish collection.

If you are adventurous I would highly recommend a visit to Kiribati. Without exception the people are very warm and friendly. I spent a week on the atoll and was sad to leave. You will not meet any other tourists here but plenty of aid workers.

Nauru Airlines at Pohnpei airport.

Nauru Airlines at Pohnpei airport.

The island is served by weekly flights from Nauru Airlines and Fiji Airlines. Nauru Airlines flies every Friday from its base on Nauru to Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Kosrae and Pohnpei, returning the same way on Sundays. The airline is a delight to fly with, offering a high level of service. All flights to Kiribati arrive at Bonriki International Airport.

Fiji Airlines offers a weekly connection to their hub at Nadi (Fiji), with onward connections to other South Pacific destinations.

Arriving at Tarawa: Flight arrived on time at 10:05-am. Passengers are processed by the friendly immigration officers, who grant a 30-day stay. Bags are delivered through an opening in the side of the terminal.

Kiribati passport stamps.

Kiribati passport stamps.

Most hotels will provide a shuttle service, but if you need to use public transport there are minibuses which run frequently from the airport along the new (Australian Govt. / Asian Development Bank funded) main road. The currency of Kiribati is the Australian dollar.

Departing Tarawa: There are just three check-in desks at Bonriki Airport; two for domestic flights and one for international flights. Once you have checked in you get your passport stamped at the adjacent immigration desk then wait for security screening to open. There is just one gate which is used by both domestic and international passengers. Security staff only admit one group at a time, usually allowing international passengers into the lounge once their flight is close to arriving. Unlike other airports in the region, there is no terminal fee charged here.

Flight departed on time at 12:00-pm.

Transiting Tarawa: Passengers are not allowed to de-plane.

Hop 3: Majuro (MAJ) – Kwajalein (KAJ) – Kosrae (KSA)

Majuro (Marshall Islands)

After spending an amazing six days on Kiribati I returned to the Marshall Islands for four days to explore Majuro and one of the offshore islands. The Marshallese are much more reserved than the Kiribati folks but still pleasant. More on my experiences there in my Marshall Islands Postcard.

Departing Majuro.

Departing Majuro.

Departing Majuro: The tiny terminal at Amata Kabua International Airport offers a decent cafe (home to the cleanest toilet at the airport), a few gift shops (which open when a flight is due), a small bank branch and a single check-in desk.

The check-in process is like a two-step shuffle, consisting of the following steps:

  • Step 1: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 2: Take your tagged bag to the baggage guy who is located to the left of the check-in desk. He will inspect your bag (no x-ray here) and place it on a short conveyor which leads to the baggage cart.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee at the window marked ‘Terminal Fee’. This is where you will receive your boarding pass – with the terminal fee receipt stapled to it.
  • Step 4: Once you have paid your fee and received your boarding pass you proceed to security screening and then immigration.

If you are hungry at the airport it is best to eat at the cafe in the departure area. Once on the air-side your food option is limited to one small kiosk selling snacks.

Flight departed on time at 11:20-am.

Kwajalein (Marshall Islands)

The first hop on this segment of the Island Hopper is a 45-minute flight from Majuro to Bucholz Army Airfield, which serves the island of Kwajalein . ‘Kwaj’ is a restricted US Army base, built on land the US government has leased from the Republic of the Marshall islands since pre-independence days. The island is home to a small population of US Army personnel and other contractors – all of whom need authorisation from the US Army to be there. The island is home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.

In addition to army personnel, there are about 14,000 Marshallese residents who live on adjacent Ebeye island.

Arrival at Kwajalein: Only US military personnel, other authorized persons and Marshallese residents of Ebeye are allowed to de-plane here.

Kwajalein transit passengers:  Transit passengers are not allowed to de-plane. No photos are allowed at the airport as it is a US Army base.

UA154 departing from Kwajalein.

UA154 departing from Kwajalein.

Kosrae – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

Soaring up out of nowhere in the middle of the deep blue waters of the Pacific is a lush green, mountainous island known as Kosrae (pronounced ‘ko-shrye’). It is known as the “island of the sleeping lady” due to the profile of the central mountain range, which does look strangely like a sleeping lady. This is the first island of the FSM group you will arrive at if travelling from the east. FSM is an independent nation, consisting of the island states of Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk (formerly Truk) and Yap.

Kosrae is tiny, remote, wild and beautiful. With a population of just 6,600 , the island is well off the tourist radar, receiving 300 tourists a year. When I disembarked I was accompanied by five returning residents. This is a special place and if you ever get the chance to visit you should do so. More to come in my Kosrae Postcard.

