Apr 28 2013

Exploring Komodo National Park

Published by at 5:37 am under Flores


A day trip to Komodo island from Kanawa takes in more than just the famed dragons the island is named for; expect excellent snorkelling, some beachcombing and perhaps some turtle, dolphin and manta spotting if you’re lucky.

Our guide Hero on the lookout for beasties.

Our guide Hero on the lookout for beasties.

Established in 1980, Komodo National Park encompasses the three main islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar along with dozens of smaller islands, islets and barren rocks. Originally set up to protect the Komodo dragon, over time it was expanded to include what lies beneath and it is now a massive terrestrial and marine national park encompassing almost 2,000 square kilometres.

While you can visit the park on a tour out of Labuan Bajo or as a stop on the Lombok to Flores liveaboard trips, we decided to visit from Kanawa Island, which sits just outside the park boundary.

Calm calm oh so smooth.

Calm calm oh so smooth.

Price varies depending on number of passengers (kids are free). With ourselves and two Singaporean travellers the trip cost 350,000 rupiah each for what turned out to be a very full — and very enjoyable — day. Here’s how the day unfolded.

Amazing visibility.

Amazing visibility.

Kickoff was at 07:30 so we boarded the beanbag-filled boat and off we motored. First spot was Batu Bolong about 1.5 hours away. This early the water was silky smooth and so clear we could at times see the bottom some 20 metres below.

One of the advantages of doing the trip from Kanawa is that you get a head-start on the trips out of Labuan Bajo, so we were the first to arrive at Batu Bolong — seeing a turtle just as we pulled to. The pierced stone outcrop is tiny but it has a good drop off and plenty of coral and fish. Later a dive boat arrived and we snorkelled over the divers as they slowly sunk in a stream of bubbles below us.

Snorkelling Batu Bolong.

Snorkelling Batu Bolong.

The next stop, Makassar Reef — better known as Manta Point — turned out to be the highlight of the trip. As you might guess, Manta Point is known for its manta rays, and as we reached the starting point our guide Hero looked over the side and saw two — they glided under us as we rushed to get the flippers on.

I'd like a holiday house here please.

I’d like a holiday house here please.

Makassar Reef is a drift snorkel thanks to the strong current — the boat just glides along with you — but after the initial spotting we didn’t see any for perhaps 20 minutes. Then, just as we’d returned to the boat, another appeared so we swam off after that one; it was joined by another, and the two neatly chased each other’s tails in circles — magic.

From here it was a long motor to reach the Komodo dragons part of the trip. As you go further into the park the landscape becomes even more magical and wild. Soaring peaks, white beaches, bubbling currents and crystal waters — really!

Meet and greet - not meet and eat.

Meet and greet – not meet and eat.

Arriving at Loh Liang, we walked down the pier and the first thing we saw, basking right by the entrance, was a Komodo dragon. The park has three main trails you can do — the short, medium and long. We opted for the Short Trail as our six and four year old would have struggled with the medium, but the Singaporeans agreed to give it a try and report back.

Just a walk in the woods.

Just a walk in the woods.

The walk was very easy, through some light forest and to a water hole where there were two dragons laying around. To imagine them racing across the opening to kill a deer was really a bit difficult to imagine — but they’re apparently quite quick — another Travelfish.org writer was chased by one on Rinca a week after our visit.

Pet please.

Pet please.

The trails diverge at the waterhole with ours looping back to the restaurant (where there were another five dragons) while the Singaporean’s trail included a scenic viewpoint, though they didn’t see any more dragons till they also reached the restaurant. They hang around the restaurant area for food scraps — but there are plenty of deer (a main food source) within snacking distance.

Dragon snacks.

Dragon snacks.

Back on the boat, and we were off to retrace our route to stop at Pink Beach, so called because the sand is pink. You don’t really notice it till you are close, but among the millions of white grains are flecks of red, giving the shore where the waves lap a soft pink hue. The real attraction though is the snorkelling, with plenty of coral and fish.

Late light at Mesa Island.

Late light at Mesa.

On a whim, next the crew decided to stop at Mesa Island, a Bugis fishing village on the way home. The boat captain was from here and showed us around. The village is interesting both for its boat building and traditional houses, as well as the warm smiles and hellos we got as we wandered through. We pulled away with the sun sinking low and the mosque’s call to prayer ramping up.

The sun sets on another great day.

The sun sets on another great day.

Under an hour later we’re back in the restaurant at Kanawa looking at underwater video of us snorkelling with manta rays and eyeing off Komodo dragons. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

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