Komodo - The Land That Time Forgot
Komodo! Mention the word in company almost anywhere and you are likely to get the same reaction; hushed mutterings about a mythical, far away land dominated by barren sun scorched mountains and low lying primordial forests set on islands surrounded by dazzling coral reefs. The conversation would then follow that these islands are protected by the fierce currents of a treacherous deep blue sea and ruled over by the most awe inspiring predator on the planet!
And you know what? This description is about as close as it gets!
Recently in November 2011, Komodo National Park was voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in the nature category, beating the world famous Great Barrier Reef of Australia and Tubbataha Reefs in Philippines.
Welcome to Komodo, the "Land That Time Forgot".
Komodo - Where is it?
* Middle of the Indonesian archipelago
* 8 degrees south of the equator, 120 degrees east
* 250 nautical miles east of Bali
* Between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores
Komodo - Getting there
The Komodo Dancer cruises are 10 day programmes and start on the island of Bali, easily accessible from the USA and Europe through many Asian hubs. Once in Bali our guests make the short flight to Labuhanbajo on the island of Flores. After landing there is a short trip to the harbour before boarding the vessel.
The Komodo National Park
Established in 1980 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site the Komodo National Park is located some 250 nautical miles east of Bali and 8 degrees below the equator, deep in the Indonesian archipelago between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. Encompassing 1,817 square kilometers and comprising the three main islands, Komodo, Rinca and Padar as well as many other smaller islets and rocky sea mountains, the park is considered to be one of the most exciting natural world adventure destinations on the planet. Intrepid travelers here can experience one of the richest marine environments in the world; get up close and personal with the ferocious Komodo Dragons along with many other fascinating land and sea encounters and excursions.
The huge island nation of Indonesia is home to the world's most prolific marineecosystem and the Komodo National Park is right at the epicenter of all with wild activity and in the middle of The Coral Triangle. It is part of the Indonesian Throughflow, an important ocean current that carries water from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, hence the totally different contrast in Marine Environment between North & South Komodo. Most world class diving sites are usuallyformed by either unusual volcanic formations of undersea rock or extensive deposits of coral limestone, washed over by nutrient rich marine currents. Fortunately during its evolution the Komodo region of Indonesia has been blessed with all of this! This spectacular seascape is comprised mainly of volcanic seamounts, pinnacles, walls and canyons as well as fringing reefs, coral gardens, mangrove bays and sandy slopes; creating an unmatched variety of very different and distinctive dive environments.
North & South
The range of dive sites and conditions in Komodo are legendary and the northern and southern sides of the park offer two distinct underwater environments. The Flores Sea is to the north and the Indian Ocean lies to the south and these two vast seas are connected by the Sape, Linta and Molo Straits. Between the months of March and November the clear warm waters flowing from the Banda and Flores Seas wash over the pristine hard coral gardens and seamounts in the north while in the south, deep cold water current from the Indian Ocean collide with the continental shelf causing upwelling's that produce a vast plankton banquet for the marine life here. Between the months of December and February these water conditions are reversed with warm blue water lighting up the south while colder, greener conditions are evident on the northern sites. During a single day water temperatures can vary wildly between 30 to 18 degrees in just a short distance at some times of the year.
Komodo is justly famous for its high energy adrenaline pumping dives and the gusting currents that surge and swirl through the deep channels around the seamounts between Komodo, Padar and Rinca islands and are the key to the parks wonderful marine life. These immense water movements produce such a wild variety of conditions that there is something here for everybody. Great visibility, massive cliffs of black basalt, sheer walls and dazzling coral gardens all combine to house one of the most prolific and diverse undersea ecosystem on earth!
Komodo Topside, the landscape is dotted with islands and islets of every description, their volcanic bases have been carved by eons of ocean wear, but their crowns are distinctive and unique. While most of Indonesia is green and tropically lush, Komodo is much dryer featuring lofty rocky peaks, creature filled green forests and grassy slopes and meadows that give a savanna type feel to the landscape; the a perfect habitat for its most famous resident, the Komodo dragon, the largest lizard on earth!
The beaches of Komodo are a dream, sandy with a background of rocks and hills and mostly deserted. Great for trekking and beachcombing but not a good place for sunbathing however, you have to remember what else lives here. Looking at the sand on some of these beaches brings yet another surprise, it appears to be pink in colour, and it actually is! The vermillion organ pipe coral that thrive in Komodo does not lose its pigment when it dies, it just washes up on these beaches and gets crushed and ground up with the regular white sand and produces this remarkable candy floss colouration.
While the giant man eating monitor lizards living here are undoubtedly the stars of the show, the islands in the park also support an impressive array of native wildlife, both in the air and on the ground.
Effortlessly swirling high in the thermals close to shore breathtaking hunting displays by White Bellied Sea Eagles and Brahminy Kites are a show not to be missed. In the wooded areas the trees screech, chatter and hoot with Green Imperial Pigeons and Yellow Crested Cockatoos, and on the forest floor the Megapode bird, a close relative of the domestic chicken, can be seen digging and building their earth mound nests, and these a just some of the birds that make Komodo an ornithologists dream.
The two largest islands in the park, Komodo and Rinca, are home to many types of land based fauna too. Snakes are common, especially during the wetter months, and it is not unusual to come across a cobra, python or green tree viper during a cross country trek. Wild pigs or boar can often be seen rummaging around in the undergrowth or wallowing in a cool mud pool. Deer are plentiful while herds of goats are resident on some of the smaller islands like Gili Lawah Laut. The park also supports some huge water buffalo and many families of mischievous crab eating macaques although these two creatures are only found on Rinca.
