Komodo, Indonesia: Diving and Dragons

Horseshoe Bay komodo-indonesia-honeytrek-comA message popped up from our travel buddy Deb, “Want to dive Komodo?” Visions of nine-foot-long dragons attacking our air supply went through our heads. “Let’s do a liveaboard in Komodo National Park, I hear the diving is killer.” Gulp. Deb is a proper scuba junkie with 357 dives around the world, and counting. So when she said this 29-island archipelago had some of the best diving on Earth, we booked a flight to Flores, Indonesia. This is where the cold currents of the Indian Ocean and warm waters of the Pacific collide…blending and churning, creating the perfect storm for a profusion of marine life. The nutrient-rich currents bring over 1,000 species of fish and 250 species of coral…and that’s just below the surface. Jagged mountains, pink sand beaches, and the only habitat for the world’s largest lizard are waiting in the islands above. Let’s dive in!

 

The Gateway to Komodo: Labuan Bajo

labuan bajo komodo-indonesia-honeytrek-comA one-hour flight east of Bali, Labuan Bajo is the gateway to Komodo National Park. It’s a no-frills port town that’s recently applying some lipstick and blush, as divers and backpackers are whispering about “The Next Bali” (which Flores truly is…but more on that later). We found a hovel of a place (thanks, Mike!), with a plastic cup that pulled double duty, as the toilet flusher and ladle for the “shower”…but it had the view above for $15/night….room for two, please.

 

Dive Komodo Crew

dive komodo komodo-indonesia-honeytrek-comWe met Deb at Dive Komodo, a pioneering dive shop with some of the best crew in the area. We signed up for 9 dives across 3 days on Tatawa, a custom liveaboard sailboat for up to eight divers…and lucky us, we were just four. Playing the currents, we spent most of our dive time around Komodo’s northeastern reefs, rocks, and channels, with Batu Balong, Crystal Rock, Manta Point, and the legendary Cauldron high on the agenda.

 

The Coral Triangle

coral gardens komodo-indonesia-honeytrek-comAmong our first dives was Castle Rock, a place so abundant with exotic coral, we thought it couldn’t possibly get better…but Komodo is just like this. It’s in the Coral Triangle, an area with 76% of the world’s known coral species in just 1.6% of its oceanic area. Corals with the looks of lace fans, striped grapes, alien organs, and feathers of a Phoenix, had us in awe, especially when an octopus or eel would emerge.

 

Manta Point

manta ray komodo-indonesia-honeytrek-comWe descended into Makassar Reef, it’s where the biiiiig rays come to snack and play. Hanging out for ten minutes along the rocky bottom, we started to doubt its reputation as “Manta Point,” then seemingly on queue this beauty, with a 10-foot wing span, and a few friends gracefully flew past us.

 

Above Sea Level

scenery komodo indonesia-honeytrek-comDuring our five-meter safety stop, our minds raced with scenes of Nemos weaving through purple anemones, turtles nibbling on hard corals, and all the otherworldly beauty we had just encountered…then we breached the surface. A ring of rugged mountains, savanna swept islets, and pirate-style ships blew our minds all over again.

 

Life on the Boat

hiking komodo indonesia-honeytrek-comBetween dives, we’d sunbathe on the bow, dive off the top deck, and stop at whatever islands called our names. We’d chill on the sandy beaches, climb the peaks, and rarely see a soul.

 

Night Muck Dive

night dives komodo-indonesia-honeytrek-comNight would fall but that didn’t mean the diving was over. Some of the most curious critters…nudibranch, frogfish, seahorses, flamboyant cuttlefish…come out after dark, especially in “the muck.” The silty, rubbley bottom of the sea, where dead coral and fish skeletons come to decompose, doesn’t sound too sexy, but it’s a macro photographers dream (Huge love and props to our girl Deb Gersten for these awesome night photos). Our highlight? The Spanish Dancer…a massive red sea slug that fluttered like a senorita doing the Flamenco in a ruffled skirt. Watch this video clip (and listen for Mike’s yelp of utter joy).

