Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide
Koror is merely the country's capital and economic center, and since it has mediocre diving by Palauan standards (only excellent, as opposed to the life-altering scuba experience available in the south), it will function mostly as your base of operations. The only reasons to linger here are to see how more than two-thirds of Palauans live and to stop at a restaurant to order some Micronesian fruit bat soup. It does not taste like chicken.
The main dive companies are also headquartered in Koror and double as clearinghouses for snorkeling, camping, hiking, kayaking, and whatever else you might want to do that involves a boat. Splash, located on the beachfront grounds of the 160-room Palau Pacific Resort, is a five-star PADI dive center and can set you up on full- and half-day dive trips to all the hot spots. Sam's Dive Tours specializes in snorkeling and visits the less populated dive spots. Both of these dive operations can take you to the Rock Islands, the 200 or so knuckles of limestone smothered in Technicolor jungle scattered about the sea just south of Koror.
The top Disney imagineer would be hard-pressed to come up with a place as enchanting as the Rock Islands. Most of them are perfectly toadstool-shaped, ringed by tidy, beachless shorelines with no place to park a boat. The jungle grows atop these islands like a thatch of impossibly thick hair, and its runoff is quite acidic. Over the years this runoff, coupled with schools of algae-eating fish, has undercut the limestone at the water's edge, so the islands appear to be hovering just above the turquoise sea.
The ones that do have beaches can accommodate campers. Since many are uninhabited, you can take this opportunity to pretend you're a rock star with an island of your own. The dive boat will disturb your fantasy by picking you up the next day. In the meantime, the reef around your island is often only knee-deep, and you can snorkel 'til you drop. This is the land of those giant clams — Tridacna Gigas — beloved by 1950s sci-fi movie makers; they grow up to about 500-1,000 pounds and can allegedly chomp off your leg. These lazy mollusks, with their groovy Day-Glo blue and purple mantles that hang out of their shells, wouldn't think of it. A word to the wise: If you don't mind bugs but rats give you pause, ask to be dropped off at a "rat-free" island, since apparently some of them are infested with rodents the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger's loafers.
Most of the lakes in Palau are saltwater, the most famous being the brackish Jellyfish Lake on one of the Rock Islands, a ten-minute up-and-down hike from the shore. The lone inhabitants are two types of ocher-colored jellyfish that have no natural predators (besides avid snorkelers with their giant hard-plastic fins that can sever a handful of jellies in a single scissors kick) and have thus lost their ability to sting. Swimming among them is like gliding through thousands of small, slightly sticky satin pillows.
The legendary dive sites are all in the south, near the five-square-mile island of Peleliu: Blue Hole, Blue Corner, and Ngemelis Drop-Off, where the reef plunges to 900 feet but grows to within an inch or two of the ocean's surface. There are four times more coral species here than in the entire Caribbean. A dive without a single shark sighting is nearly unheard of. The true dive animal must forget everything else and book a week of four or five dives a day on one of several live-aboards that work the area, like the 16-passenger, 112-foot catamaran Palau Aggressor II or the 20-passenger, 138-foot Peter Hughes Sun Dancer II.
The real reason to make it out to Palau is that it's still paradise without the parking lot. There are no direct flights there (yet), but there are rumors that Hilton and Hyatt are set to fire up the backhoe any day now. There's a Foot Locker in downtown Koror, but to find a Kmart you've got to go to Guam.
The result is winding country roads engulfed in a wondrous barrage of fragrant pink and red Tahitian ginger and sweet banana trees dangling pregnant purple pods. Hiking trails are solitary affairs through native forests that end with sweeping vistas holding no hint of mankind's interference. The bridges in Hanalei — those one-lane little numbers that create mini traffic jams in the shadow of Bali Hai — are the true litmus test for Kauai. If you get fidgety waiting, go directly to Waikiki.
If not, cross that bridge and hit the fabled North Shore, a paradise of waterfall-flecked mountains and crashing surf. Start off on the Na Pali Coast, a 14-mile stretch of wholly uninhabited shoreline where 2,700-foot cliffs plummet to mirror-clear waters, and hidden valleys open to deserted white-sand beaches. Pick up the Kalalau Trail just past Kee Beach at the end of Hawaii 560. Daytrippers can hike the first two miles of the trail to rocky Hanakapiai Beach, where a side trail leads up to over-200-foot-high Hanakapiai Falls (don't swim at the beach in the winter — currents are wicked). You can also kayak the coast in the calm summer months.
