I have a travel book at home with 1000 things to see before you die, before departing on this trip I went through and drew up a bucket list of my favourite entries. Seeing Komodo Dragons in the flesh was high on that list. As we had found ourselves only a few Islands away from the rare creatures we couldn’t bring ourselves to board a plane in any other direction. We booked our tickets to Komodo Airport and we were off.
Now for the slightly confusing part, Komodo Airport isn’t actually on the Island of Komodo as Komodo itself is highly protected, instead the airport is located on the Island of Flores. Flores has a huge amount going for it with colourful lakes and a volcano to explore, unfortunately due to its size and poor infrastructure we didn’t have time in our schedule to explore it all so made our base in the popular town of Labuan Bajo.
In all honestly Labuan Bajo is a bit of a hole. It hosts the main port for the island and a main road full of tour operators and diveshops and knows its place as the gateway to the National Park. We had chosen a really nice hostel which had a pool with views out over the water, it was perfect for us to use as a base. We weren’t sure how we were going to spend our 6 days before our fight onwards to Singapore so we embarked in a morning of enquires along the main road, obviously any activities needed to include dragons and as Komodo National Park hosts some of the best diving sites in the world and someone had just become a certified diver it would be rude not to see what all the fuss was about. The walk was very productive and by lunch time we had a plan.
The next day was a very early start, we had booked ourselves onto a day long boat trip in which we would visit Padar Island, Rinca Island and two snorkelling spots before heading back to town in the evening. We had to be at the booking office by 5:30am, we then boarded a small boat with a few other travellers. Komodo National Park is huge and it took us about 3.5 hours to reach our first stop – Padar Island. This is one of the most photogenic places we have ever been, a 30 minute walk reveals more and more bays with the crystal clear blue waters the further along you go. As I am no wordsmith I will let the below photos do the talking.
Walking to the top was sweaty work so we made sure we had time to cool off in those same waters before boarding the boat to our next stop, Rinca Island. Rinca Island is one of the two main homes of the Komodo Dragon and provides greater chances of seeing dragons than a visit to Komodo itself. By the time we arrived the sun was high in the sky and we knew about it, walking around the island we quickly came across a few lethargic dragons hanging out in the shade of a cluster of buildings. We couldn’t get over how big and gnarly they were, as we slowly moved closer to a larger Dragon the growl was haunting. Although they appear to move slowly apparently they can reach speeds of 20km/h+, as Andy kindly reminded me, he doesn’t need to out run the Dragon just me. We carried on a small walk around the Island seeing another female dragon guarding her nest and then it was back to our boat before our final two snorkelling spots.
By this point everyone was ready to jump in for a cool down, the snorkelling was amazing, the density of coral and visibility in the water meant there were fish everywhere. Pulling us away wasn’t easy but no one complained that we were last back to the boat.
Our ride back to town was relaxing as we pulled back into Labuan Bajo just as the sun was setting. Boy what a day!
With dragons ticked from the list, diving was up next. If you know me well you will know that I really don’t like to make things easy for myself and our diving experience was no exception. Although there were plenty of day diving trips on offer we opted to sign up to a 4-day 3-night live-aboard diving trip. I later discovered that not only is the diving here some of the best in the world it is also some of the most challenging, and all this only days after recovering from some pretty serious sinus trauma. It was a stupid idea but one we will never forget.
Nervous and stocked up on treats we boarded our vessel, which for the next 4 days we would call home. After an hour or so on the boat we had settled into our cosy but pleasant cabin and were ready for our first dive. All went smoothly and I thought I had this diving crack down to a fine art. The second dive was a completely different story, this was a drift dive. If, like I was at the time, you aren’t sure what a drift dive is I will enlighten you. As soon as you enter the water from the boat and descend the current takes you – it feels like you are being dragged along from the back of a fast moving car, you can try to swim against it but chances are you will swim as hard as you can but still go nowhere. If it wasn’t hard enough my air tank decided to come free half way through the dive, luckily the current kept it moving along with me until a mystery diver in shining wet-suit clamped himself on to my back and fixed it for me. A fun but scary experience, even Andy with over 100 dives under his belt found it challenging.
As the dives went on our confidence and ability grew, there was more life on the reef than we could have imagined with several species of shark, turtles, sea snakes, rays, moray eels and spanish dancers to name just a few. The types of dives varied greatly with night dives and sunset dives, reef dives and a few more drift dives. After one of the dives a school of Dolphins started circling our boat, it was magical.
Komodo National Park is also a great place to find Manta Rays, although we had seen one swimming in the bay from the boat, none of our dives had blessed us with a sighting. One of our favourite dives was a place called Manta Point, the dive wasn’t the most exciting but it is a good Manta Ray hang out. Our dive was nearly over when in the distance our dive master spotted a dark shadow, this was it, we had found a giant female Manta Ray. We approached slowly from the side and planted ourselves on the seabed, we were completely mesmerised by how gracefully she moved around the reef, as it was only our group watching we had her all to ourselves. If there wasn’t a matter of air supply to limit us we would have stayed watching for hours.
In total we completed 14 dives across the 4 days each more challenging than the last, and each provided more stories to tell than I have time to write in this blog. Our photos don’t come close to how beautiful it really was, I guess you will just have to take our word for it. For both of us it was one of the best experiences so far.