With only ten days remaining in Indonesia, we were struggling to come up with a plan on where to go and what to do in that short space of time. Many people travel to Lombok and the Gili islands from Bali, which would have saved us a lot of time and money and would have been lovely in itself. Eventually, however, I decided I couldn’t come all this way without getting a chance to see one of Indonesia’s prize stars – the Komodo dragon (thanks to David Attenborough for reminding me these amazing creatures exist and are possible to visit whilst here). Upon looking up Komodo, I also found that the national park is one of the top five dive sites in the world, an activity that Blake and I had been keen to try and do whilst in Indonesia. We couldn’t not go!
The flights were expensive, and we definitely have not planned this country time and cost effectively, but I do not regret a singly thing about this decision. We flew into Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores and were greeted by the most stunning scenery. Turquoise blue waters, rolling hills and tin roof shacks glistened in the sunlight and I felt happy immediately (bar the half hour where our airport transfer also didn’t turn up this time around). Ciao hostel was situated just above the harbour town and offered,hands down, the best views of the whole bay.
On our first day, we headed down to the town to seek out a reputable and safe diving school. I had researched a bit and came across Komodo Dive Center, which we walked to first. I was sold in 15 minutes about their sense of safety and, equally importantly, fun and we signed up for a 3 dive day trip the next day. We were measured for equipment and I checked this out as much as I knew how, then we filled in the forms and I asked my safety questions, as well as more general ones about town, which were all answered to a T. The school is brilliant, with dedicated friendly staff, decent equipment, and they agreed to take Blake for the full day with no diving experience whatsoever, me not having dived for two years, and seamlessly incorporated our needs into the trip’s schedule.
The next day we boarded the boat at 7:30 and set out on the two hour sail to our first dive site. We were briefed during the slow cruise on deck, and paired with a brilliant diving instructor called Malcolm. He took us separately from the rest of the group for the first dive, giving me a refresher and Blake his first experience diving in the shallow waters of Crystal Bay. I really wish I had brought my go pro with me to capture some of the amazing sights we saw even in 5m of perfectly clear water, but I thought I had enough to handle for our first dive. After a brief run through of safety protocols we set off across the coral. We saw: lobster, oriental sweetlips, clownfish, unicornfish, dory, stunning coral formations and hundreds of other brightly-coloured, beautiful fish.
Back on the boat and a quick motor to the next location: Crystal Rock. Here we saw a moray eel, reef octopus, titan triggerfish, giant pufferfish and smaller pufferfish, fusiliers, sweetlips, peacock mantis shrimp and many other species!
Our final dive spot was Tatawa Besar and as Blake’s two tester dives were up it was just Malcolm and I suiting up this time. This was by far my favourite dive, as we joined a current 15m down that took us past a huge wall of coral; you just crossed your arms and legs and let the water take you alongside multi-coloured coral and the marinelife that lived there. I saw a thorny ray, hawksbill turtle, nudibranch, manta ray, another moray eel, clownfish, batfish, angel fish and so much more than I can ever describe! I was stunned seeing the rays fly through the water below us, and actually danced underwater after seeing the first turtle and getting to sit next to it for a while. It was incredible, and I already want to go back to Komodo and do it again. We arrived back to town around 7 and were in bed within the hour, exhausted and needing rest before the next day’s tour.
The next day was an even earlier start, with pick up from the hostel at 5:20am to start our Komodo tour. We took a motorbike down to the harbour and were put on a local wooden boat. A two hour boat ride across the archipealogo saw us reach Padar island first, where we hiked for half hour to reach the summit. The views were incredible!
Then back down and back on the boat, now heading to the famous island of the dragons, Komodo. We paid the national park entrance fee (extra on a Sunday) and got a guide to take us on an hour walk through the forest, pointing out fauna and various insects and animals. Then at the watering hole we saw our first dragon, snoozing in the shade of a tree. It was huge, easily as big as me and clearly a born predator with muscular body and sharp talons. But we got incredibly close, the guide about a meter away taking close up pictures. It occasionally opened its eyes or adjusted its head, which made anyone who got too close quickly retreat, but was otherwise completely docile. Then another smaller dragon appeared briefly in the clearing before we moved on along the trail to the next common viewing location.
Here was another huge dragon, surrounded by 30-40 people, and another one hidden a few metres away in the shade that everyone seemed to ignore because the lighting was too bad for a selfie. I found it hard to enjoy this part of the trip, as although I was completely in awe of such magnificent creatures, the whole island seemed adapted for day tourists to make a nuisance of themselves and grab a quick dragon selfie before getting back on their boat.
Lastly, we visited Manta Point, which is where the most sightings of Manta rays are. Yesterday I had only seen one distantly whilst diving, whereas in a few minutes of the boat anchoring here two enormous shadows had glided under the boat. I was terrified of getting in the water, but mantas are harmless to humans and I desperately wanted to see one up close. I saw more than one, very close. My heart was thundering and I couldn’t calm down the whole time I was in the water, but it was incredibly exciting to see these huge, alien-looking “devilfish” glide gently underneath and around me and funny to see the large group of snorkellers frantically paddle after them. And I got to use my go pro!!!!
Our last day we chilled, sorting out flights and onward travel plans, then the next flew to Bali and straight on to Lombok; a whole day’s travel and sooo expensive but we couldn’t leave Indonesia without visiting such popular places as Lombok and Gili.