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Kosrae Micronesia

written by Lee Johnson – Perth Scuba Managing Director

Part 1 – Kosrae: The Hidden Jewel of Micronesia

When I first heard of Kosrae last year, it was at a dive travel information night put on by Allways Dive Travel, Continental / United Airlines and some of the resorts and dive operators of Micronesia in Melbourne. We were shown some amazing photographs and video presentations of many of the dive destinations I am sure most of you would have heard of, Truk Lagoon and Palau were a couple of them along with a few others, but then came this ‘new’ destination… Well at least new to us. Kosrae. We were told that the reef in Kosrae was some of the best you would ever see and that the pristine diving that is available in Kosrae is not to be missed. How could that be true if we’d never heard of it before now? Kosrae Micronesia by Johanna Pool

The photographs they showed were unbelievable and we were told that they were nothing compared to the real thing… So like any tour leader looking for a new destination to take their travelling customers, we just had to take their advice and check it out for ourselves.

Almost 12 months on and we arrive on what has to be the worlds shortest runway. we were later told that the runway was meant to be another 30 metres longer but you know how it is, the guys building it… They just decided it looked long enough to them and that was how it would stay. It didn’t affect the landing any and it wasn’t long before the aeroplane doors opened and the warm humid air hit our smiling faces.  Remembering that when we left Perth the forecast for the day was for severe storms. We were greeted by Wallace, who works at the Nautilus Resort as a jack of all trades. he drove us around the island to the resort which was to be our home for the next 8 days. On the way we were waved at by many local children and their parents who were going about their daily jobs. The trip to the resort is really a bit of a blur because we were just so excited about finally being here in Kosrae and we were a bit tired from the 26 hours of travel that we had just endured. The travel sounds a lot worse than it is, we could have stayed a night in Cairns, and even a night in Guam on the way to break it up (or travelled through Manilla) but we were just too anxious. Arriving at the Nautilus Resort, it was very refreshing to see a resort which showed that the people who worked there had a lot of pride in the place. After some of the places I have stayed in Micronesia, I didn’t know what to expect. I have to say, this resort is by far the cleanest and one of the most modern looking resorts I have stayed in – in Micronesia. The resort owners and operators Doug and Sally are Australian and they employ a full team of Kosraen Staff who are great! We were greeted by Doug on our arrival who gave us a quick run down of the resort and took us to our room. The rooms are very well set out with plenty of room for charging camera gear (very important when you travel with Joey Pool), nice big beds, good sized bathroom and a bar fridge with a few drinks ready to go. A TV in the room apparently has cable channels too –  but we aren’t here for the TV… Lets go diving!!!

We checked out the rest of the resort facilities. There is a really inviting swimming pool next to an immaculate restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, pool table and table tennis table for the competitive at heart, Kayaks to play with along the network of small rivers behind the resort which is great fun to paddle down and take in the fantastic scenery, but more on that later. There is a purpose built volley ball court and of course a handy little gift shop which sells all sorts of goodies from critter dive slates (have to have those) to headache tablets and of course T Shirts.

Once we had settled in, we decided to have dinner and an early night. The menu at the restaurant is nice and simple but complete. By simple I mean – even someone who is often challenged with names of things on menus like me, could see what was on offer. The range of food available is certainly enough to suit even the most fussy eaters… Me! There is a great range of fresh fish, chicken, steak, pizzas and burgers and pretty much anything you could want. The food Servings are a very good size, the food is great and the service is very fast. We also got to meet Wallace again who was our waiter for the night. The kitchen staff are excellent and nothing is too much trouble for them. Kosrae Micronesia shrimp by Johanna Pool

The next day we were going diving!  Having had some sleep and being able to take in the scenery, I couldn’t help but notice how green everything was as we headed to the marina. Massive palm trees, hanging vines and bananas hang overhead within reach just about everywhere you go!

