Thursday, 15 Nov 2018

Komodo National Park. Indonesia

park komodo

If one were to pen an advertising slogan for Komodo National Park, it might go something like this: “Come for the dragons. Stay for the diving.”

“In 1988, I took some time off from university to work as a dive guide on a live-aboard that cruised about Indonesia,” Greg Heighes began. “I dove throughout the region, including Komodo National Park. I didn’t have much experience then, and one diving spot seemed much like the next. The more I heard the feedback from guests, however, the more I realized how special Komodo National Park is. As we sailed around Indonesia, the boat’s captain would set aside more time on the boat’s itinerary for Komodo National Park. There’s something here for all dive personalities—recreational divers, photographers, and thrill seekers.”

Komodo National Park. Indonesia - photo 1

Komodo National Park

The region of Komodo National Park encompasses a string of volcanic islands in eastern Indonesia, resting between the larger landmasses of Sumbawa and Flores, roughly 230 miles east of Bali. Most of the area is contained in Komodo National Park, a 700-square-mile protected area that includes the larger islands of Komodo, Rinca, Gili Mota, Nusa Kode, and Padar. The park was established in 1980, largely to protect dwindling populations of the world’s largest lizards; it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in recognition of its unique animal life above and below the surface of the surrounding Flores Sea. Like the Lombok Strait to the west, the Komodo National Park region serves as a funnel between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The flow of water and accompanying nutrients make for a rich stew that sustains robust sea life, including over 250 species of coral, 1,000 species of fish, and marine mammals ranging from passing blue whales to dugongs, members of the manatee family that live solely in salt water.

“There’s a tremendous range of dive environments in Komodo National Park,” Greg continued, “ranging from pinnacles and walls to sea mounts and passages, with about everything in between. I’ve heard the area described as an inverse of Bali. There, the terrestrial vegetation is very rich and lush, but the marine environment a bit less interesting. Around Komodo National Park, the islands are very dry, but the marine life is incredibly prolific and diverse. Others have called Komodo the Galápagos of the Asia Pacific. This is not inaccurate, as you do see a meeting of Asian and Australian species on the island of Flores (which lies near the Wallace Line), and you do have the exchange of Indian and Pacific Ocean species. Then again, such observers may be linking the two places together by the fact that both sets of islands have great diving and distinctive reptilian life.”

Komodo National Park. Indonesia - photo 2

Komodo National Park

Many Komodo dive sites are subject to strong currents, but divers with local knowledge can work this to their advantage. “There’s a spot called Castle Rock,” Greg said. “We’ll drop in about a hundred yards or so above the rocks, which are submerged fifteen feet or so, swim down, and then drift through with the current. As you drift, you’ll see massive schools of smaller fish, all the planktonic feeders. Suddenly, the baitfish will start fleeing in every direction as dogtooth tuna and trevally dart in at incredible speeds for a meal; they’re moving so quickly, they’re just a flash.” Another of Greg’s favorite spots is Batu Bolong, a small rock island between Komodo and Tatawa island. “There’s life on every inch of this pinnacle,” Greg continued, “it’s as if marine creatures were fighting for a place to attach themselves.” Coral and invertebrates are the stars toward the top of Batu Bolong; farther down, you’ll often be greeted by Napoleon wrasse, giant trevally, and large schools of rainbow runners, with mantas sometimes flapping through.

Komodo National Park is not all about sweeping currents and bigger fish. “In the south of the park there are sites with stunningly beautiful invertebrate life, the kind of creatures that make photographers go gaga,” Greg said. “Though I dive around Komodo National Park quite regularly, I’m always coming upon things I haven’t seen before, which is always a delight.” Perhaps the most notable southern site is Cannibal Rock. Decorated in soft corals (including immense purple gorgonian fans), vibrant sea apples, and sea cucumbers, this sea mount is macro heaven, with a host of wildly hued nudibranchs, Coleman shrimp, pygmy sea horses, and frogfish.

Komodo National Park. Indonesia - photo 3

Komodo National Park

No visitors to the Komodo Islands will want to leave before meeting the region’s most famous inhabitant, the Komodo dragon. The largest member of the monitor lizard family—and the world’s largest lizard—Komodo dragons average nearly eight feet in length and weigh between 120 and 150 pounds; the largest recorded specimen reached nearly ten feet in length and 366 pounds. The dragons feed primarily on the island’s small Timor deer, but have been known to eat eggs (of other dragons and turtles), buffalo, boar, wild horses, and monkeys. Though fairly agile, they rely on the element of surprise to overcome prey. Though Komodo dragons will sometimes be seen near the water, reclining on beaches or rocky ledges, a walking tour with officials of the Komodo National Park can virtually guarantee an encounter, especially near the ranger stations, as the smell of food draws them in. Dragon numbers have been impacted by declining populations of deer, though the current population is holding steady at roughly 3,000.

“I’ve had the experience of watching dragons take down a deer in the wild,” Greg recalled. “One animal had his jaw latched onto the leg of the deer, and was starting to drag it back toward the brush. Its tail was really thrashing, clearing brush as he moved backward. Another dragon appeared from the woods and grabbed another leg of the deer in its jaws. The sound of their thrashing and growling was chilling. On another occasion, I did a four-hour hike on the island of Rinca with a ranger I know. We were up in the hills, in long grass, when the ranger pointed out two large dragons, walking with a pincer movement, like army soldiers. They were clearly at the top of the food chain, and clearly hunting. You really sensed their presence, that they knew who was boss.”

Komodo National Park. Indonesia - photo 4

Komodo National Park

GREG HEIGHES is a divemaster and has been leading live-aboard dive trips with a focus on Komodo National Park since 2000. He learned to dive alongside his famous aunt and uncle, Valerie and Ron Taylor. Greg operates Dive Komodo National Park with his brother Mark Heighes.

IF YOU GO

Getting There: Labuhanbajo on the island of Flores is a common departure point for live-aboards. To reach Labuhanbajo, you’ll fly to Densapar, Bali, which is served from Los Angeles by a number of carriers, including China Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

From Densapar, flights to Labuhanbajo are offered on GT Air and Trans Nusa; scheduled flights fluctuate somewhat, and dive operators recommend you book flights with their assistance to insure that connections are made.

Best Time to Visit: Live-aboards ply Komodo National Park the year round. Komodo is very dry most of the year, though it does experience a monsoon season in January and February.

Komodo National Park. Indonesia - photo 5

Komodo National Park

Accommodations: Several live-aboards operate in Komodo National Park, including Dive Komodo (+62 385-41862; www.divekomodo.com), which runs retrofitted phinisis, the traditional sailing craft of Indonesia.

” Fifty Places to Dive Before You Die   by Chris Santella

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