Tag - Palau

Palau Photo Gallery

Detail of a traditional Bai at the Belau National museum.

Palau Photo Gallery

This is a Palau Photo Gallery. To read about this destination, please refer to my Palau Travel Guide.


All images are copyright! If you wish to purchase any images for commercial use, please contact me via the Contact page.


 


About taste2travel!

Hi! My name is Darren McLean, the owner of taste2travel. I’ve been travelling the world for 33 years and, 209 countries and territories, and – seven continents later, I’m still on the road.

Taste2travel offers travel information for destinations around the world, specialising in those that are remote and seldom visited. I hope you enjoy my content!

Ever since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the idea of travel. I started planning my first overseas trip at the age of 19 and departed Australia soon after my 20th birthday. Many years later, I’m still on the road.

In 2016, I decided to document and share my journeys and photography with a wider audience and so, taste2travel.com was born.

My aim is to create useful, usable travel guides/ reports on destinations I have visited. My reports are very comprehensive and detailed as I believe more information is better than less. They are best suited to those planning a journey to a particular destination.

Many of the destinations featured on my website are far off the regular beaten tourist trail. Often, these countries are hidden gems which remain undiscovered, mostly because they are remote and difficult to reach. I enjoy exploring and showcasing these ‘off-the-radar’ destinations, which will, hopefully, inspire others to plan their own adventure to a far-flung corner of the planet.

I’m also a fan of travel trivia and if you are too, you’ll find plenty of travel quizzes on the site.

Photography has always been a passion and all the photos appearing in these galleries were taken by me.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact me via the contact page.

I hope you this gallery and my website.

Safe travels!

Darren


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Top 10 Pacific Island Experiences

The 'Heart of Voh' is a naturally occurring heart-shaped bog inside a mangrove swamp.

Top 10 Pacific Island Experiences

Welcome to the taste2travel Top 10 Pacific Island Experiences feature.

Introduction

How appropriate to include the impressive Heart of Voh as the feature photo for this post, which lists my top ten, most-favourite, experiences throughout the Pacific Islands. If you’re looking for travel ideas for your next trip, you might find some inspiration from the list below.

It would be easy to compile a top ten list for each country, but in this post I have included an experience from 10 different islands with links to each country report for further reading.

Experiences

My personal “Top 10 Pacific Island Experiences” (listed in no particular order) are:

#1 – Vanuatu

Standing on the edge of the very active Mount Yasur Volcano.
Mount Yasur volcano, as viewed from the ash plain.

Mount Yasur volcano, as viewed from the ash plain.

A short flight south of Éfaté, the main island of Vanuatu, is the rugged and largely undeveloped island of Tanna, which is home to the Mount Yasur volcano, the world’s longest continuously erupting volcano – 800 years and counting!

Walking on the edge of the crater at Mount Yasur.

Walking on the edge of the crater at Mount Yasur.

It was the night-time glow from Mount Yasur that first attracted Captain James Cook to the island and today attracts intrepid travellers. If you’ve ever wanted to stand on the edge of the crater of an explosive, magma-filled volcano, Mount Yasur should be on your bucket-list. A truly magnificent, and at times scary, experience!

The night-time glow from the Mount Yasur volcano illuminates the night sky.

The night-time glow from the Mount Yasur volcano illuminates the night sky.

To be able to stand on the edge of the crater of such an active volcano, to stare into its molten heart, to feel the earth shake beneath your feet whenever it explodes (at least every 15 minutes), to feel volcanic ash raining down on you, to be overwhelmed by clouds of obnoxious, sulfurous gas, to be one step away from falling into the crater! Wow!

A spectacular sight - Mount Yasur Volcano.

A spectacular sight – Mount Yasur Volcano.

 

Mount Yasur commands your respect and absolute attention. It’s one very powerful experience – always engaging and never dull! One thing that’s guaranteed from a visit is that all your senses will be fully assaulted!

For more on this destination, please refer to my Vanuatu Travel Guide.

#2 – New Caledonia

Flying over the Heart of Voh & the Blue Hole.
The famous Heart of Voh is a natural heart-shaped bog in the middle of a mangrove swamp.

