Indonesia p6, Komodo

Written by on August 17, 2013 in Asia, General with 6 Comments

Diving in Komodo National Park had always been on the itinerary, so I was super-excited to finally land in Labuan Bajo, the main gateway to the Unesco Heritage site which encompassed Komodo and Rinca Islands, as well as several surrounding areas and their incredibly rich marine ecosystem.

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The narrow waters near Komodo are some of the most treacherous in the world due a unique accident of geography as the archipelago of islands separates the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The waters of the Pacific are apparently piled up from trade winds, leaving it one foot higher than the Indian Ocean. This results in a strong southerly flow which forces it’s way between the islands, creating some of the strongest currents in the world.

I was excited, especially as my friends Mike and Anne, the www.honeytrek.com couple from New York, were flying in to join me for a 3-day liveaboard dive trip around the Komodo islands.  This was going to be the fourth time we’d managed to meet up on our respective round-the-world trips, and I couldn’t think of a better place or better people to be with for the grand finale of my Southeast Asia leg!  That said, I didn’t think 3 days was enough, so I flew in a day early so that I could get out and do 3 extra dives on a day trip from Labuan Bajo.  I was so glad I did!

Upon arrival, I was picked up at the airport and taken into town to check in with my dive shop and get fitted with equipment before heading out to the dive “resort” a few kilometers outside of town.  Labuan Bajo didn’t seem to have much going on, so I was glad that I booked into Komodo Dive Center’s accommodation, which was a beautiful little resort which took a serious 4 wheel drive vehicle to get to.  The bumpy ride was worth it, as I had the place to myself and arrived just in time to grab a beer and hike up a small hill for a better vantage point.

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The sunset wasn’t too shabby.

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At dusk, it seemed to get even more beautiful and peaceful.  $20/night for a room with air-conditioning and hot water.  Awesome!

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I made friends with the manager and his wife over dinner and a couple more Bintangs and then called it an early night as we had an early wake up call the next morning as our boat for the day pulled up to pick us up at 7am.

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We made a stop at the docks in Labuan Bajo to pick up 10 more divers and were on our way.  The entire harbor was filled with similar boats, hinting at how popular the area must be during peak season.  We were in Komodo in a shoulder season, so only about half of the boats were out.  Fine by me as I really hate crowded dive sites!

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With the much cooler waters of the Indian ocean flowing north and the warm tropical waters of the Pacific flowing south in this area, the nutrients and plankton in the water makes for a nearly perfect feeding zone for large pelagics.   Depending on the season, at dive sites like Manta Alley, sometimes dozens of mantas can be found feeding, playing and generally enjoying a picnic.  Woohoo! 

After a 2 hour ride out, we geared up, and jumped in for what may have been the fastest drift dive I’ve ever done in my entire life.  We were FLYING!  After 10 minutes or so of flying across the bottom at about 15 meters, our dive guide started clanging on his tank and gesturing us to try to stop ourselves on the ocean floor, which was easier said than done.  Luckily I had a metal stick which I was able to drive into the ground as a sort of anchor to keep me steady, but it didn’t hold for long.  It didn’t matter though…it was long enough to witness a couple beautiful mantas playing in the current nearby.  AMAZING!  Have I told you how much I LOVE seeing and diving with manta rays?!?  

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The plankton rich waters and strong currents also brings sharks and others large fish, while the corals in the shallows are fed year-round by these cool nutrient rich waters…the ideal place for coral growth.  This was evident in my 3 amazing dives that first day, and I was so glad I had 3 more days left.

Mike and Anne arrived that evening and we all had a couple beers overlooking the harbor before turning in early, excited for the days to come.

We found out that only one other person was signed up to join us, so it was almost like our own private charter which was awesome!  The boat wasn’t fancy, but had everything we needed, and off we went around 9am the next morning.

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Our itinerary consisted of 3 dives each day, with way too much food in between dives during our surface intervals.  It was simple, but tasty.

The diving was fantastic!  Each dive built on the next.  Sharks, turtles, amazing coral and gigantic schools of fish were the stars in the underwater action movies that kept getting better and better.  It was smiles all around 🙂

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In between dives, when possible, we had the boat take us to shore to do mini-hikes and get a better vantage point.  The landscapes in Komodo are incredible.  The jagged volcanic hills were carpeted by grassy savannas, some fringed with mangroves, but others with shallow waters and coral reefs you could see beneath the water from the hilltops.  It reminded me of a strange mix of the rugged coastline in Ireland or Scotland highlands and parts of Patagonia in Argentina.  So beautiful!!  Pictures really don’t do it justice.