Arriving at Kosrae: A dramatically located airport built on reclaimed land across a channel from the island itself. Just a few of us de-planed here. I handed in my immigration form (handed out during the flight) and received a stay corresponding to the number of days I was staying on the island (this is standard practice throughout FSM). Customs were very relaxed – happy to see a tourist.

Note: Each state of FSM takes care of its own immigration formalities. For each state you enter, you will be required to complete the same entry form and will be stamped in/ out at each airport.

There are just two hotels on the island; Kosrae Nautilus Resort and the Pacific Treelodge resort, both of which will collect you from the airport since there is no public transport on the island and very few taxis.

I stayed at the latter and would highly recommend staying there. There are just two restaurants on the island, both located at the two hotels. The restaurant at the Treelodge – Bully’s is the best choice. The setting on the edge of the Mangrove is very special as is the food, which is prepared by a local chef who worked for years in a Japanese restaurant in Honolulu. My favourite dinner was the $10 sushi platter, which included 21 pieces of freshly made sushi with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. I was sad to leave here.

Kosrae passport stamps.

Kosrae passport stamps.

Transiting Kosrae: Like Majuro –  transit passengers are allowed to de-plane to stretch their legs during the 45-minute stop. They are free to wait inside the small departure lounge where there is a kiosk operated by a nice lady who sells snacks. I especially recommend buying a packet of the local banana chips. They are the best. If you want a passport stamp as a souvenir of your stopover you can ask immigration.

Arriving at Kosrae airport.

Arriving at Kosrae airport.

Hop 4: Kosrae – Pohnpei

Kosrae – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After five amazing days on Kosrae it was time to take my usual seat (32F) on UA154 for the 1 hour flight to Pohnpei.

UA154 at Kosrae.

UA154 at Kosrae.

Departing Kosrae: Similar check-in process as Majuro:

  • Step 1: Upon entering the airport you present your luggage for manual inspection. There are no x-ray machines here. Once inspected the customs official will place your bag behind the check-in counter.
  • Step 2: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee at the window marked ‘Terminal Fee’. This is where you will receive your boarding pass – with the terminal fee receipt stapled to it.
  • Step 4: Once you have paid your fee and received your boarding pass you get your passport stamped at the adjacent immigration desk.
  • Step 5: Proceed through security screening into the departure lounge,
  • Step 6: Buy a packet of local banana chips from the nice lady at the kiosk.

US154 departed on time at 1:47-pm

UA154 departing from Kosrae.

UA154 departing from Kosrae.

Pohnpei – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

An hour after leaving Kosrae we landed on Pohnpei, home to the capital of FSM – the government enclave of Palikir. The landing here takes you over the fringing reef then past the towering Sokeh’s Rock – a huge granite plug, which is the island landmark.

UA154 on approach to Pohnpei.

UA154 on approach to Pohnpei.

Arriving at Pohnpei: UA154 arrived on time at 2:50-pm. I handed my arrival forms to immigration, received my stamp for the number of days corresponding to my stay, passed customs, collected my bag and met my hotel shuttle.

Like Kosrae there is no public transport on Pohnpei – although the island is much larger in terms of area and population (34,000). You either have your own car or you walk. There are some taxis available around the capital – Kolonia. All hotels offer an airport shuttle service. I stayed in downtown Kolonia at 7 Stars Inn, which I would recommend. This is a good option if you want to be able to walk around town. Other hotels are further out of town.

Transiting Pohnpei: Once again, transit passengers are free to de-plane during the 45-minute stop and wait inside the departure lounge, where you’ll find one cafe offering hot food, snacks, beer (cheaper than on the flight), coffee etc.

Hop 5: Pohnpei – Chuuk

Pohnpei – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After six days on Pohnpei it was time to re-join UA154 for the next leg of the hop – onto the diving paradise of Chuuk. My flight was delayed by 2 hours. This often happens so hotels along the route will always call ahead first to confirm the aircraft arrival time so their guests aren’t keep waiting around at the airport. The next island hopper was delayed by six hours!

Departing Pohnpei: Similar process to Kosrae with a slight variation:

  • Step 1: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee to the attendant next to the check-in desk. He will issue you with a receipt and your boarding pass.
  • Step 4: Proceed to immigration to complete formalities.
  • Step 5: Pass through security screening into the departure lounge.

The departure lounge at PNI is the largest in FSM. It offers one TV tuned to CNN, WiFi (paid) and one cafe, which serves a reasonable selection of food and drinks.