The famous Heart of Voh is a natural heart-shaped bog in the middle of a mangrove swamp.

Located on the west coast of the main island of New Caledonia, the Heart of Voh is a heart-shaped natural bog in the middle of a mangrove swamp, made famous by French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand who featured the heart on the front cover of his best-selling photography book – Earth from Above.

Ready to depart Koné airport on my ultra-light sightseeing trip to the Heart of Voh and the magnificent Blue Hole.

Ready to depart Koné airport on my ultra-light sightseeing trip to the Heart of Voh and the magnificent Blue Hole.

Sightseeing flights are conducted using tiny ultra-light planes (room for one passenger only) which are so light that the entire plane is fitted with a built-in parachute, which, in the event of an emergency, allows you to sit back while the plane drifts back to earth.

With the wonderful and very capable Captain Rudy, flying over Voh.

With the wonderful and very capable Captain Rudy, flying over Voh.

I flew with the very competent Captain Rudy from Nord Ulm who, upon final approach to the airfield, added to the amazing experience by shutting off the engine and gliding us back to earth, landing safely on the runway at Koné airport. A magical experience!

Blue Hole of Voh, New Caledonia.

Blue Hole of Voh, New Caledonia.

While on the flight, we flew over the spectacular Blue Hole, a natural hole in the middle of the lagoon (apparently 200 m deep) which is surrounded by a fringing reef that acts as a natural protection barrier. The only way to appreciate this wonder is from the air.

The Lagoon which surrounds La Grande Terre is the longest continuous barrier reef in the world and is UNESCO World-Heritage listed.

The Lagoon which surrounds La Grande Terre is the longest continuous barrier reef in the world and is UNESCO World-Heritage listed.

For more on this destination, please refer to my New Caledonia Travel Guide.

#3 – American Samoa

Hiking the quiet trails of the American Samoa National Park.
American Samoa Travel Guide: American Samoa National Park

American Samoa National Park

Created in 1988, the territory’s sole national park protects huge swathes of pristine landscapes and marine environments on Tutuila and the Manu’a Islands and was the highlight of my visit to American Samoa.

"Fatu ma Futi" - a beautiful sight outside of Pago Pago.

“Fatu ma Futi” – a beautiful sight outside of Pago Pago.

The park is one of the five least visited parks in the US National Park System and is often the last one visited by those who aim to visit all 59 USNPS parks.

The National Park of American Samoa covers three of the islands of American Samoa.

The National Park of American Samoa covers three of the islands of American Samoa.

For more on this destination, please refer to my American Samoa Travel Guide.

#4 – Pohnpei, Micronesia

Exploring the ruins of Nan Madol.

The incredible Nan Madol

Located in a remote coastal setting on the Micronesian Island of Pohnpei, Nan Madol is the largest ruin complex in the Pacific and is one of today’s great archaeological enigmas.

If this was anywhere else in the world you would be lining up to buy a ticket and jostling with hordes of tourists who would be constantly photo-bombing your shots. But here, on remote Pohnpei, you’ll 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.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Pohnpei Travel Guide.

#5 – French Polynesia

Enjoying the stunning turquoise lagoon and rugged volcanic scenery of Moorea.
French Polynesia Travel Guide: The dazzling blue waters of the Moorea lagoon.

The dazzling blue waters of the Moorea lagoon.

From its dazzling, turquoise-blue, lagoons to its emerald-coloured, razor-back, volcanic peaks, French Polynesia is a veritable south Pacific paradise.

Reaching the island of Moorea from the main island (Tahiti) is made easy thanks to frequent ferry connections which connect the two islands in under an hour.

A view of the Sofitel Moorea resort and the stunning lagoon from the lookout,

A view of the Sofitel Moorea resort and the stunning lagoon from the lookout.

Once there, exploring Moorea is made easy thanks to the island’s impossibly steep terrain. A single ring road circumnavigates the island with a couple of short roads providing access to the mountainous interior. The turquoise lagoon is a favourite playground for tourists who have a choice of deluxe accommodation, including the Sofitel resort.

A pineapple plantation on the 'Route des Ananas'.

A pineapple plantation on the ‘Route des Ananas’.

