Chuuk Islands

chuck-islands-with-a-boat-in-clear-waterThis island group is a quarter of the Federated States of Micronesia, and the FSM’s most populous state. It consists of more than 40 islands, some 15 of which are inside the main lagoon. There are five sets of outer islands – the Upper and Lower Mortlocks to the south, the Western Islands, the Hall Islands and Nomwin Atoll to the north. The outer islands need be of little concern to the visitor, as they can be reached only with great difficulty and have no tourist facilities.

The lagoon islands are another matter. Chuuk (sometimes called Truk) Lagoon has a diameter of 80 km (50 mi), and is up to 90 m (300 ft) deep. Reef diving alone would be rewarding, but the lagoon’s true surprise is the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific’ – hundreds of wrecks including submarines, warships, freighters and planes that have lain undisturbed on the seabed since a fierce battle between the Japanese Imperial Fleet and American carrier planes in 1944. Over time, these have become an amazing underwater museum, where wrecks have become breathtaking coral gardens that provide a happy hunting ground for hundreds of exotic marine fish and animals. The phrase ‘divers’ heaven’ is frequently used, and fully justified.

Life on the lagoon islands hasn’t changed much for centuries. Weno is the main island, and has the airport, whilst other significant islands are Tonoas, Fefen, Uman and Udot. Through a combination of circumstances – extreme distance from anywhere and tourism centred on diving, whose participants are more interested in action than luxury accommodation – the islands have remained remarkably unspoiled, with islanders living peacefully on the fruits of nature and their own husbandry. The result, for those willing to make the not inconsiderable effort needed to get there, is enchanting.

Population: 53.000 (2004)

When to go: The best time to visit is January to March, when there is generally little rainfall.

How to get there: Fly from Hawaii on the island-hopper, or go via Guam.

Highlights: Warrior masks and busts carved by islanders, who also make a selection of beautifully woven traditional goods.

Sapuk Lighthouse, built by the Japanese in the 1930s, with a superb view of the strategic northeast reef passage. Also marvel at the huge World War II guns nearby.

An incomparable panorama of the Chuuk Islands from Tonachau Mountain atop Weno, legendary home of the god Souwoniras and his divine son.

Tonata guns and caves, as a fine example of the many fortifications dating from World War II when Chuuk was a major Japanese base.

Nemwes and Fouman Rocks on Udot Island, symbolic sites that recall ancient rivalries between Chuuk and the Yap Islands.

You should know: The local courtship ritual involves unique tokens known as ‘Chuukese Love Sticks’ (don’t ask).

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