Kosrae, Micronesia

Photo: Scot Nelson via flickr

You thought you’d already seen the most beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean. Ovalua and the Yasawa Islands in Fiji. Bora Bora and Mo’orea in French Polynesia. Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. Upolu in Samoa. Vava’u in Tonga. But somehow you missed one.

Kosrae is the easternmost of the Caroline Islands. The Island of the Sleeping Lady—its nickname doesn’t make sense until your early arriving airplane circles the 42-square-mile island from above—lies halfway between Guam and the Hawaiian Islands in the Western Pacific. The volcanic island was probably first settled around the first millennium AD and definitely by 1250 AD. The Leluh people were followed by the Spanish, the Germans, the Japanese, and, eventually, the Americans. Sovereign Micronesia is still associated with the United States today.

It’s because of this association that you end up on an Island Hopper flight, which stops in the Marshall Islands and Micronesia after departing Honolulu. Kosrae’s small airport was built on an artificial island off of the northwest coast; a new bridge connects it to the main island. Tofol, the little capital, is on the east coast. It overlooks Lelu Island, where the remains of ancient houses and royal tombs are found among the dense vegetation. Mount Finkol, the island’s highest point, has hiking trails that weave through the rainforest. While Utwe-Walung Marine Park surrounds the mangroves on the southwestern coast. There’s a lot to explore on this little island.

Once you hear about its outrigger canoe trips, you decide to make the marine park your first adventure. As its name suggests, it sits in between the villages of Utwe and Walung. It became UNESCO’s first biosphere reserve in the Pacific after a local ecologist created the park to protect the area’s extensive mangrove system and the pristine forest around it. There are untouched hard coral and shipwreck sites in the reef right off of the sandy beaches. More ancient ruins lie up the Finkol River. Local guides know that some plants are medicinal, others are the best fish bait, and one makes a great shampoo. They can point out Kosrae fruit doves and Kosrae flying foxes, as well. Then you can meet the man who dug your canoe out of a sturdy breadfruit tree.

It may have taken you a long time to find Kosrae, but it’s quickly becoming an island that you’ll never forget.

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