Pohnpei – an Utopia of mangrove swamps

Pohnpei-islandMicronesia’s Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) consists of some 600 small islands spread across nearly 2.900.000 sq km (1.100.000 sq mi) of the Western Pacific just above the Equator. For all that, the FSM can only muster around 700 sq km (270 sq mi) of terra firma. The four states are Pohnpei, Chuuk, Kosrae and Yap. Each consists of one or more main high volcanic islands, with all but Kosrae including numerous outlying atolls.

Pohnpei is the FSM’s largest island, with a circumference of 130 km (80 mi). It hosts a mixed population – as home to the national government, it has attracted employees from other states to join a hotch-potch of different Pacific islanders, Japanese, Americans, Australians and Europeans who have settled over the years. In addition to Pohnpei itself, whose reef encloses 25 islets and has eight atolls, the state consists of another 137 widely scattered atolls. Kolonia on the north coast is the island’s commercial centre and capital.

Most of Pohnpei’s shoreline is covered in mangrove swamps, but artificial beaches have been created on the mainland and reef atolls have excellent natural beaches. The island is rich in unspoiled coral reefs that delight divers and snorkelers, whilst a reef aperture known as Palikir Pass has acquired a well-deserved reputation as a surfing hotspot. Rugged mountain terrain and luxuriant rain forest cover the interior of the island, rising to the high point of Mount Nahnu Laud 788 m (2.585 ft). There are some fine nature trails and trekking opportunities, with numerous rushing streams, waterfalls and cooling plunge pools to enjoy along the way.

This is an island where tourists are welcomed by friendly people, that retains much original character simply because it has not yet become a well-known international resort destination. Enjoy!

Population: 35.000 (2007 estimate)

When to go: The (very) rainy season (July to October) is best avoided – otherwise the warm, tropical climate doesn’t vary much.

How to get there: By air, at considerable expense, flying Continental Micronesia from Guam. Or island-hop from Hawaii.

Highlights: Nan Madol on Temwen Island, off Pohnpei’s eastern shore, sometimes called the “Venice of the Pacific” – a network of canals and artificial islands covered in imposing stone ruins that date back to the 12th and 13th centuries.

The impressive Liduduhniap Twin Waterfalls on the Nanpil River, near Kolonia.

Kolonia’s Spanish Wall, built in 1899 as part of Fort Alphonso XII, and the nearby Catholic Mission Bell Tower, all that remains of a church demolished by the Japanese in World War II.

A glass (one should be enough) of numbing sakau, a local drink made from pepper root used in traditional ceremonies and now sold in most bars.

You should know: Waterproof clothing is de rigueur – Pohnpei is one of the wettest places on earth with annual rainfall of 1.000 cm (400 in).

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