The latter half of 1944 saw the Japanese army being repelled by American forces in the Pacific. General Macarthur was back in the Philippines and the push was on through Iwo Jima in the east and Okinawa in the west. Palau sits between these lines of attack and the 10,000 Japanese soldiers and the valuable airstrip here was cut off from Japan. Opinion was divided wuth US Admiral Nimmitz in favour of attacking the Japanese in Palau and Admiral Halsey against. Nimmitz prevailed and the marines were sent in in here September 1944 for an anticipated 3 day skirmish to drive the Japanese out of Palau.
As I wander through the museum, past the memorial cairns and the rusted out WW11 military hardware in the jungle, I try to imagine the living hell this must have been then. The lush vegetation on fire an angry witness to the carnage below. I have the luxury of a pleasant afternoon of cycling around the island to see all of this and reenact the battles in my mind’s eye. Especially poignant as this all happened just over half a century ago and is relatively fresh in our minds as the planet’s last great war
The Japanese soldiers changed tactic for this battle. Elsewhere in the Pacific they met the US forces head on and fought mano y mano. In Peleliu the fact that the island is made of limestone and honeycombed with caves allowed the Japanese to bunker down, await the enemy from a secure position and to shoot at the attacking US forces.
Ultimately 3 days of battle became 16 and the casualty rate of this under reported and relatively unknown US victory was a horrendous 2000 dead for the US and all 10000 Japanese perished. Ultimately the Japanese commander here refused to surrender and committed harakiri as any honourable Japanese warrior would.
As a post script to this battle, amazingly and against the odds a few Japanese soldiers survived in the tunnels. The last of them surrendered in 1947!
japanese war tunnel
Japanese Zero jet fighter
Japanese Howitzer gun
Japanese Peace Park
“Why would you want to come all the way to Palau when Australia has the best beaches in the world?” asks a German guy at our lunch stop. My reply was quick and succinct “Jellyfish lake”. “OK I now get it” says he.
12000 years ago the lake lost contact with the sea. It is a deep salt water lake where the jellyfish, without any natural predators have multiplied and lost the ability to sting. The result is an amazing almost sci fi experience of swimming with masses of alien looking gelatinous blobs.
Our day trip starts with a 30 minute speed boat trip to “Paradise point” snorkelling. I am just in the water fiddling nervously adjusting my mask when Anthony calls out “sharks” and ducks back into the water. My initial response was to treat it as a joke but getting my head in the water I saw three graceful reef sharks gliding by deep below me. They stayed for the whole time we were there, alas a bit too deep to get any decent photos.
Nonetheless the smaller tropical fish put on a better show.
From there the jellyfish lake did not disappoint,although for a weak swimmer like me the 500 metres swim to get to them as they have congregated on the other side of the lake was a bit daunting.
Lunch was on a beach on one of the many uninhabited rock islands and the view was spectacular.
After lunch an invigorating sea kayak in among the rock islands.
The finale saw us stop at a beach they call the milky way where we jump in and grab handfulls odf the sulphurous smelling limestone mud that substitutes for sand and apply it as if it were a some sort of spa treatment. A frivolous end to what is one of the most spectacular day trips that I have ever done.
Walking out to breakfast on the open air terrace, a broad spontaneous smile erupts on my face. It was all there, coconut palms, jungle, white sand dissolving into the turquoise lagoon, lush tree clad rock islands. A zephyr of a breeze cuts through the warm humidity. I’m back in the Pacific, specifically the island nation of Palau but this is a scene repeated all over Oceania.
Palau is halfway between PNG and the Phillipins just above Australia. For a short time a budget airline operated direct flights between here and Cairns, The flying time then was a cruisy 4 hours plus the add on to Cairns. The price was also about half of the modern fare. It went broke leaving us with the present situation where the trip over is a gruelling 22 hours long with a fare that is comparable to a Melbourne – Europe one.
I first heard about this island group from the GPs on the peninsula who scuba dive. They used to hold regular conferences all around the world and Palau was consistently their favourite destination. I do not dive and the attraction for me is the unique opportunity to swim and snorkel in the world heritage listed “jelly fish” lake.
The main priority of our first day here is to recover from the journey here that had us in at 4 am. A brief few hours sleep saw us walking into the capitol of Koror. This is a nation with a population of only 210,000 so the city is, as you would imagine, quite underwhelming. Once again we could be in any capitol anywherein the Pacific. The afternoon for me was a practise swim in our hotel’s lagoon puting my hitherto barely used underwater camera through its paces.
The attached photos are of the Sea Passion Hotel where we are staying.