To stay at one of the three campgrounds farther down the trail you'll need a free permit from the Division of State Parks in Lihue (apply, in person or by mail, six months or more in advance). For a softer bed try the Hanalei Colony Resort in Haena, a small condo-hotel three miles from Kee Beach, near the trailhead. The Hanalei Land Company rents the Kauikeolani Estate, a seven-bedroom turn-of-the-century plantation house right on Hanalei Bay, and four adjacent two- and three-bedroom plantation cottages.
Just outside the bay, a monster surf break called King's Reef handles any weather that the Pacific Northwest delivers. For a mellower surf, head over to Pine Trees, a beach break where Kauai kids work on their bottom turns. If you're feeling bold, paddle out at Kalihiwai, a thundering right-hander that goes square in a hurry. (Rent boards from Hanalei Surf Co., but be forewarned that winter swells can be scary even for experienced surfers.)
In the summer, Hanalei Bay is a kayaker's dream, with tons of live coral formations as well as turtles and other sea creatures. Or mosey up the Hanalei River, a serpentine waterway that winds through a thicket of hau trees making it one of Kauai's prime birdwatching spots. Another languid trip takes you up the Kalihiwai River from Kalihiwai Bay past a shattered bridge — the last remnant of two crushing tsunamis — into a lush valley. (Rent kayaks and get free use of a roof rack at Kayak Kauai in Hanalei.) Bonefisherman can cast a line on the long reef flats off Kalihiwai or neighboring Anini Beach, which doubles as a launch spot for windsurfers (rent windsurfers at Anini Beach Windsurfing).
From the North Shore, Hawaii 56 heading toward Kapaa follows the coast a few miles inland. A string of beaches lies over the hills and down the dirt roads (ask for directions to Kahili, Larsen's, or Moloaa beaches); most of the beaches have good swimming and snorkeling and zero crowds. Just past Wailua town the road crosses the Wailua River, the only navigable river in Hawaii. Kayaks and tour boats often spar for space on the water. Better to skip the sedate stuff and go wakeboarding (for the uninitiated, that's a combo of waterskiing and surfing on a snowboard-like device; think of the waterskiing scene in Apocalypse Now). Rent your wakeboard from Kauai Water Ski & Surf Co. in Kapaa.
Farther south, past the "city" of Lihue, Hawaii 520 branches off towards Poipu, a sunny stretch of sandy beaches and rocky shoreline and Kauai's biggest resort area. If you've got cash and a hankering for marble bathrooms, stay at the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort and Spa, a massive fun palace with soaring ceilings and a tri-level swimming pool right on Shipwreck Beach — one of Kauai's best bodyboarding spots. Coastline Cottages, in a quiet part of Poipu, offers four new Hawaiian-style oceanfront cottages with teak floors, bamboo and rattan furnishings, and lanais overlooking the water.
For more solitude, head west along Hawaii 50 to Waimea. This part of Kauai may seem more like Mexico — bone dry and white hot, with brown sugarcane fields and prickly kiawe trees. But 4,000 feet up the hill you'll find cool remnants of precontact Hawaii in Kokee State Park, a pristine stretch of native forests above the Na Pali Coast, where Kokee Lodge rents clean and
comfortable cabins with wood-burning stoves. The Nualolo and Awaawapuhi trails drop several thousand feet through feathery red-flowered native ohi'a forests to phenomenal clifftop views of the ocean and valley below. Next door to Kokee is 2,857-foot-deep Waimea Canyon, where the hike down — and up — the super-steep Kukui Trail is a backbreaker, but reveals stellar
views and a trippy red-rock landscape.
Grand Anse Beach, near the capital city of St. George's, is the island's best and most popular beach — two and a half miles of white sand backed by a fringe of sea grape, manchineel, and coconut palms, under which vendors dispense drinks while their boom boxes thump out reggae music. The Renaissance Grenada Resort is the largest Grand Anse hostelry, with 20 tropically landscaped acres and 183 rooms furnished in deep mahogany, plus an on-site watersports center (Sanvic's) that runs trips to Grenada's top underwater sites.
Smaller but dripping with West Indies ambience (the five-acre grounds are awash in frangipani, hibiscus, and bougainvillea) is the 70-room Coyaba Beach Resort, also with its own dive operation (Grand Anse Aquatics). A slightly off-beach alternative, and a great bargain, is the Flamboyant Hotel. It's set above, rather than right on, the south end of Grand Anse — there's a great view of the beach and St. George's from the Flamboyant's outdoor terrace restaurant.
Offshore, Grenada's reefs are remarkably healthy — Moliniere is a favorite for its shallow, snorkel-friendly coral along with its 40-foot valleys for divers, all filled with small reef fish. Dive Grenada, Sanvic's, or Grand Anse Aquatics can take you there, as well as to the site of the Bianca C, a 600-foot Italian passenger liner that burned off St. George's in 1961.