The usual things that remind you that you are in a place where they just don’t have the opportunities that we do and the things we take for granted such as car wrecks at the front of some of the houses which with a couple of years of rain Forrest type growth make them resemble a very big plant pot with branches and leaves coming out of doors, boots, bonnets and wheel arches. It makes you start to wonder exactly how long it takes for a car to be completely consumed by the flora in this climate. When a car dies here, there is no quick fix… It’s just time to get another one. Doug tells us that the Japanese import cars are very popular on the island but they are very difficult to get parts for once they break down. We drove past lots of discarded cars which were surely once the pride of the family driveway. Even an old school bus sits in a yard looking like all it needs is a good wash and to remove the trees from the front seats and uncover the back from the grass that has grown over it and it will be back in service.

Kosrae has a very interesting history and Doug, who has lived in Kosrae since he built the Nautilus Resort 17 years ago – was happy to share it with us. There are many ruins from ancient villages from civilisations over a thousand years old. the Kosraen people have shaped the way the island is today based on some of the stories and events which happened many years ago. There are a number of day trips you can do while in Kosrae which include anything from paddling down rivers to see the rain forest to visiting the ancient ruins of Lelu, the oldest site in Kosrae. Some of the artefacts you can see here are Coral fish hooks, stone carvings and lots of other interesting things.

There is a museum also for those of you interested in going further into the history of this fantastic place. For the non divers there are a whole bunch of activities and tours which you can do. Kosrae is not the kind of place where you could get easily bored. There are cascading waterfalls, marine parks, the Menke & Lelu Ruins, The Blue Hole – which is a great snorkel just in front of the Nautilus Resort, Japanese WWII caves, Mt Ohma, hiking and heaps more.

The marina is just a short drive from the Nautilus Resort and is a small but well laid out marina. there is a big sign on the wall which shows how to attach to moorings and not use anchors. it is refreshing to see that a place with a such a small number of people has systems in place which make our own modern day ways look archaic. Simple moorings so the reef doesn’t get destroyed are dotted all around the island so there is no need to drop an anchor and destroy the pristine reef doing so.

We loaded up the boat and headed out to the first dive of our trip… “Hiroshi”Kosrae Micronesia coral reef by Johanna Pool

Our Divemaster Salik looks as excited as we are going on this dive. You can see his enthusiasm as he gets his gear ready and helps hook onto the mooring buoy. A short but informative brief from Doug tells us what we can expect on this dive and what to look out for… to be honest I can’t even remember the briefing – (Sorry Doug), it was just the fact that I was about to dive where I and no one I know has ever dived before. In fact, Doug was telling us that there would be no more than 200 divers a year visit Kosrae. How is that for exclusive???

The water was so clear you could see the fish swimming over the reef and the perfect white sand in the very few areas which weren’t covered in reef… And we weren’t even in the water yet!

We dropped into the water and that feeling of 29 degree water hitting you is such a fantastic feeling. my choice of wetsuit today… A pair of board shorts and a rashy. I put my face in the water to check out what we were going to be diving on… I can only say 1 word… That I can print anyway… WOW! I have never seen anything like this! The reef here IS by far THE best reef I have ever seen! I have been lucky enough to have dived some great places, but nothing compares to the condition and sheer size of the corals and structure of this reef. If this is what reef is meant to look like, then what are we doing to this planet?

I am not great with names and types of corals – to be honest we don’t get a big call for it back in Perth because we just don’t have anything close to what we are seeing here… So I won’t try to name them, but I can tell you that they are amazing! Getting back to our dive… The colours, the sizes, the different types, there are entire reefs with not one broken piece of coral. You couldn’t put your finger down to steady yourself if you wanted to, there is just so much coral – soft and hard, that there would be nowhere to touch.

Amongst the corals are thousands of colourful reef fish, Anemone fish (Nemos), and more. Both Joey and I were left speechless. Both of us agreed that we had never seen anything like it in all of our diving – anywhere. To put it simply, the fact that Kosrae only sees a couple of hundred divers a year and the fact that the Kosraen people know what they have here and don’t abuse it totally shows. What they told us at the travel info night couldn’t have explained how pristine and healthy the reef was… If they had we probably wouldn’t have believed them anyway. With the first dive over we sat out the surface interval with some fresh bananas and Tangerines from the island and blurted out everything we’d seen on dive 1 Yum! Why don’t they give us fruit between dives back in Perth?

