This is our last blog entry in our Indonesia series. To read our Indonesia travel journal from the start, click here
Komodo is famed for two things. Firstly, its terrifying and disgusting giant komodo dragons, who have such delightful habits as eating their young, and carrying around bacteria in their phlegm which poisons their prey and decays their own gums. Oh, and they have a third eye hidden in their head. Coooool! The other thing Komodo Park is famous for is its impressive underwater life which puts it – many agree – on par with diving in Papua or Borneo. During our time in Komodo we sampled both and were so impressed by the latter that we even cancelled our diving in Borneo, unable to see how diving could get any better!
But, first things first, to the gruelling act of actually getting there. Komodo is East of Bali and can be accessed fairly easily (if unsafely!) on liveaboard boats that stop at various points along Flores before reaching Labuanbajo. However, we were travelling from further North-East so we chanced it with a 24-hour ferry from Makassar, which ended up being more of a 30-hour prison, with rubber mattresses, no windows or light, and locals smoking 24/7 around us, interspersed with the shrieks of babies and fighting cocks! NICE. We pretty much chain-listened to podcasts to get through the hell!
Prior to this, we spent a couple of nights in bustling Makassar – a heaving, hectic place – to make sure we could book ourselves onto the ferry. In this time, we ate and slept a lot (exhausted from night buses and illness!) but also met the wonderful Rifal, who was living in Makassar but born in Malaysian Borneo, and he was kind enough to take us for a tour around the town’s fort and give us lots of great tips about Borneo. We also went for lunch with his friend Tahir and were introduced to a new delicious meal including fried noodles, which was great!
Labuanbajo itself reminded us of Bali, as it’s pretty over-run by tourists and has inflated prices and pretty average food, but it was really just a place to base ourselves whilst getting out in the nature. On our first day in town we tried to book ourselves onto a short boat tour but found most of them had left (they only run every few days) and we wouldn’t be able to make our diving booking in Borneo without buying an expensive flight (eek!) but we decided to swallow the cost, so we could see everything in our time in Labuanbajo – both the Komodos and the incredible diving, specifically diving with manta rays!
After a bit of shopping around, we booked ourselves onto some diving for the next day, using the best sites recommended to us by buddies in the Togean Islands as our basis for choosing, and it was honestly the best diving day we had in all of our travels! Fun, chatty dive buddies; great, professional dive masters with full briefings; tasty food and coffee, and then the sea-life itself. Wow!
Our first site was Siaba Basar, which we’d decided to snorkel rather than dive to save some dollar, and it was just stunning. Bright interesting fish species, beautiful coral, weird fish eggs, and star fish dotting the sand. We even saw a black-beaked eagle ray from above, and followed its path for a while before it swam away. We honestly could’ve stayed all day!
Our next site was Manta Point, which I was most excited about. Even during our briefing we could see the mantas coming to the surface and big black masses swirling around below. The current was super strong, even on descent, and we had to grab onto a rope anchor then swim hard to stay together, cross-currents trying to drag us away in various directions. Once we’d reached a good spot to wait for the mantas, we all struggled to hold onto our dive masters, or their small rope anchors, so we didn’t get swept off into the open sea. One lady in our group even grabbed hold of a sea urchin in her struggle to find something stable to hold onto!
After a few seconds, we were graced with about five beautiful huge manta rays (about the size of a small car!) swimming above us, with their wings flapping gracefully in rhythm, so elegant and beautiful! It was truly awe-inspiring. The rest of the dive repeated this pattern, with several more large groups of mantas passing us every so often, flying over our heads and around us, effortlessly majestic in their fluid movements. As an added bonus, we also saw some really cool cuttlefish, turtles and huge wrasse at the end of the dive.
Our last stop was equally breathtaking – Batubalong – probably the prettiest dive we’ve done. The site just burst with clouds of stunning colourful fish, like a huge swirling rainbow, around stunning untouched corals. We saw huge shoals of neon red fish, glowing blue fish, box fish, tuna, wrasse, puffers, lionfish, crabs and even two huge white-tipped reef sharks chilling on the coral, and Sam got up close and personal with one of them for a video! It was pretty thrilling seeing a shark so close up, as they’re normally swimming away from divers. We enjoyed a stunning boat journey home through the ochre arid mountains and stunning clear blue water.
Next, we embarked on a 2 day/1 night tour to see the Komodo dragons and check out some other spots around the National Park. On the whole the tour was great: we saw some beautiful spots and – of course – the dragons themselves, but unfortunately as is quite common in places like this, they screwed up our schedule and we missed the chance to snorkel with the mantas (we were dying to see them again!) but ho hum! We got some money back after some tantrum-throwing, so all good 🙂
Our tour boat was tiny, just us and two Indonesian guys (one of whom was the guilty party for changing our schedule!) but, luckily, they spoke good English which meant we could communicate with our skipper as he only spoke Indonesian! He was also about 16 years old :-/ Despite this, he did a great job of driving the boat and also cooked us some incredible food (some of the best in Indonesia!) so I can’t complain.
On our first day we visited Rinca Island and had our first encounters with the disgusting and scary Komodo dragons, with a great tour guide who taught us about their behaviour, and framed some fab photo ops with us and the huge beasts. Luckily it was boiling hot so they were mainly sleeping, but we did see them running pretty fast at each other which was quite unnerving (they can easily eat people!) We took a short trek into the bush, where we found a baby komodo hiding out, and then – rather dramatically – a cobra tried to attack our guide, and he had to fight it off with a stick! Brave guide!
We then took a two-hour journey to Komodo where we saw yet more dragons, including two huge beasts that were circling each other for a fight on the beach! We were instructed to stay back as our guide – armed with a huge stick – managed to contain the area where they were fighting, snarling at each other with their gross bacteria-filled venom dripping down their jaws. Eew!
After some fabulous snorkelling at ‘Pink Beach’ (featuring – you guessed it – pink coral formations, and some incredible rare fish species), we drove the boat to Padma Island where we ate our dinner on the boat and slept on the boat under millions of stars, moored in a little bay, awaiting the next day’s sunrise for some trekking up to the lookout. The next morning, the sunrise hike up to the lookout didn’t disappoint – with a view over three different bays, which was pretty stunning (despite the millions of tourists jostling for space for selfies!)
Finally we did one last snorkelling spot – voted one of South East Asia’s finest – Kanawo Island – which was pretty good, but not amazing. It was clear that the area has been subject to dynamite fishing, with huge swaths of sand breaking up the coral formations. Despite this, we still saw several spotted rays and other rays that we couldn’t identify, along with plenty of fish.
Sadly we missed our last scheduled stop, Manta Point, due to one of our fellow tour buddies having to catch a flight and bribing the skipper to come back early (!!) but we still felt we’d got a ton out of our tour, and were happy to walk away with a hefty discount (after much “discussion” with the fiery Indonesian tour guys!!)
After an evening of cocktails on our balcony, reflecting on our great few days, we took a flight back to Bali for a brief boozy evening, then onwards to Malaysian Borneo!