You could spend a week at Grand Anse, but don't. Instead, head south to L'Anse aux Epines for the best sailing in the southern Caribbean. Bareboat rentals and skippered charters are available at Club Mariner's Watersports and Beach Bar at The Moorings Secret Harbour Resort for exploring the uninhabited islands and coves around the southeast coast of L'Anse aux Epines. Guide Denis Henry (known simply as Henry, and something of a local legend) of Henry's Safari Tours grew up on the island and can motor you to splendidly solitary snorkeling sites off Hog Island and to undiscovered beaches on the islands off Grenada's southern coast.
Secret Harbour is a fine resort (only 20 rooms, each with an ocean-view balcony and two four-poster beds), but about a 30-minute drive east is the island's niftiest secret: La Sagesse Nature Center, where an old converted manor house has nine beachfront guestrooms, and a thatched awning covers an open-air bar/eatery that serves superb fresh fish and fruit smoothies. Between meals, stroll the quiet beach and surrounding headlands, or hike to nearby snorkeling beaches.
The drive to the north end of the island is worth the poky pace. Get an early start and you'll have plenty of time to swim at Bathway Beach in Levera National Park — a true locals' spot with calm water, excellent snorkeling, and vendors hawking slurps of machete-cloven coconut halves. Still in the park, but a bit farther south, is Levera Beach. From its quiet strip of sand you can swim out to uninhabited Sugarloaf Island, then do a 180 and hike in an eerie mangrove swamp. Save lunchtime for a local institution: Morne Fendue Plantation House, where they serve up buffet-style Grenadian grub like callaloo soup, pepper pot, and slow-roasted chicken with pumpkin.
For all the pleasures of its circumference, Grenada's pristine rainforest heart may be its most compelling attraction. A winding, 30-minute drive from St. George's takes you to the cool, wet mountains of Grand Etang National Park. Two marquee hikes penetrate the wet wilds. From park headquarters, walk down to the eponymous Grand Etang, a volcanic crater lake, and pick up the steep (usually mud-slick) trail to 2,373-foot Mount Qua Qua (about three hours round-trip). From this jagged spire you can see the entire rainforest and much of the island's windward (east) coast. But bagging waterfalls rather than peaks is more the tradition in Grenada. Secure the services of Henry or one of his guides to suss out the Seven Sisters, a series of cascades lying along unmapped trails. This is paradise stereotyped: St. Margaret's River tumbles out of absurdly fecund forest into clear, cool swimming holes. Behind the roar you might hear screeches of mona monkeys hidden among the banana and blue mahoe trees. The hike out leads through a plantation of sweet finger banana, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and coffee trees; the omnipresent scent of nutmeg in Grenada makes it seem as if something delicious is about to emerge from some hidden oven.
With clothes and senses duly drenched, you're ready to return to St. George's for fresh conch at The Nutmeg, overlooking the harbor. Toast yourself with a rum punch. Time may not stay stalled here forever, but it is for now.
Lord Howe Island
Lord Howe Island was settled in 1833 as a supply post for whalers, and since then the population has crept up to only 280 residents. It's an island with small-town ways where all the businesses are family run (the second-largest industry after tourism is cultivation of the indigenous kentia palm, the world's most popular indoor plant). It may be disconcerting when you don't receive a key to your hotel room, but no one locks doors here. There are only a few cars, and with a speed limit of 15.5 miles per hour, most people choose to use a bicycle. These are available for hire at several locations around the island and can be left behind at any bike rack while you go off hiking or swimming. Only 400 tourists are allowed on the island at any one time, and with 90 percent of the land mass unoccupied, there's plenty of space to lose yourself in.
About a dozen marked trails ranging from half-hour to full-day hikes crisscross the island and lead to viewing areas where you can watch exotic sea birds soar above the crashing waves. Try the eight-mile hike through this subtropical rainforest up the spine of Mount Gower for an awesome view north across the lagoon. The bell-like cry of the Providence petrel will echo off the cliffs above Little Island, a rocky outcrop you'll see from the shore at the beginning of the Mount Gower trail.
Flushed by currents from the Great Barrier Reef, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Australia, Lord Howe Island is home to the world's southernmost coral reef, with more than 500 species of fish. Glass-bottomed boats take snorkelers out to the reef where black and white clown fish and iridescent darters waft about with the swell. Scuba divers head into deeper realms, where schools of spotted sweet lip lurk, and encounters with black cod weighing up to 397 pounds are not uncommon. You can sign on with a charter and go fishing for marlin, tuna, and wahoo, or hire a sea kayak or lagoon canoe and paddle out to a secluded picnic spot on your own. The surfing is best at Blinky's Beach, about halfway down the island's east coast.