The second dive was next to an old wreck of a wooden ‘ Pirates’ vessel. Not much remains but if you are into it, Doug tells us there are still things to see which are recognisable. We were too interested in what nature had to offer to be worried about old shipwrecks. The dive was over way too fast and by the speed of which Joey’s strobes were going, there was going to be a lot of photographs.

Heading back to the resort with beaming faces, Joey and I could hardly wait to download out photos to see if we had been able to capture anything close to what we had seen in real life… The photographs that Joey took really did show that the condition of the reef is outstanding (scroll down for her images).

The next few days of diving is a blur… I am not saying that so I don’t have to write about them… They just had so much going on in them. We did a fantastic dive which I had never done before – diving under the mangroves. Joey had seen pictures from the Mangroves before and wanted to try her hand at some photography there… Me… I was just curious. To get there we headed out on a tiny out rigger boat which was really cool and well balanced ( even with me in it). The site was really strange. A kind of estuary dive with a difference. All of the trees hanging over the water in a place that I am sure I had seen on one of those movies where the crocodiles come out and eat everyone. Dropping beneath the water you expect it to be the ultimate muck dive but the first thing that hits you is the number of fish darting around under the water. The marine life here is thriving like all of the coral reefs, nothing here is fished out, damaged or even remotely ‘tired’. The mangrove dive is a little eerie, and very cool fun for a dive with a real difference. Joey stopped by a large tree that had fallen into the water a while back and waited for me to move on… Completely messing up her shot – I stayed… Until I got the glare, after which I tottled along and kept on looking for cool critters. The dive ended with lots of photos and a dive experience that I had never had before. Better still… No crocodiles.Kosrae Micronesia coral reef by Johanna Pool

One of the cool things about Kosrae is that there is nothing poisonous in the way of snakes, spiders and other monsters. You can go anywhere and know that you are safe… As we would find out in a few days time. 
The next day saw us heading to a different Marina and the other side of the island. We were heading to a dive site they call Shark Island. We hooked up to the mooring –  (kindly donated by Project AWARE) and Doug briefed us on the dive site. This one is a wall dive with a top level reef at about 10 metres. The top reef was home to some leaf fish and lots of other cool critters, but I was more interested in seeing something bigger this time. On this dive we were told by Doug to expect either strongish currents ( which sharks love) or no current and a big school of spiralling Skip Jacks at the end of a long finger of reef which juts out from the wall. The wall dive is an amazing sight, the reel is pristine right up until the drop off and the activity below is full on. Dropping over the side of the wall for a bit of a look ( trying to stay close enough to my buddy not to get the glare), I find myself side by side with an Eagle Ray and some Giant Trevally. A black tip reef shark swims below me – a little nervous at my presence but happy to stay a bit of a distance from me and look. Schools of Skip Jacks and juvenile trigger fish pepper the wall in patches and there is such an abundant and diverse amount of marine life on the wall. I dived the wall just to 40 metres and could see all sorts of activity both below and in front of me. This is my kind of diving!  We came to the part of the reef which juts out and worked our way down to the end which is about 45 metres deep. On the way down there we came across the spiralling Skip Jacks and it looked like we were a little shallow for the real school. I could see the massive grey patch about 20 metres below which looked like a lot of activity but I didn’t want to take any risks considering we had decided a maximum depth before the dive.

This dive site was one of my favourite sites by far but with the whole side of the island being a wall, I could imagine that for the divers into bigger stuff, this was the place to be. This side of the island is also very picturesque. Upon surfacing, you can see the mountains and lush rain forest in front of you. The surface interval sure beats one at Rottnest that’s for sure.

Well the diving kept on going and I would love to tell you more about the diving but you’ll just have to go there and see for yourself. With all of the diving to do in Kosrae, we found it hard to drag ourselves away but decided that it would be good to sample some of the other things Kosrae had to offer…

Part 2 – Lee shares his experience above the water next issue… Stay tuned!

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