Leaving the ring road briefly, the Route des Ananas (The Pineapple Route) winds its way through sprawling pineapple plantations before joining up with the one other interior road – which winds its way up through many switchback turns to the lofty Belvedere Lookout.

Created by ancient volcanoes, Moorea is incredibly rugged and beautiful.Created by ancient volcanoes, Moorea is incredibly rugged and beautiful.

Created by ancient volcanoes, Moorea is incredibly rugged and beautiful.

For more on this destination, please refer to my French Polynesia Travel Guide.

#6 – Chuuk, Micronesia

Scuba diving on a fleet of Japanese WWII Navy ships in the amazing Chuuk Lagoon.
Fujikawa Maru

Fujikawa Maru

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 to planes and a submarine, there is plenty to keep divers busy.

Stormy skies over Chuuk

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.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Chuuk Travel Guide.

#7 – Galapagos Islands

Wildlife watching, hiking and swimming in a surreal paradise.
A Marine Iguana at Punta Pitt, Galapagos Islands.

A Marine Iguana at Punta Pitt, Galapagos Islands.

Although not normally considered a ‘Pacific’ destination, the Galápagos Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, 1,000 km off the coast of Ecuador. This remote, volcanic archipelago is home to an abundance of unique, endemic, wildlife such as giant tortoises, iguanas, fur seals, sea lions, penguins and 26 species of native birds.

A Galápagos Sea lion basking in the midday sun on Santa Fe island.

A Galápagos Sea lion basking in the midday sun on Santa Fe island.

It was the study of these animals, and their adaptation to their unique environment that lead Charles Darwin to publish his Natural Selection Theory after he journeyed to the islands on the H.M.S. Beagle.

Giant Tortoise on Santa Cruz Island.

Giant Tortoise on Santa Cruz Island.

Formerly known as the Islas Encantadas (the Enchanted Isles), the Galápagos Islands are today a popular tourist destination, easily reached via a two-hour flight from the Ecuadorian mainland. Despite their easy accessibility and popularity (200,000 tourists visit annually), the pristine islands still maintain their enchantment.

The most beautiful stretch of sand in the Galápagos - Gardener Bay, Española Island

The most beautiful stretch of sand in the Galápagos – Gardener Bay, Española Island

Many of the 18 islands of the archipelago feature beautiful beaches, the most stunning of which is the wide, powdery-white sand Gardener Bay, where you can snorkel and swim with many curious sea lions.

A playful Galápagos Sea lion on South Plaza Island.

A playful Galápagos Sea lion on South Plaza Island.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Galapagos Islands Travel Guide.

#8 – Solomon Islands

Diving with the amazing team from Dive Munda.
Gin-coloured waters of the Solomon Islands.

Gin-coloured waters of the Solomon Islands.

When it comes to dive shops, I don’t normally play ‘favourites’, but, if I had to nominate one outstanding dive operation in the Pacific, it would be the amazing Dive Munda in the Solomon Islands. Dive Munda is owned and operated by the enthusiastic, energetic, charming and engaging Belinda Botha who is a South African native who now calls Munda home.

The team at Dive Munda (l-r) Jeno, myself, Euna, Belinda and Sunga.

The team at Dive Munda (l-r) Jeno, myself, Euna, Belinda and Sunga.

Belinda is a tour-de-force who has become Munda’s #1 fan and promoter and it’s leading environmental champion. She has employed an incredibly capable team of locals who are the dive masters, boat captain and (during surface intervals on remote islands) flowery-lei makers. They are a truly talented bunch and I loved spending time with them. Some of the best dive memories ever! 

The Dive Munda team (l-r), Sunga, Jeno and Euna made a beautiful flowery lei during our surface interval.

The Dive Munda team (l-r), Sunga, Jeno and Euna made a beautiful flowery lei during our surface interval.

Munda was a major battleground during WWII and the turquoise-coloured waters of the stunning Roviana Lagoon are littered with interesting wrecks from ships to downed fighter planes. The reefs around Munda are in pristine condition with an incredible amount of lush hard and soft corals and massive Elephant Ear sponges. Marine life is abundant with sight names such as ‘Shark Point‘ offering a hint of what lies below.