Pinetrees Lodge, run by the same family since about 1900, accommodates 85 visitors in motel-style rooms and one-, three-, and four-bedroom cottages. Located right on the lagoon on the island's western shore, Pinetrees has a laid-back, summer-camp feel. Meals are taken all together — guests are rounded up with a dinner bell. For more independence, you can try the family's new property, Palm Haven, in a secluded palm forest about a five-minute drive northeast of Pinetrees. The self-catering apartments (two one-bedroom and two two-bedroom units) are conveniently attached to Aunty Sue's restaurant with its daily fish specials and Thai curries.
The most luxurious hotel on the island is Capella Lodge, south of Pinetrees Lodge on the western coast with uninterrupted views of Mount Gower, Mount Lidgbird, the lagoon, and the ocean beyond. The resort's nine rooms have timber floors, exposed-beam ceilings, and plantation shutters, and the glass-walled restaurant serves excellent fresh seafood and Asian-inspired dishes.
At all properties, you'll find the honor system at work: Pinetrees has one at its Boathouse, where you can stop for a drink and watch the sunset from the deck, and at Ned's Beach, on the northeast part of the island, the watersports equipment is up for grabs — you deposit your fees in an unattended money box. This is the way of Lord Howe: If anyone stole anything, the
authorities would simply hold up the planes until the property was recovered.
Folegandros is rough and mountainous, and it drops abruptly into the sea almost everywhere along its 17 miles of coast. It's sparsely populated, with about 650 residents, and is visited mostly by a few tourists trying to avoid — or recuperate from — the excesses of Santorini, which is one to three hours away by a ferry that departs several times a week. Yet Folegandros hides one of the prettiest villages and some of the best half-day walks (most leading to beaches inaccessible via wheeled transport) in the Greek Islands.
In the main town of Chora, set on a cliff high above the Aegean Sea, whitewashed, blue-trimmed houses line narrow, flower-draped passageways. Along some of them, caged parakeets sing and wooden balconies reveal interesting displays of the undergarments worn by the typical island family. Chora is where most of the island's few accommodations are, including the modern Anemomilos Apartments, constructed in the cubist style found throughout the Cyclades Islands; its 17 studio apartments with kitchens each sleep two to five people. The Hotel Castro, a structure of thick stone walls built in the early sixteenth century and owned by the same family for five generations, has 12 guest rooms. "Originally, when my family had cotton fields in Egypt, it was a summer home," says the current owner, Despo Danassi. "But I have no cotton fields in Egypt, so I must run it as a hotel." Both places overlook a wine-dark sea that uncorks itself against the rocks 900 feet below.
Most of the tavernas and restaurants — all serving calamari with a regularity that makes one wish it would be put on the endangered species list — are in Chora too, in three tiny tree-shaded squares. Liveliest is Taverna Nicholas, whose "friendly and turbo service" includes everything from ferry information to — late at night when the ouzo has really been flowing — lessons in traditional Greek dance.
The best walking trails begin at the western end of the island, about three miles from Chora, where the road ends at the scattered community of Ano Meria. Here there are three eating establishments, the most upscale being Iliovasilema Taverna, which offers "Chicken ett all, locally raised and slaughtered on premised." Spreading out from the road's end is a fingerlike network of ancient stone paths (detailed on maps available at the Sottovento Tourism Office in Chora) that have been in use at least since the time of the Phoenicians, who, judging by the number of rock walls running in every direction, must have had a lot of time on their hands.
The paths lead past terraced patches of barley, scrawny olive trees, and some of the island's 70 whitewashed churches, where the silence is interrupted only by the tinkling of goat bells. Most of the paths zigzag down to hidden beaches, which usually (when you're not forced to observe that very few people really ought to take their clothes off in public) you'll have all to yourself. The downhill walk to the sea takes from one to two hours, twice that for the climb back up. If you've had enough walking, visit the beaches by taking a daylong boat tour around the island run by the Sottovento Tourism Office. The boat, which holds about 60 people but is seldom full except in July and August, makes several swimming stops, one at a clear-water cove accessible only by water.
The most deserted of the better beaches is Ampeli, about an hour west from Ano Meria. Its cove is normally so quiet you can skip rocks across the water. But if you insist on finding a taverna at trail's end, follow the side road, about two miles out of Chora, down to the village of Agali, then take the path west toward Agios Nikolaos. Veer from the path if you like; on
Folegandros it's easy to simply set out across the dry landscape. Just remember this: If you notice a lack of goat droppings, you've probably wandered onto slopes that beings more qualified than you have recognized as too steep.
Copyright 1998, Outside magazine