Palau on a Budget – Kayaking the Rock Islands

During our trip to Palau Heini repeatedly expressed her wishes to kayak around the Rock Islands from Koror to Peleliu, and like any husband I knew what she really meant. Me to paddle around the tropical islands like a Venetian gondola singing about cornetto ice cream whilst Heini navigated using a dark map on a dark background, in the dark! I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Kayaking day tour of Nikko Bay, Palau

Nikko Bay, Palau

We asked around people who lived in Palau for recommendations concerning renting kayaks, but also some life saving information such as currents, tides, and my main concern food and water resupply on the islands. There are two main players with who to rent kayaks in Palau, so we had to chose.

Fish ’n Fins, an Israeli expat couple owned and run dive centre that seems to offer everything you could want. From diving, live aboards, ATV tours, helicopter tours, and parachuting! They have an amazing experience on the island being one of the first tour operators setting up in the 80’s, which has grown to include pretty much everything “money” can buy. There we spoke to two of their staff members who recommended renting a kayak for the day to “test the water” before ploughing full steam ahead into a mission neither of us were physically, and skilfully prepared for, and then discuss further if we wanted to embark on a longer and more physical trip. For this we could rent a kayak for the day, $45 plus the Rock Islands 10 day permit $50, and head out to the Nikko Bay area of Palau. This would take us on a rout of 10km looping back to their shop, all accomplished within a day trip.

Palau Rock Islands, the arch
The arch, a popular photo spot.

The other operator was associated with Sam’s tours but as far as I could see not part of the company, Planet Blue Kayak Tours. We met up with their tour organiser, a young girl named Jene who seemed to have had a lot of coffee! Without taking an intake of oxygen she rattled for at least 5 minutes only pausing to check her phone. Heini and I sat wide eyed as prices and itinerary rolled off her tongue, I grabbed a pen and paper and struggled to keep up glancing over to Heini who looked like a bunny rabbit caught in the main beam of a trucks headlights awaiting the impending impact! After a while she paused for breath and I was able to nail down some prices for the trip which were not too high, until we got to transportation. To traverse certain channels in-between the islands the charge was a whopping $ 300 per person, almost more than the price of our tickets from Finland to Palau! Though not being a kayaking expert and also accepting that I was approaching 40 I decided to follow Jene’s advice, that navigating these channels alone would not be a great idea that could end in drowning or divorce.

Geographically it made sense to take the day trip from Fish ’n Fins as they were somewhat closer to Nikko bay plus we wanted to avoid traveling against the tide to get home. So we decided to do the day trip with them and consider which company to book a longer trip with later. We got up early and headed over to get into the water before the sun became hotter than a vindaloo in the sauna!

Unsinkable Kayak Rental, Palau
Somehow the wife has time for selfies…

With water, life jackets, a peanut butter sandwitch and a dark map on a dark background (I shit you not) we launched the kayak into the water. Once we loaded ourselves in we set off, it was pretty easy going actually and our confidence soured as we made excellent time towards Nikko Bay. Heini, in charge of navigation, figured out how to read the map by holding it up to the sun to reveal secret markings and codes, like the north arrow and beach locations! Meanwhile I was obviously in charge of propulsion with my large biceps becoming one with my paddle carving a wake through the water assisted by my wife’s smaller but efficient paddle!

Naval gun Palau western approach.
Abandoned Japanese naval gun has become home to nesting birds.

Within minutes we were treated to a closer view of abandoned Japanese WWII gun emplacements, bunkers, as well as gorgeous landscapes that surround Palau. Birds tweeted, fish jumped, and chickens clucked (yeah, apparently Palau has wild chickens…). Following Main Furer’s directions we shadowed the huge rocks and eddies guiding us to our first beach location, in my mind I could already feel the sand between my toes, mentally preparing for a long strip of pristine white beach I paddled harder. To describe the first beach as an oversold gravel pit would be an understatement as my dreams were shattered and we beached our kayak into our first rest area.

Enjoying Rock island beaches, Palau
Our mental image of the beach that awaited our arrival…

Surrounded by razor sharp rocks the size of marbles we hobbled to shore where we were happy to find an eating and BBQ area that was constructed and maintained by the marine park, this raised our spirits as we devoured a sandwich and rehydrated with a generous helping of aqua. After a good feed we powered on to the “bat cave”, hell yeah!

High hopes, kayaking Palau
…The actual beach…

Contrary to popular folk law and promises from the wife the “bat cave” was not Bruce Wayne’s Palau getaway but a huge and impressive natural cave the size of half a football pitch. As we entered our voices fell silent and our eyes adjusted to the dimness of the cave, the only noise being my paddle breaking the surface as we centred the kayak and enjoyed the peace of the cave. Gazing at the stalagtights hanging from the ceiling I thanked the wife’s navigation as I’m sure I would have missed it myself, and after some time we exited the cave as a group from Planet Blue were heading for the entrance. We exited the cave and thankfully the sky clouded over and a light rain started cooling us both down as we paddled across a large channel towards more structures and caverns. Only the day before we had pulled the dive boat closer to see a huge cave used by the Japanese, a WWII fuel dump was still evident with barrels and ancillaries abandoned by the retreating Japanese and now colonised by nature.

Heini's selfie skills, Palau
Again, the camera is in use when the paddle is not…

By now our confidence had exceeded our hopes and we disembarked the kayak for the occasional cooling down before heading across the bay to view a WWII wreckage of a sea plane, with Heini’s navigation we headed on a short cut that would take us there. But unfortunately we were never to see the plane wreckage, whether the map was off or navigation who knows, but by now the rain had stopped and the blazing sun had came shining through with a vengeance. Shadowing the islands we set a course for Fish ’n Fins, we’d been on the water around 6 hours and were starting to tire so we decided to call it a day.

Although we did feel the longer trip would have been achievable, we opted instead to not take the kayaks to the rock islands and only camp. After all it leaves us something to do the next time we visit these beautiful islands, as I always enjoy leaving a place before your ready. It always keeps me wanting to return. Instead Palau Dive Adventures who we were diving with dropped us after a days diving to a Robinson Crusoe Island to spend the night. Though we would not be alone…

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