This panorama tries, but still doesn’t compare to witnessing how gorgeous it is in person.

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We had fun hiking up to the top of this set of hills, stopping for pictures every 5 feet or so.

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We celebrated with our crew towards the top before taking in the sunset during our walk back down.

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Gorgeous!  We definitely timed our Komodo visit correctly, as for most dives and surface intervals, it felt like we were completely on our own, which is crazy in such a popular diving spot.

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On day 2, we experienced the best dives of the trip.  I think we’d all agree that our favorite was called the Cauldron, which is a crazy and exhilarating dive site that lies on the northern edge of Komodo island.  The Cauldron starts out in a passage which seems pretty normal, but then our dive guides signaled us to come close to them and all of a sudden we were in a super strong current.  Luckily there were enough reef hooks to go around.  We all hooked ourselves onto the reef so we wouldn’t have to fight the current as we watched dozens of giant trevally, tuna and other schools of fish cruise along against this super-strong current zipping through this canyon.  It was awesome!

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We stayed inside the canyon for about 10 minutes and then we finally succombed to the current, whooooosh!  We were FLYING over the reef.  Super-fun!  All of a sudden the current died down and dumped us on top of more beautiful and pristine coral where we were able to chill out for 5-10 minutes before having to go up for our safety stop.  Excellent dive!

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We also dived at a site called Crystal Rock that day, which was fantastic.  So much to look at – sharks, turtles, napoleans, trevally, giant schools of fish, pristine coral…awesome!  At one point, I dropped in to get a closer shot of this reef shark, who was having a little snooze while some cleaner fish worked their magic.

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That night we did a night dive, which Mike & Anne were obviously excited about.

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I wasn’t a big fan of this night dive.  In fact, for the first time in all of the diving I’d been doing since March, I felt that I was done.  I’d seen what I came to see, and could honestly go home knowing it wasn’t going to get better and I wasn’t going to miss it.  As I came to this realization, it made the dive seem longer and colder and I felt like it would never end!

The next day we went to Manta Alley and somehow got separated as we searched for mantas.  We spent 40 minutes without seeing anything, but luckily a manta made an appearance in the end.  Our final dive was unspectacular too.  Then again, those dives anywhere else in the world would have been fantastic.  I definitely spoiled myself in my hunt for the best diving in Southeast Asia.  Indonesia did not disappoint, although it’d be hard to beat the Cauldron and Castle Rock anywhere in the world!

That afternoon we made a stop to go check out the Komodo dragons, the largest lizard species, which are pretty amazing creatures.  They live up to 50 years, grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds.   An endangered species, Komodo dragons have only been found in this part of Indonesia, and there are fewer than 6000 remaining.  They are fast for being so big, and can run up to 12 miles an hour.  Komodo dragons are predators, eating pigs, goats and even water buffaloes or younger komodo dragons.

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They were cool to see, but don’t go all the way to Komodo just for the dragons.  The diving didn’t disappoint, despite my rant about being finished diving for awhile.  I think I’m coming up on a similar point with traveling.  After a year on the road, I’m almost ready to return to the real world.  I would have liked another week to continue further east in Flores, but at some point you have to say “let’s save something for next time”.  I LOVED Indonesia and am so glad I skipped the French Open to stay here an extra month.

And, I had such an amazing time on the liveaboard with Mike and Anne and am thankful they joined me for this last and very special part of my Southeast Asia adventure – thanks guys!

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We had a farewell dinner and several beers before saying goodbye as I was off to Bali the next day to catch a connecting flight to Bangkok.  Good thing I got a window seat to get one last aerial view of the beautiful rugged landscape below.

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  1. Tammy Moser says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and pictures. Hope you continue to heal. We are back in Hawaii for the winter.
    Cheers, Tammy

  2. Frank says:

    Wow, great post – and incredible photos, just stunning. I previously saw a documentary on Komodo dragons (one of those crazy wildlife people on Animal Planet) and a couple of those things actually came running out of the forests chasing after him. Any danger? You guys look pretty relaxed doing you hiking – are they not all over the island looking for fresh meat like the bunch of you?

    Great post!
    Frank (bbqboy)

  3. Deb says:

    Thanks! Have a blast in Hawaii!

  4. Deb says:

    Thanks! They were pretty docile, although there was always a park ranger with us who had a big stick. We were also warned not to make any sudden movements and to definitely not run.

  5. Anne Howard says:

    Deb, what an amazing trip! Thanks again for convincing us to dive Kimodo and for being so fun to travel with!

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