 

The Cauldron (aka The Shotgun)

the cauldron komodo-indonesia-honeytrek-comThree days of thrills culminated at The Cauldron, a place with such strong current you can literally see it bubbling from the surface. It began with an unassuming drift dive over a coral garden, complete with gorgonian fans and coral bommies, then the current began to pick up and the sea floor dropped from 45 to 75 feet. Soon we were speeding through a narrow canyon along a fish superhighway. Looking through the swirling water and past the tuna traffic, we spotted our guide signaling to huddle up and hang on! We secured ourselves with a reef hook and let the marine life — schools of midnight snapper, giant trevally, even a few sharks — whiz by. After 10 minutes, we pulled our hook and rode “The Shotgun” until the currents dissipated and our hearts stopped racing. Slightly terrifying, utterly amazing.

 

Trekking with Komodo Dragons

komodo dragons komodo-indonesia-honeytrek-comOn our final day, we went to Rinca, the island with the densest population and best environment to view Komodo Dragons. Walking from the docks, we spotted three “baby” Komodos (still massive) scurrying up the cliffs. At the ranger station there were a dozen big dragons, some nine-feet long and ~250 lbs. Seeing a beast known for poisoning its prey with its toxic bite then stalking it for days until it dies, made us slightly nervous about the upcoming trek, but we pressed on. TIP: Opt for the two-hour watering hole trek for the best chances to see them lumbering through the savanna and stunning island vistas.

 

Horseshoe Bay

horsehoe bay komodo-indonesia-honeytrek-comSailing through a narrow island passage to the southern reaches of Rinca, the seas opened to a perfectly arced bay with white sand beaches and sculpted green mountains. We sat at the summit in complete awe, chatting about an incredible three days, and came to the consensus…if you combine the views above and below sea level, Komodo is among the prettiest places on Earth.

 

Komodo, Mini Guide

When to Go: The post-monsoon months from April-June make for lush mountains, plus calm seas with high visibility and tame currents. Avoid turbulent January-February.
Where to Stay: Bayview Gardens: In the hills above the Labuan Bajo, the rooms are lovely and secluded with spectacular views. Seraya Hotel: If you want the utter romance and privacy that a mile-long island provides, this chic hotel’s got it.
Dive Shops: Dive Komodo: Among the most established local liveaboard companies, with solid staff, equipment, and living quarters at reasonable prices ($575 for 3 days, gear, 9 dives, meals, and excursions.) Komodo Dive Center: Another solid outfitter for scuba diving Komodo, Indonesia, they also offer on-land accommodations.
Bonus Tip: Padar is Komodo’s supermodel isle with sharp peaks, four arcing bays, and sandy beaches in three colors. Hike to the top for views of the impossibly beautiful terrain, then visit one of the world’s few pink sand beaches. This can be combined with a tour to Rinca. Anyway you get there…Go, Go, Go!

31 thoughts on “Komodo, Indonesia: Diving and Dragons

  • September 9, 2016 at 7:28 pm
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    Great post. Would love to dive there someday!

  • September 10, 2016 at 9:31 am
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    First of all, outstanding pictures and video you shared. What an adventure you had there!! I am still a little anxious to leave the borders of the US and have only done that one time several years ago. But I do want to got to Europe and see the country side. Thank you for sharing your adventure.

    • September 12, 2016 at 4:20 am
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      Tammy…there is so much world to see! Europe is a great place to start, and the countryside of Italy to Scotland to Switzerland are all so different too! So glad you enjoyed our post and hope it helps inspire more adventures!

  • September 10, 2016 at 9:47 am
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    Oh my gosh your adventure looks amazing from diving to dragaons. Indonesia looks beautiful and your photos are incredibly tell-tale of your adventure. The Makassar Reef with the biiiiig rays snacking and playing was awesome.
    Congratulations on a great adventure that this traveler now wants to go on!

    • September 11, 2016 at 4:52 pm
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      Dana…sounds like you’d love Komodo. And that 10-foot ray was a “small” one. Mantas can get up to 30-feet and 3,000lb!

