Micronesia

Pohnpei

This is the largest island in the Eastern Caroline group and the capital of the FSM. It fits the typical South Sea island image with its lush vegetation and abundant rainfall washing into streams, rivers and tumbling water falls. Unlike other Micronesian islands it has tropical jungles, mist-covered mountains, mangrove swamps and exotic flora.

Situated in the Western Pacific, it is 2,900 feet high, 13 miles wide and shaped somewhat like a circular tent.

Called the garden island of Micronesia, its boldest landmarks are Sokehs Rock, a steep cliff face which you can scale with a guide if you are fit enough and Nan Madol, an ancient stone city built on 100 artificial islets off the south-east coast.

The first European to visit the island group was Diego de Rocha, a Spaniard in 1526. The islands were originally called the New Philippines until 1696 when they were renamed the Caroline islands.

Occupied by Spain, Germany, Japan and the USA, Pohnpei experienced 100 years of foreign rule because it proved to be an ideal supply stop for the Pacific expeditions.

English is the predominant language spoken, though English and Pohnpeian are used in business.

Archaeologists and engineers are attempting to discover more about the race which constructed the island city of Nan Madol, the stone fortress built on a reef south west of Temwen Island, by the rulers of Pohnpei beginning around 500 AD until it was taken over by Isokelekel, the warrior who installed the present traditional system in the 1520's. The ruins consist of immense basalt rock logs bought to the islands by raft to construct steps, paths and a temple.

Nan Madol is reached by boat from the main town of Kolonia about 45 minutes away. It's a full day boat tour which includes a visit to the spectacular Keprohi Waterfall and snorkelling amidst the vivid marine life inside the lagoon.

A 20 minute ride out of Kolonia takes you to the Nanpil River and a large natural pool where the river temporarily slows down.

Further along the same river are the spectacular Liduduhniap Twin Waterfalls, complete with thatched huts where you can rest or picnic in a natural jungle setting. A day trip to privately owned Black Coral Island in the lagoon is the perfect way to safely snorkel the reef and for a family day, visit Langer island with its simple cottages where visitors can stay overnight for $15, bedding included.

In Kolonia you can see the Spanish Wall, built in 1889 as a boundary for Fort Alphonso XII. Nearby is the Catholic Mission Bell Tower, all that remains of the old German church torn down by the Japanese during World War 2. Also take a stroll into the Polynesian village and watch the craftsmen whittle ornaments from the ivory seed which grows locally.

Most tours to Nan Madol ruins, the Keprohi water falls, diving and hiking expeditions, operate from Kolonia, and most of the waterfalls and areas of historical and ecological importance can only be reached by guided tour.

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Accommodation is both traditional Pohnpeian which is thatched roofed bungalows with garden showers, and western style hotels, most of which are in Kolonia within 15 minutes from the airport. There is no public transport, only taxis and rental cars, but most hotels will offer shuttle services. Tourist facilities are clean, comfortable and the service is friendly.

A visit to the Pohnpeian cultural centres is a must for anyone wishing to experience traditional Pohnpeian life and culture. There are two set in authentic surrounds which perform an array of traditional Pohnpeian activities. Each centre has a distinctive program and performs on scheduled days during the week. Performances include traditional dancing, singing, music, ceremonial sakua making, handicraft arts, and food preparation. Cooking and weaving are often included.

The village shops specialise in handicrafts and popular items include carvings of sharks, dolphins, fish and canoes.

When it comes to relaxing try a drink of sakau, the numbing local drink which is used in ceremonies and is also sold in bars. You may find it harder to enjoy the local custom of chewing the beetle nut with coral lime powder.

Nukuoro

Nukuoro is a real haven. One of Pohnpei's outer atolls, it comprises 42 tiny islets formed in a near-perfect circle around a lagoon 4 miles (6km) in diameter. The Polynesian inhabitants are very welcoming, making this a fine place to spend some time just lazing around on beaches, picking up seashells and playing with island children. There is a guesthouse on the pier. There's no airport on Nukuoro; an irregular passenger boat passes about once a month.

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