Komodo: Kingdom of Fire and Dragons

19th – 28th August 2012

by Richard & Belinda Booth

Having visited North Sulawesi in 2008 and experienced the superb and varied diving to be found in the Bunakin marine reserve and the muck diving of the Lembah straits, I was all too well aware of the amazing diving opportunities to be found in this part of the world. Keen to return to Indonesia, after much research we opted to visit the waters off Komodo, choosing the livaboard Indo Siren.

Prior to boarding this vessel however we also took the opportunity to spend a few days in Bali based at the Alam Anda dive and spa resort on the north east coast of the island. The aim was to spend some time experiencing a little of the diving that this area of the coast has to offer, as well as using the resort as a base for visiting some of the temples and cultural sites that this island has to offer.

The resort has a nice house reef as well as a range of other dive sites within a short distance by boat.

Sea conditions however, during our visit proved quite challenging with a big swell crashing onto the beach making it interesting boarding and exiting from the dive boat back to the shore.

Earlier on our arrival at the hotel we spotted some familiar faces and north east accents; a group from the Sunderland Scuba Centre were also staying at the same resort!

From Bali we flew to Bima, a small coastal port from where we boarded the Indo Siren for the start of our adventure. The Indo Siren is a purpose built liveaboard based on a traditional local coastal trading vessel known as a ‘Phinisi’.  Here however the similarities with most local trading vessels end as the Indo Siren is designed to a high luxury standard, with en-suite bathrooms, air conditioned throughout, and a state of the art computer based entertainment system in each cabin which I never managed to master!

The forward part of the vessel is designed and dedicated to providing first class diving facilities with each guest having their own individual numbered equipment station.

Nitrox is available for those qualified to use at no extra cost. Given that we were diving up to four times a day, I opted for the additional safety offered by a 32% mix for each dive.

Knowing that we would be diving in strong currents in remote locations I also opted to pay a small donation charge of 1 € per day for the ‘hire’ of a Nautilus GPS/hand held radio. This hire charge is donated to the National Park and seemed a very small price to pay for the potential additional safety offered by the carrying of this device in these turbulent waters.

Once all guests were suitably settled and ‘briefed’, the Indo Siren headed out to more open waters, stopping off to dive a muck site called Unusual Suspects. Here we found spiny seahorses and tiny frogfish, despite the limited visibility. This dive was slightly marred for me after I managed to lose a close up lens and adapter, not a good start to the trip!

The Indo Siren continued on out into more open waters, exploring the waters off the volcanic island of Sangeang where we observed gas bubbles rising out of the seabed, a timely reminder that we were travelling in the ‘ring of fire’.

Once out of the estuary the water became clearer with the sea temperature a comfortable 27° c. The Indo Siren then turned south and began her journey down through the marine park exploring some of the reefs and islands off Rinca.

En-route we experienced dives in strong currents through which manta rays drifted effortlessly by, seemingly oblivious of the powerful current.  On day four we arrived in the shelter of Horseshoe Bay at the south end of the island of Rinca.

Once safely moored we were politely but firmly briefed on the hazards of the tempting beach which lay within easy swimming distance; we had arrived in dragon country. Sure enough as the tide receded so the dragons emerged out of the undergrowth to scavenge for anything edible that had been washed up by the tide.

We spent a few days at Horseshoe Bay, exploring some of the iconic dives in this area.  In particular Cannibal Rock, and Yellow Wall stood out as fantastic dives with every inch of the reef seemingly crowded with soft corals, and fascinating marine critters.

Here the water was much cooler and the visibility much murkier than experienced further north. Some of the other guests however clearly struggled with these conditions, so it was time to move on, so the Indo Siren headed across to Komodo Island.

En-route we completed a night dive on a small wooden Phinisi wreck similar to the Indo Siren, whose collapsing structures had become shrouded in bright red sponges and corals. We even came across a hermit crab with a glass bottle ‘shell’.

Next morning we headed for Manta Alley, diving it twice and experiencing on both occasions a nice scenic dives but no sign of any manta rays. We did however have a nice encounter with a friendly turtle that posed happily for photographs.

We headed back up north in search of the allusive mantas, stopping off for a fantastic night ‘muck dive’ at Pantai Merah where we came across all sorts of ‘critters’ including a flamboyant cuttlefish.

 

Next morning we stopped off early in the morning for our guided dragon walk, the three rangers being armed with stout wooden staffs to protect us from the hungry giant lizards.

 

Moving through the woods we encountered deer and wild pigs, the main stay food of the dragons.  Eventually at a water hole we came across two large komodo dragons, one sleeping, with the other moving menacingly through the scrub.

 

 

 

We arrived back at the ranger station to find dragons everywhere, sunbathing around the ranger huts.  During our excursion we also located two baby dragons peering down from the safety of high tree’s; apparently dragons spend the first three years of their lives taking to the tree tops to escape the cannibalistic behavior of their parents.

Backfrom our land excursion we headed out to Makassar Reef where we encountered a number of manta rays hovering in the strong current.

We moved on and at Tatawa Kecil the flat sea and lack of current heralded the possibility of an interesting dive on a normally exposed site that is rarely dived. Within 5 minutes of entering the water the currents picked up resulting in a challenging but fantastic dive on this otherwise un-spoilt site.

On our last full day of diving the Indo Siren cruised around Gili Lawa Laut and Darat where we again dived the iconic sites of Chrystal Rock and Castle Rock, but this time without the wild current.

We also dived the site known as the Shotgun, an underwater crater with two-exit channel’s, which rises up into shallow water. The site gets its name from the manner in which divers are ‘shot’ out of the crater.  On this occasion we were also joined by two manta’s that made easy work of the powerful current.

On arrival back at the Indo Siren we found an excited Belinda, two manta rays were feeding around the boat.  Calmly grabbing mask, fins, snorkel and camera I quietly entered the water and spent 25 minutes snorkeling with one of these magnificent rays.

All to soon it was time for the final dive of the trip on a site known as K2. Here we came across pygmy seahorse and a shy eagle ray that cruised nervously past the assembled divers, a fitting end to a great trip.

Many thanks to Leeza English, the crew and dive guides of the Indo Siren.