UA154 departing Pohnpei.

UA154 departing Pohnpei.

Chuuk – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

As a keen scuba diver, Chuuk (formerly Truk) was one of the key reasons I planned this trip. During WWII, Chuuk was home to the Japanese Pacific Fleet. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, the Americans retaliated by launching Operation Hailstone. The attack took place over two days and involved a combination of airstrikes and submarine/ surface ship attacks. More than 50 major shipwrecks from WWII litter the seabed of the lagoon. Chuuk is considered the No. 1 shipwreck diving destination on the planet and has to be seen to be believed. Incredible diving and lots of beautiful islands to explore in the large lagoon.

Arriving at Chuuk:

Due to its underwater attractions, Chuuk attracts more tourists than anywhere else in Micronesia. Since it’s one stop from Guam most tourists choose to fly directly from there rather than sit on UA154 for 10 hours.

Due to the late arrival of the incoming flight to Pohnpei, we arrived 2 hours late on Chuuk. Again – very few passengers disembarked here, most were travelling onto Guam. Handed in my immigration form (same as the one used for all other FSM states), cleared customs, exited the airport and was surprised to see a hotel shuttle waiting for me. Why surprised? I had booked in L5 Hotel, which is across the road from the airport. It was the shortest shuttle ride ever. When I departed, I told the hotel I would walk to the terminal (2 mins).

You can’t beat L5 for it’s convenient location, the fact that the whole place is newly renovated and that the best restaurant/ cafe on the island is located on the ground floor. The restaurant has been established by a cafe owner from Honolulu. The food is the best on the island and they have the only espresso machine I saw on Chuuk. I did all my diving through The Truk Stop hotel, which I would recommend.

Micronesia passport stamps.

Micronesia passport stamps.

Hop 6: Chuuk – Guam

Chuuk – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After 6 days of amazing diving on Chuuk, it was time to fly the last hop of the island hopper to Guam.

Departing Chuuk: To my surprise I was informed by my hotel that the flight was actually running ahead of schedule. Luckily, I had a short walk across to the terminal where I checked in. The process here is the same as everywhere else in FSM… Once you pay the $20 terminal fee you get your boarding pass.

On the air-side there is a small kiosk selling snacks. These kiosks always get busy when the transit passengers file in off the incoming flight.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

Guam – USA

After almost a month on remote, tiny Pacific islands I was looking forward to the hustle and bustle of Guam. With its high-rise hotels wrapping around the emerald green waters of Tumon Bay, it’s shopping malls, outlets, American fast food chains, restaurants, bars etc – Guam is a mini version of Hawaii.

Guam is home to the native Chamorro people, a large Filipino population and a sizable US Military population who work at the two large bases (Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base). Added into the mix are 1000’s of Japanese, Korean and Chinese tourists who flock here for short breaks to spend some time shopping and relaxing in the Tumon Bay area. Here you will find all the large hotels but they are not cheap due to the islands popularity. I found a more reasonably priced apartment on booking.com.

The island is large, diverse and offers a wealth of sightseeing. Rental cars are cheap at the airport and essential if you wish to explore beyond the tourist enclave of Tumon Bay. I easily spent six days on the island. If you are in town on a Wednesday evening be sure to join the throngs for the best local BBQ dinner at the Chamorro village in Agana.

 

UA154 arriving at Guam

Arriving at Guam: If you have spent any amount of time on the other islands, the first thing you will notice upon arrival at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport is how big and busy it is. Lots of gates instead of the usual ‘1’ and lots of aircraft movement instead of one movement every few days. This is a busy airport with most of the flights shuttling tourists from Japan and Korea and now increasingly China. Guam is also a regional hub for United Airlines.

The island Hopper was early into Guam which would have been good news for the Guam-based crew. Arrival procedures here are the same as any other international gateway- but at this airport (unlike all others on UA154) your bag is delivered on a carousel – strange to see one after weeks of receiving my bag through a hole in the terminal wall.

Entry requirements are the same as the US.

In the terminal, there are all the usual US car rental agents. I pre-booked a car with Alamo, which was reasonable at $30 per day. You need a car here unless you are going to spend a short time lazing around the beach. I also needed the car to get to my apartment, which was in the neighbourhood of Sinajana. If you have a craving for anything from your favourite US restaurant chain your appetite will be satisfied on Guam. From Denny’s to Tony Roma’s and many more – they are all here.

Hop 7: Guam – Palau

Guam – USA

After an amazing week on Guam it was time to move onto the next island – Palau.

