Exploring Lush Kosrae
Most people haven’t heard of this little Pacific island, but those who visit never forget hiking to hidden waterfalls, searching an endemic forest for a lost city, snorkeling a maze of mangroves or diving amidst rich corals and sharks.
Located in the north-central Pacific, Kosrae is part of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and is a true gem. Many of the people here lead a natural lifestyle. It is not unusual to see men in dugout canoes paddling out to fish. Women use woven items to carry fruits to market. Riding a bamboo raft with the incoming tide at an inlet is a great source of fun and thrills for adventurous children.
The other states in the FSM are the capital of Pohnpei, Chuuk (Truk Lagoon) and Yap. Each state has developed unique cultural characteristics. For instance, in Kosrae, the Congregational Church plays an extremely important role in everyday life, while in Chuuk clan relationships remain an important factor.
Over the last 15 years, Pohnpei has rapidly developed as the most westernized state, but it still retains a great many local customs. Even though the national government is located here, traditional leadership continues to play an important role.
History & Hikes
For pure nature and great daytrip adventures, Kosrae is the destination. The island has dense jungle, and even the mountains are covered in jungle. There are remnants of WWII located high in these hills as well as the reminders of Kosrae’s ancient past.
The Menke Ruins is a long hike and, to best see the entire area, one should plan on camping out in the jungle overnight. The temple of the Goddess of Breadfruit, Sinlaku, is here, and this is where she spent her last days before fleeing to Yap prior to the arrival of the missionaries in 1852.
The Menkes are the oldest such ruins in FSM and perhaps even the entire Micronesian sub-region, pre-dating both the Lelu ruins in Kosrae and Nan Madol in Pohnpei. What is perhaps the best feature of the Menke ruins is the Menke Valley itself, which holds the pure and untrammeled Menke River.
Easier to get to and explore, Kosrae’s famous Lelu Ruins sit in town not far from a seaside chapel. Considered one of the wonders of the Pacific huge basaltic slabs and arranged neatly, they make 20-foot walls that encompass what was once an ancient capital.
The Lelu Ruins were an active ruling metropolis through the latter part of the 19th century. The genesis of these ruins of large basaltic walls, channels, streets, tombs and living quarters dates back to the 13th century.
Falls & Forest
Jungle waterfalls await visitors and include the Sipyen Waterfall, a refreshing 30-foot cascade of mountain water that attracts bathers and photographers. Located in Utwe, the waterfall offers a small bathing pool at the bottom. Getting there is a rocky, but short, five-minute walk.
Forest lovers will want to see the Yela Ka Forest with its newly completed boardwalk. Yela offers a pristine series of tropical island ecosystems and is one of the last roadless areas in the Pacific, remaining largely closed to the public.
At the center of the area is something to behold; a freshwater swamp dominated by hundreds of towering endemic Ka trees (Terminalia carolinensis ). These trees have been referred to as the “Redwoods of Micronesia.”
One of the island’s greatest attractions is Kosrae’s outer barrier reef. It is a blend of aquas and greens. In places, the reef plunges deeply close to shore. Signs of development are few on Kosrae, and the rugged ridges of the heavily jungled mountains dominate the shoreline residences.
Today, each has special features that make these dive destinations unique. Kosrae has been pretty much off the “snorkeled path.” Dive exploration here is not much more than a decade old. Adventurous pioneers such as Doug Beitz at Kosrae Nautilus Resort have been having a good time exploring while awaiting the masses to discover these undersea gems.
The island is famous for amazing hard coral reefs which are possibly the healthiest in the Pacific. The variety and size of these reefs, located east of most typhoon disturbances, is a biologist’s delight. The extensive mangroves add to the healthy formula for diversity.
The lack of development on Kosrae (the main road doesn’t even go all the way around the island) keeps the reefs in superb shape. They are the kind you expect to see at an outer atoll. Fish life is plentiful, and Kosrae has the finest mooring buoy program in Micronesia, with sites around the entire island with well-maintained buoys and lines.
For diving, don’t miss heading to Hiroshi Point by boat, so you can get right to the wall and start looking for action. The sloping drop-off at Hiroshi is covered in beautiful corals adorned by hovering fairy basslets in brilliant magentas and yellows.
A good variety of sea anemones and the shallower waters produce schools of parrotfish that roam the reef munching on corals and algae. Sand rays rest in the white sand flats, and big coral bommies come to within 15 feet of the surface, making this an ideal snorkel site and a great place for novice divers to enjoy a truly beautiful reef.
Or try Walung Dropoff for an amazing coral display of absolutely huge and varied coral heads and big bunches of colorful Christmas tree worms. Morays hide within the cracks and crevices created by these thick, competitive corals.
Fantastic regal angelfish, absolutely brilliant flame angels, blackback butterflyfish, ornate butterflyfish, midnight snapper and a whole collection of other reef fish make this a superb spot for fish-watchers. Check out shrimp and octopus if the fish life gets too much to handle.
The spectacular thing is that all of this is found in the 40-to-60-foot range. Deeper dives also produce sightings of sharks and schooling bigeye jacks. The current is usually minimal here, making it a fine snorkeling site as well.
Mangroves Above & Below
For a very, very strange (can you say surreal) diving and snorkeling experience, try Dwarf Forest. This dive is done in a unique brackish marine area that exists between the ocean and the inner mangroves.
A trip through the mangrove forest is like a visit to another world. Whether you are diving, snorkeling or just exploring, you follow meandering channels covered by a majestic canopy of mangrove trees. Wildlife abounds. Fish swim lazily through the tea-colored water, and birds chatter in trees above.
Mangrove forests surround the island of Kosrae and are a place of beauty and solitude. The mangroves are not quite sea and not yet land and provide important environmental benefits to the island.
Because the mangrove forest is rich with life, it is an important resource for the people of Kosrae. The trees provide timber, the channels are a protected transportation network, and their waters are a favored place to fish.
Enter the water here, and you will see looming overhead magnificent mangrove trees. Below, hard corals, odd but brilliant sponges and tunicates and silvery moon fish live among a maze of tangled roots. The dive is shallow, so one can weave carefully under the trees and within the roots to reveal a natural light show.
Kosrae offers fine dive shop facilities, equipment, training and dedicated dive resorts. Kosrae is a religious island and all businesses close on Sundays—by law. Diving is not permitted but it is OK to snorkel. This is a good day to take a hike into the pristine jungle or just read a book by the sea.
New things are happening here all the time. Surfing is a “best-kept secret” and kayaking is becoming popular. If you are looking for an out-of-the-way adventure, a place teeming with nature, this Micronesian outpost awaits.
Getting There: Travel to the FSM is available via Guam or Hawaii through United Airlines. Kosrae is serviced twice weekly. A number of airlines fly daily to Guam from Japan.
Time: Kosrae is GMT +11 hours.
Electricity: Standard 110-volt and U.S.-type outlets are used.
Currency, Banking and Credit Cards: The U.S. dollar is the official currency. There are several U.S. FDIC insured banks operating in the FSM. Most major credit cards are welcome at most visitor-oriented businesses.
What to Wear: Travel light. It never gets cold in FSM, so only lightweight clothing should be brought. Attire is very casual and formal wear is considered unnecessary and impractical. Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are recommended when enjoying the sun.
Hotels: Kosrae Nautilus Resort: www.kosraenautilus.com