On our way to dive 'Shark Point'.

On our way to dive ‘Shark Point’.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Solomon Islands Travel Guide.

#9 – Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Heaven on earth! 
The shallow, pristine, turquoise waters of Aitutaki lagoon are teeming with marine life, making it an ideal snorkelling spot.

The shallow, pristine, turquoise waters of Aitutaki lagoon are teeming with marine life, making it an ideal snorkelling spot.

Aitutaki is one of the Cook Islands, located 264 km directly north of the main island of Rarotonga. This unspoilt, paradise has some of the cleanest air you’ll ever breathe and some of the purest, clearest water you’ll ever have the pleasure to swim, snorkel or scuba dive in.

A nice way to unwind after a hard day of snorkeling.

A nice way to unwind after a hard day of snorkeling.

An ancient, eroded volcano, it consists of a main island, a turquoise lagoon and a surrounding barrier reef. The lagoon’s waters teem with marine life, all of which can easily be seen with a snorkel and mask. The shallow waters (1-3 metres) provide snorkelers of all levels with the opportunity to experience the amazing underwater world in this pristine paradise. Beyond the reef, the deep, clear waters of the Pacific ocean offer spectacular scuba diving.

Flying over Aitutaki lagoon in the Cook Islands.

Flying over Aitutaki lagoon in the Cook Islands.

A popular day trip while on the island is to take a traditional, wooden boat to the small, uninhabited islands called ‘motu’ which can be found in the lagoon.

Exploring one of the many islands in the lagoon on a day trip.

Exploring one of the many islands in the lagoon on a day trip.

#10 – Palau

Exploring an ancient culture and a pristine marine environment.
The spectacular Rock Islands of Palau.

The spectacular Rock Islands of Palau.

Palau is known for its pristine environment, 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.

Bai at Aimeliik.

Bai at Aimeliik.

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.

Traditional Palau ‘storyboard’ wood carving

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

For more on this destination, please refer to my Palau Travel Guide.

 


That’s the end of my Pacific Top 10 Experiences post. I hope it has provided some inspiration for your next trip.

Safe travels!

Darren


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Further Reading

Other travel reports from the Pacific region:

Top 10 Pacific Island Experiences Top 10 Pacific Island Experiences Top 10 Pacific Island Experiences Top 10 Pacific Island Experiences Top 10 Pacific Island Experiences Top 10 Pacific Island Experiences

Palau Travel Guide

Bai at Aimeliik.

Palau Travel Guide

Welcome to the taste2travel 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 which 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 of cleaner fish. To be so close to such magnificent creatures is an unforgettable experience – a highlight for any diver.

The Palau Ground Frog is endemic to Palau.

The Palau Ground Frog is endemic to Palau.

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.

The spectacular Rock Islands.

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

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 a traditional Bai at the Belau National museum.

Detail of a traditional Bai at the Belau National museum.

Location

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

Palau's Capitol Building.

Palau’s Capitol Building.

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.

Flag

The flag of Palau.

The flag of Palau.

Introduced in 1981, the flag of Palau is wonderfully minimal but also strikingly beautiful. As with other Pacific island nations, the blue field represents the blue of the Pacific ocean while the yellow disk, which is slightly off-centre, represents the moon.

The Palauans consider the full moon to be the optimum time for human activity. At this time of the month, celebrations, fishing, sowing, harvesting, tree-felling, and the carving of traditional canoes are carried out. The moon is a symbol of peace, love, and tranquillity.

Currency

US Dollar

The US Dollar.

Being a former member of the US-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the official currency of Palau is the US dollar.

Sights

Traditional Bai (meeting house) at Aimeliik.

Traditional Bai (meeting house) at Aimeliik.

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.

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 - one of my dive sights on Palau.

Blue Corner – one of my dive sights on Palau.
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

The Capitol Building at Ngerulmud, the tiny capital of Palau.

The Capitol Building at Ngerulmud, the tiny capital of Palau.

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 Café in Melekeok. The café offers grilled local seafood along with other café 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: Mangrove walkway at Papago International Resort, Airai state.

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.

Detail of Aimeliik Bai.

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.

Interior of the Aimeliik Bai.

Interior of the Aimeliik 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.

Low tide at Ngiwal state beach.

Low tide at Ngiwal state beach.

Continuing south you will eventually reach Melekeok state, home to the national capital enclave of Ngerulmud. With a population of just 270, Melekeok is the least-populous capital in the world.

The capital complex at Ngerulmud, a purpose-built capital.

The capital complex at Ngerulmud, a purpose-built capital.

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 Café 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.

Belau National Museum

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.

Etpison 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.

A display at the Etpison Museum in Koror. 

A display at the Etpison Museum in Koror.

Displays include; a model of a bai; local tools; artefacts; money; clothing; photos showing the childbirth ceremony and more. For Australians visiting the museum – you might be surprised to be greeted by two friendly sulphur-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.

Story Board Wood Carvers

A 'story board' wood carver at his workshop in Koror.

A ‘story board’ wood carver at his workshop 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).

A Palau 'story board' wood carver in Koror.

A Palau ‘story board’ 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 Palau-an legends. You can watch the carvers at work and purchase directly from them (no bargains here).

A traditional Palau 'story board' wood carving.

A traditional Palau ‘story board’ wood carving.

Accommodation

The Hotel Palau Royal Resort.

The Hotel Palau Royal Resort.

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 popular OTA (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 passport 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 License Plates.

Palau License Plates.

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.

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

 


That’s the end of my Palau Travel Guide.

Safe Travels!

Darren


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Further Reading

Other travel reports from the Pacific region:

Palau Travel Guide Palau Travel Guide Palau Travel Guide Palau Travel Guide Palau Travel Guide Palau Travel Guide Palau Travel Guide Palau Travel Guide

Central Pacific Island Hopping

Island Hopping Route: Source - Great Circle Tracker

Central Pacific Island Hopping

Welcome to the taste2travel Central Pacific Island Hopping guide, which describes my journey on United Airlines’ Island Hopper – UA154. 

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

Introduction

Taking the United Airlines’ Island Hopper (Flight: UA154) across the central Pacific had 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 very 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 can be found in my Kiribati Travel Guide.

This guide provides an overview of air services throughout the Central Pacific and describes my travel experiences on each flight.

I have published separate travel guides to each destination with links included in the relevant sections below.

Air Services

The following airlines offer services throughout the Central Pacific region:

United Airlines

United Airlines’ offers the most comprehensive network throughout the region. In some cases, they are the only option! The Island Hopper (UA154) travels three times a week (Mon/ Wed/ Fri) on a 14-hour ‘all stops‘ shuttle service from Honolulu to Guam with 45 minute stops at Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Pohnpei & Chuuk. For some of the islands (e.g. Kosrae), the flight is the only link to the outside world.

The same service operates in the reverse direction from Guam (UA155), departing on Mon/ Wed/ Fri.

The United flight crews are based in Guam and, due to FAA regulations, a duplicate crew is carried to cover the 14-hour flight ensuring no one exceeds the maximum number of work hours for a single flight.

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, formerly operated by Continental Micronesia.

United Airlines’ Micronesia routes, formerly operated by Continental Micronesia.
Source: United Airlines.

Nauru Airlines


Update (6/10/2020):

Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, Nauru airlines have suspended all flights, except between Nauru and Brisbane. 


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

Nauru Airlines Route Map

Nauru Airlines Route Map

Air Niugini

Air Nuigini Route Map

Air Nuigini Route Map

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 with them! They are the only airline connecting Kiribati with the Marshall Islands (all flights are currently suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic).

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 and pretty shabby!

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 your own device. As for the view outside, it’s blue ocean 99% of the time.

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. 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 my Central Pacific island hop.

Boarding passes from my Central Pacific 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

United Airlines' Itinerary from Guam to Manila.

United Airlines’ Itinerary from 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 sealed 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 on my flight 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.

Departing Honolulu for the Marshall Islands.

Departing Honolulu for the Marshall Islands.

Majuro (Marshall Islands)


Interested in visiting the Marshall Islands? Click to read my Marshall Islands Travel Guide.


During the flight we crossed the International Date Line into Saturday and landed on time at Amata Kabua International Airport on the very remote Majuro atoll.