Guam had been wonderful, providing all the conveniences of the US in the middle of the western Pacific. From wonderful infrastructure, large supermarkets (I self-catered a little) to all the restaurants and shops you would find on the US mainland. Where else can you shop at Macy’s in this part of the world? Although the most popular shop on the island is the ‘Ross – Dress for Less‘ outlet at the Guam Premier Outlet Mall. With opening hours from 6-am to 1-am, seven days a week, there is always a huge line of Asian tourists waiting patiently to pay for their bargains. More on Guam in my Guam Postcard.

Departing Guam: I returned my car to Alamo and proceeded to the United check-in area. The terminal is mostly used by large groups of tourists from Korea, Japan and China, with airlines from these countries providing frequent daily connections.

Exit formalities are the same as the US (i.e. no stamping of passports). There is a small food court on the air-side, which was full of diving groups from Europe waiting for a flight to Chuuk. Most of the shops close early so if you plan to purchase anything do it first. My flight departed on time at 07:55-pm but most of the airport was closed well before this time.

The flight time to Palau was 90 minutes with United providing yet another ‘snack’.

Palau

I had heard many good things about Palau and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite being an expensive destination (it was the most costly destination on this journey) the diving was incredible, the environment is pristine and the local culture is very much alive and completely different to anywhere else in the region. The government has taxes galore, which they charge tourists, including a US$50 departure tax which includes a $30 ‘green fee’. Despite the expense, Palau is definitely worth visiting once in your life.

A Bai (traditional meeting house) on Palau.

A Bai (traditional meeting house) on Palau.

Arriving on Palau: UA157 touched down at a wet Palau International Airport on time at 9:05-pm. Palau airport is larger and more modern than most in the region with air-bridges and at least two gates. The flight was half full so clearing immigration and customs was fast. I was granted a 30-day stay.

Palau passport stamps.

Palau passport stamps.

My hotel did not provide a shuttle service so I asked about car rental at the Alamo counter. They quoted US$70 per day – more than double the cost on Guam. Welcome to Palau! I decided to settle for a taxi but there were none. The kind lady at the Information Desk offered to take me instead for the same price ($25 to downtown Koror). She closed the Information counter and drove me to my hotel.

 

Hop 8: Palau – Manila

Palau

I spent a total of six days on Palau which is enough time to explore this little piece of paradise. During this time, I got to scuba dive with Manta Rays, countless sharks and other amazing marine life, drive a rental car around the main island of Babeldaob and explore the offerings of the main town – Koror. It was now time to wrap up this odyssey by taking my final flight to Manila.

Departing Palau: Due to the constant snaking line of traffic, which crawls along the one-lane main road of Koror, you should allow plenty of time to reach the airport. If you arrive too early you will find the door to the check-in area is locked. Once you have checked-in you go upstairs to pay your $50 departure tax ($20 terminal fee/ $30 green fee) then have your passport stamped and proceed through security screening into the lounge. In the lounge, you’ll find one over-priced Duty Free shop and a small kiosk. If you are hungry it’s best to eat in the one upstairs restaurant before you pass through immigration.

Flight time to Manila is just under 3 hours. United once again provided a ‘snack’. Non-alcoholic drinks are provided free of charge, anything else is available at cost.

Manila – Philippines

Arriving in Manila: Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)  has been operating over-capacity for years. Whenever I have flown in here I have been delayed while the plane is put into a holding pattern. Tonight, was no exception. After a smooth, on-time flight the captain announced we were in a holding pattern and would be delayed approximately 50-mins. NAIA has just two runways and four terminals with a capacity for 28 million passengers per year. In 2015, almost 37 million passengers passed through the airport.

United arrive at Terminal 1 which is the main international terminal. There are always long lines for immigration here.

After receiving my bag I proceeded outside to take a taxi to downtown. If you will be taking taxis (recommended in this crazy metropolis) it is worth installing the free ‘Grab‘ app on your smartphone before you arrive. This is the most popular ride sharing app in Manila (and other cities in Asia). Unlike Uber it deals with cash payments (useful in a city where a fare can be just $3) so no need to register your credit card. A regular taxi fare to Makati from the concession stand outside Terminal 1 is P650. The same trip on Grab will could less than P300. Always request the driver to use the (faster) Skyway which will cost you an extra P20 for the toll. There are Grab stands outside of each terminal, where a Grab representative will order you a taxi – so if you don’t have the app you can still use the service

Grab Taxi counter in Manila.

Grab Taxi counter in Manila.

From Manila it was onto the next adventure… more on that another time.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide