A few years ago I took a trip with some friends to Bali, Lombok, the Gillie Islands and Komodo.
Bali and the Gillie Islands were wonderful havens of relaxation, sun worshipping and total indulgence. But visiting the Komodo National Park was a real highlight and added an environmental edge to the otherwise frivolous trip.
We departed from Labuan Bajo in Flores and went on a four day live-aboard which visited a number of islands in the park. Our main aim was to find the Komodo Dragon, and this we did, on both Komodo Island and on Rinca, which is another island in the chain with particularly spectacular beaches and views.
Komodo National Park.
Komodo Island itself seems odd when compared to the tropical climate of Bali and the surrounding islands. It has the lowest rainfall in Indonesia and this seems obvious when you arrive. The air is drier and the dust swirls around on little eddies of wind. This is not the tropics. It is a rugged and hilly place with huge, volcanic cliffs and lots of rocky headlands. The island itself is only 15 kilometres wide and 35 kilometres long so is easily navigated in a day or two.
We found our Komodo Dragons, lumbering across desert-like stretches of land. Huge lizards, with a forked tongue and beady eyes, it is quite the fearsome creature. They are carnivorous and have been known to eat people; however this didnt worry us at first because of their slow gait. Then the guide warned us that they could actually move at incredible speeds when hungry and we moved further away as casually as we could. It is one thing to see monitor lizards behind the safety of a wall, as I had in Malaysia, and quite another to be sharing the same small piece of open ground with them.
The Komodo Dragon is obviously the most famous resident but there are also a number of other animals, such as wild buffalo, wild boar, wild horse and lots of snakes.
Perhaps you can start to see the sort of frontier appeal. It also has macaque monkeys and a variety of birds, which pleased my travelling companion who is an obsessive bird watcher or twitcher. He was very happy to find white-breasted sea eagles and even a sulphur-crested cockatoo.
The area became a wildlife sanctuary in 1938, but Komodo was only formally included in 1965. In 1980 the Komodo National Park was formally established and in 1991 it became a World Heritage Site.
It is easy to forget that the Komodo National Park is not just about the lizard. It is also home to an enormous variety of marine life and the scuba diving is excellent. Gorgeous deserted beaches, amazing coral reefs; all of these are part of the parks overall charm.
Im not a scuba diver and am quite happy snorkeling, and it was fantastic. My friends however did two dives and didnt stop raving about it. Such a huge variety of marine life was difficult to take in, and the nicest thing was that it wasnt busy. At other dive and snorkeling sites in SE Asia you are sitting side-by-side with about fifty other boats, and all the splashing and carousing of over-excited tourists scares away the fish good and proper. Here you felt as if you were the only people in the world and the peace and quiet allowed an unparalleled view into a world alive with variety and every imaginable colour.
Komodo National Park is definitely worth a visit if you are in that part of the world.
A live-aboard trip is an excellent option as it allows you to see a diverse range of places in a short amount of time. There are numerous companies offering trips out of Flores and Bali. Just make sure you dont get too close to the dragons.