Did you know the Indonesian archipelago is made up of over 17,000 islands extending over 5,000 kilometres west to east and crossing from the Indian to the Pacific Oceans. When I finally board the ship, I will be travelling from Flores right across to the eastern most islands in the archipelago, but in the last couple of days, I have only travelled as far as Flores and Komodo.
The island of Komodo is part of the Lesser Sunda chain and is, not surprisingly, part of the Komodo National Park – and, more importantly, home to the Komodo Dragons, the largest lizards in the world and my main reason for visiting. This island group sits near the Wallace line – a faunal boundary that is a transitional zone between Asia and Australia. In simple terms, this means it is an area where you can find fauna from Asia and Australia living together which makes it really rather unique.
Endemic to 5 islands in Komodo National Park, Komodo dragons are part of the monitor lizard family (with ancestors from Australia) and can grow up to 3 metres in length. There are approximately 6,000 dragons left and around 1,700 of those call Komodo Island home. Our guest naturalist and film makers had some wonderful stories of filming these amazing creatures and the lengths that film makers went to create some of the amazing programmes there are about them.
There are pretty amazing and can eat up to 80% of their body weight (around 70kg) in one sitting and they can be incredibly patient. They can attack prey as large as water buffalo and then follow it and wait for it to die from infection that starts around the wound!
And with that preamble, I find myself getting up at 5am (again) for a quick breakfast before being taken by bus 4 minutes down the road (yes, literally 4 minutes) to another hotel with a large wharf where we board 3 large launches, apparently the “best available transport”. I must say, they were pretty impressive, each with 3 or 4 250 HP outboard motors on the back of them.
I would like to call the boarding “orgainsed chaos” but really there was not a lot of organisation as we clambered from one boat to the other (as the wharf was only big enough for one boat to moor against it) and then back again when it was decided there was too many people on one of the boats.
Finally, all divided up between the boats, the safety briefing tells us the capacity is 24 … we had closer to 30 🥴, despite that, we covered the 35km between the islands in around an hour, arriving on Komodo just after another large group despite the early hour. Komodo is 390 Sq km in size and the dragons who live there have no particular territories. Also probably worth noting, around 2,000 people share the island with the dragons.
I had decided to go on the ‘medium’ walk but our first dragon encounter was right in the compound area, not far from the wharf. In fact, there were two dragons, one of which was a big male which was amazing to see. As we continued the walk we saw no more dragons but quite a few beautiful birds including a Green Imperial-Pigeon, Yellow-crested Cockatoo, a small raptor (not sure what), Barred Doves, Wallacean Drongos, Black-naped Oriole and a very cool little flying lizard with little yellow throat pouch.
Returning to the compound near the wharf we came across a couple more dragons – this time babies, just 2-3 years old. Probably about the size of their normal monitor lizard cousins.
Although seeing the dragons was great, it was sadly not the experience I remembered. In reality, it was never going to be the same with so much development and so many people now coming. As all the dragons I saw were around the compound, I wonder if they get food from there as there was rubbish everywhere and always large groups of people surrounding them which was not ideal. There were also a number of shops set up with pretty aggressive sales people who were not happy to take no for an answer which always detracts from any situation, more so when it is supposed to be a remote wildlife experience. Despite all of that, if you are interested in wildlife, I would highly recommend going to see the dragons as they truly are incredible.
From the dragons, we got back on the boat and moved around the island to the Pink Beach – named for its beautiful pinkish sand … and don’t forget its beautiful turquoise water. It really was beautiful. The beach gets its unique colour from Forminifera, microscopic organisms that produce red pigments on coral reefs. Here on Pink Beach, small pieces of coral mix with the white sand creating the soft pink hue that you see.
It was beautiful, particularly so when the other large group left, leaving just my group to enjoy the beach and waters. The snorkeling wasn’t amazing but the water was a perfect temperature, and it was great to get a chance to cool down before heading back to Labuan Bajo.
The only scheduled activity for the rest of the afternoon, was the first of a number of talks by Conrad, an expedition staff member who was an history expert, not just of Indonesia but also of the war in the Pacific. He had such an incredible knowledge and great way of sharing what could be somewhat boring lol. He was even more impressive as this was only a side gig for him – his day job is Oncology surgeon!!
To end the day, we had been invited to dinner at the rooftop restaurant of a new government built hotel (as we were the first large group to visit the island since covid). Dining at the Meruorah was like being in Singapore with a beautiful rooftop restaurant and pool overlooking the harbour. The evening was topped off by us seeing our ship finally arrive in the harbour. We could still see it from the beach at our hotel – it was so close we all just wanted to get on it now and get moving but no, it was to be another night before we can do that.