Arrival at Majuro Airport.

Arrival at Majuro Airport.

With the exception of Honolulu and Guam, all airports on the island hop feature small terminals with a single gate and no airbridges. There are no taxi-ways with planes making their turns at the end of the runway, which is no problem since there is no other traffic.

Sleepy Majuro Airport, gateway to the Marshall Islands.

Sleepy Majuro Airport, gateway to the Marshall Islands.

Arriving at Majuro: My flight arrived on time at 10:35 am. The few passengers which alighted formed an orderly line at the one immigration desk, where they handed over their completed arrival form (supplied on the flight) to the friendly immigration officer, who normally grants a 30-day stay without fuss.

Most passengers on the flight remained in-transit, with many being US Military personnel heading to Kwajalein.

Once you have passed immigration, you wait for your bag to be delivered through an opening in the terminal wall. Everything is done manually and at a relaxed pace, so things take time but normally there are few passengers disembarking. Having retrieved my bag, I then proceeded to customs where I handed in my customs declaration form, which was also supplied on the flight.

There are few hotels on Majuro, however, they all send shuttle buses to meet the flight. 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.

While on Majuro, 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. Wi-Fi 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)


Interested in visiting Kiribati? Click to read my Kiribati Travel Guide.


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 a few 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 and the Marshall Islands, 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 café (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 café 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 Defence 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.

United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) departing from Kwajelein.

United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) departing from Kwajelein.

Kosrae – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)


Interested in visiting Kosrae? Click to read my Kosrae Travel Guide.


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.

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.

The 'Island Hopper' departure board at Kosrae airport.

The ‘Island Hopper’ departure board at Kosrae airport.

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.

Kosrae International Airport

Kosrae International 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 one hour flight to Pohnpei.

The United Airlines 'Island Hopper' - UA154 - at Kosrae International Airport.

The United Airlines ‘Island Hopper’ – UA154 – at Kosrae International Airport.

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.

UA154 departed on time at 1:47 pm.

Departing Kosrae on United Airlines 'Island Hopper' UA154.

Departing Kosrae on United Airlines ‘Island Hopper’ UA154.

Pohnpei – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)


Interested in visiting Pohnpei? Click to read my Pohnpei Travel Guide.


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 café offering hot food, snacks, beer (cheaper than on the flight), coffee etc.

Hop 5: Pohnpei – Chuuk

Boarding UA154 at Pohnpei airport.

Boarding UA154 at Pohnpei airport.

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, Wi-Fi (paid) and one café, which serves a reasonable selection of food and drinks.

View of the reef which surrounds Pohnpei from UA154.

View of the reef which surrounds Pohnpei from UA154.

Chuuk – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)


Interested in visiting Chuuk? Click to read my Chuuk Travel Guide.


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/ café on the island is located on the ground floor.

The restaurant has been established by a café 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.

Chuuk Passport Stamps.

Chuuk 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.

United Airlines' UA154 departing from Chuuk.

United Airlines’ UA154 departing from Chuuk.

Guam – USA


Interested in visiting Guam? Click to read my Guam Travel Guide.


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 and diverse, offering 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.

The view from my flight on United Airlines "Island Hopper" (UA154) on final approach to Guam.

The view from my flight on United Airlines “Island Hopper” (UA154) on final approach to 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 for Guam 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.

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


Interested in visiting Palau? Click to read my Palau Travel Guide.


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.

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.

Grab Pick-up Point at NAIA in Manila.

Grab Pick-up Point at NAIA in Manila.

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 capital cities in Southeast Asia). Unlike Uber, Grab allows cash payments (useful in a city where a fare can be just $3), so there is no need to register your credit card.

A regular taxi fare to downtown Manila (e.g. Makati) from the concession stand outside Terminal 1 is P650. The same trip on Grab will could less than P300.

Grab Taxi Service Desk at NAIA.

Grab Taxi Service Desk at NAIA.

Always request the driver to use the (faster) Skyway, an elevated freeway, 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.

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

 


That’s the end of my United Airlines Island Hopper report.

Safe Travels!

Darren


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Further Reading

Other travel reports from the Pacific region:

Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping Central Pacific Island Hopping