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Off the Beaten Track


Angaur is the southernmost of the Palau Islands group, and for the independent traveller looking to get off the beaten track, it has some serious South Seas charm. It's a low-key place, with only one village and just over 200 people, who are outnumbered 3-to-1 by crab-eating macaques. The monkeys descend from a pair brought over in the early 1900s to monitor air quality in the island's phosphate mines. The Germans began mining the island in 1909, and the Japanese continued the operation until WWII. Instead of their tunnels, though, you're more likely to see the green ponds that have formed in the pits, now home to a small colony of crocodiles.

Angaur's lone village overlooks its harbour on the western coast. The harbour, which is nearly enclosed, has waters so calm you'd think it was a giant swimming pool. North of town, there's an old Japanese lighthouse hidden by a jungle on a hill. It takes a sharp eye to find it, but you'll enjoy a great view from the top if you take the trouble.

There's a miniature wooden Shinto shrine located on the northwestern coast, with a nice beach nearby and good snorkelling when the water's calm. On the northwestern tip of the island there's a statue of the Virgin Mary, erected to protect Angaur from stormy seas. A Buddhist memorial with markers honouring fallen Japanese soldiers is nearby, and if you look to the east you'll see a big blowhole.

On the northeastern side of the island, an eerie airplane graveyard is littered with pieces of wrecked WWII planes. You'll have to look closely into the dense jungle covering, as most of them are overgrown. Look hard enough and you'll find a Corsair with its wings intact, although the amazing root structure of the towering ironwood trees is just as interesting as the planes.

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Towards the northern end of the Palau Islands is Kayangel, a picture-postcard coral atoll. Its four islands, fringed with sun-bleached beaches, ring a well-protected aqua-blue lagoon. The main island, Ngcheangel, is less than 3.5km (2mi) long and takes only a few minutes to walk across - and yet there's a chief for each side.

The atoll has just one village thats's home to about 140 people, most of whom live in tin houses. There are a couple of small stores, a little ice-making plant and a few mopeds, but the island has no cars, phones or airport. Although Kayangel is fairly traditional, it welcomes culturally sensitive visitors. Dress is particularly important - women should plan on wearing a T-shirt and shorts over their bathing suit when swimming, and neither men nor women should wear shorts in the village. Woven handbags and baskets from Kayangel are in demand, as they're made from a high-quality pandanus leaf. The average bag is reasonably priced and lasts a couple of years.

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