  • September 10, 2016 at 11:31 am
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    These photo’s came out amazing. Your adventures always look like so much fun. Thank you again for another lovey post to start my day.

    • September 12, 2016 at 7:44 am
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      Happy we could help start your day off right, Angela!

  • September 10, 2016 at 8:39 pm
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    What an incredible trip. The pictures are amazing and show how beautiful the area really is. I would be nervous and awed being so close to a Komodo dragon.

  • September 10, 2016 at 10:03 pm
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    Komodo National Park looks amazing. I would love to go diving and explore the underwater world.

    • September 12, 2016 at 7:38 am
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      Ann, diving opens up a huge world very few people see. Getting scuba certified was one of the best moves we’ve ever made!

  • September 11, 2016 at 3:46 am
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    Indonesia has been on my list of beach getaways for the last 2 years. I’ve been putting it off though, but after seeing your shots and what a truly gorgeous place it is, I might just finally go there next year. However, I do want to go in Feb, which is my birthday month. Although you did say to avoid this time. Ack. I’d definitely visit Komodo.

    • September 11, 2016 at 4:55 pm
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      Belated birthdays are good too! Spend as much time as you can on Flores and the islands of Komodo…it’s gorgeous with the nicest people! No matter when you go, definitely make it happen, Russ!

  • September 11, 2016 at 4:47 am
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    I’ve never tried the diving activity! It’s beautiful and I would love to try.

    • September 12, 2016 at 7:40 am
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      You should definitely try diving! Belize is a great place to start…the snorkeling is amazing and they have great learn-to-dive programs. We did ours in Caye Caulker.

  • September 11, 2016 at 10:23 am
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    What a beautiful photo tour of Indonesia! I’d love to visit there and dive someday too!

    • September 12, 2016 at 7:42 am
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      Thanks, Dina! We are dying to get back to Flores and the Komodo islands, it’s impossible not to love!

  • September 11, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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    Wow! What an amazing adventure for you guys! And such amazing pictures of Indonesia. There are really so much beautiful things to see in Asia. 🙂

    • September 11, 2016 at 4:48 pm
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      Lynndee, Flores was our favorite Island in Indonesia if not all of Southeast Asia…just wait for our next post when we get into the interior!

  • September 11, 2016 at 8:09 pm
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    Your photos are amazing. I would love to see under water like that. Looks like you had a great adventure.

    • September 12, 2016 at 7:43 am
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      Thanks so much for that, Bonnie. Photos don’t even do the reefs of Komodo justice…especially that Cauldron dive!

  • September 12, 2016 at 12:36 am
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    Love your adventure in the island! I have never been there but my cousin lives in Indonesia

  • September 12, 2016 at 1:12 am
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    Wow, how gorgeous are those photos and scenery!? I’d love to go scuba diving some time but I am just too chicken. I need to get over that fear.

  • September 12, 2016 at 8:19 am
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    Now this would be the ultimate vacation to see all that Flores, Indonesia has while driving. It is such a beautiful place indeed and I would love to do this some day. Thanks so much for sharing your amazing experiences.

  • September 12, 2016 at 1:34 pm
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    What beautiful landscape, above and below the water. Your beautiful photography definitely makes me want to plan a trip to Indonesia.

  • September 12, 2016 at 1:54 pm
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    These are beautiful photos!! I would love to travel to Indonesia, the scenery is breath taking!

  • September 12, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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    I want to go scuba diving one day or even snorkeling. The ocean is so beautiful and magnificent, especially in the Caribbean.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos.

  • September 12, 2016 at 3:57 pm
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    Oh wow! What an incredible wildlife and nature experience. The dives must have been amazing.

  • September 12, 2016 at 6:15 pm
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    Oh my gosh, these photos are stunning! I would love to visit one day with my family. My husband was a diver and he would be so excited to go here one day.

  • September 12, 2016 at 7:25 pm
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    My father is an avid scuba diver…he actually does away on scuba diving trips twice a year. This would be a dream for him!

  • September 13, 2016 at 12:56 pm
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    Omg what breathtaking photos!!!! I would love to visit Indonesia one day. Hopefully my travels take me there!

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