But whatever or wherever they are, they are all just dinner for the main event!
Enter the Dragon
Imagine a 150kg, three metre long, armour clad monster with serrated ripping teeth set in immensely powerful jaws, four sets of razor sharp claws on the feet of each stocky leg. Add to this a wickedly whipping tail capable of knocking a full grown man to the ground and the ability to inject toxic saliva into its victims with each bite. This all sounds like something straight out of a horror movie, your worst nightmare, or so you may think. Living on the islands of Komodo and Rinca, and nowhere else in the world, this mythical creature is no bad dream; this is the awesome Komodo Dragon!
Many times during an expedition we get hair raising opportunities to get up close and personal with these animals while on treks on the islands - just make sure that you keep a close eye on the bushes, around the trees and even on the beach, this apex predator takes no prisoners.
So fasten your weightbelts and let's begin our epic journey around one of the most diverse and unique areas of the natural world, to a land of dragons and dramatic landscapes, fierce currents and sparkling corals in seas teeming with more marine life than almost anywhere else on the planet, a real life "Jurassic Park" above and below the surface of the sea. Whether you are ripping along the top of a sea mount on an electrifying current dive, poking around in the shallows late in the day or visiting the islands on a topside adventure, Komodo is calling!
Bali en route to Komodo
Embarking from Benoa Harbour, Bali which is a short drive from Sanur or Kuta, the Komodo Dancer will sail heading east, passing and diving a few interesting islands before reaching Komodo National Park.
Satonda - Where is it?
* Slightly west of the Indonesian archipelago
* 8 degrees 7 minutes south of the equator, 117 degrees east
* 164 nautical miles east of Bali
* Between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores
Satonda, North Sumbawa
A tiny uninhibited island in the north,just off shore from Sumbawa, it has a two crater encompassing half the size of the island. Originally, the lake water was fresh water, but due to tsunami as a result of Mt. Tambora explosion in 1815, the water of Satonda lake has turned salty, clearing the myth that it is due to the tunnel below the lake surfacewhich has been thought of by many people.
Sangeang - Where is it?
* Northeast coast of Sumbawa
* 8 degrees 18 minutes south of the equator, 119 degrees east
* 206 nautical miles east of Bali
* Between Bali and Flores
The island of Sangeang forms 13 kilometres wide with two active volcanoes. Doro Api measures with the height of over 1,900 above sea level while Doro Mantoi is approximately 1,800 metres above sea level. It is a majestic sight to behold from the vessel.
The island is surrounded by a fringing reef on a base of black sand. There are several dive sites around the island. Some of them are quite unique, with hot gases venting in the water. Hot Rocks is one of these sites.
Alor - East of Flores
To provide guests with even more variety when selecting dive destinations, we started to look at new and relatively undiscovered regions of the country's 13,000 islands. The search was easy, as all we had to do was to look in our dive logs and what we found surprised us.
We embarked in an exploration cruise that pushed even further east visiting the chain of islands between Flores and Alor, deep into what is called East Nusa Tenggara. What we found astonished us; endless visibility over pristine reefs teeming with marine life and fascinating critter dives loaded with all the rare creatures underwater photographers only dream about. To go with our marine adventures there was breathtaking topside scenery featuring active volcanoes, breaching whales and leaping dolphins along with the wonderfully friendly local people diving into the water alongside us - and this was only one trip! We had always wanted to find out more and so our quest to find a new dive destination for The Komodo Dancer was over relatively quickly; it was staring us in the face.
For selected cruises during the year, The Komodo Dancer will be setting out on dive adventure programmes "East of Flores" to Alor. Great visibility, drift dives, sheer walls, dazzling coralgardens and magnificent muck combine to house one of the most prolific and diverse marine ecosystems on earth. Some of the critter sites here easily compare to the more well known Lembeh Strait and whale and dolphin sightings are common in the Alor and Pantar straits.
For pioneering diving off the beaten track the underwater world of Alor is hard to beat!
Alor - Where is it?
* Middle of the Indonesian archipelago
* 8 degrees south of the equator, 123 degrees east
* 500 nautical miles east of Bali
* Close to the end of the Nusa Tengarra archipelago
Alor - Getting There
For our 11 days "Alor - East of Flores" cruises the Komodo Dancer starts and finishes in Maumere, Flores. After arrival in Bali our guests take a short flight to join the vessel at the harbour there. When the cruise finishes we fly from Maumere back to Bali, reversing the outbound route.
Large animals sometimes turn up in the Alor/Pantar Strait that are rarely seen in other destinations; Mola Mola, Thresher and absolutely huge Dogtooth Tunas. On other dives along our northern route we are often visited by massive Napoleon Wrasse, plenty of Whitetip, Blacktip and Grey Reefsharks, collosal Black Blotched Stingrays as well as squadrons of Eagle and Mobular Rays.
Huge schools of Dolphins are a common sight on our travels as they race towards to boat to play in our bowwave. The channels that separate the islands serve as a major thoroughfare for much larger cetaceans too and it is not unusual to see one or two huge whales surfacing to breathe, even the massive Blue and Fin varieties.
Most avid marine critter hunters know of the Lembeh Strait in Sulawesi but not many have heard of the Kalabahi Sound, Teluk Lebaleba, Teluk Waihinga or Beangabang Bay - all of which are on a par with their more famous cousin. These areas produce rare and cryptic creatures time and time again, without the crowds or overzealous divemasters moving the marine life around - and we have only really scratched the surface, or bottom if you want to be technically correct.
To produce a world class critter site conditions must be right; slightly sloping sandy gravel and silt is the preferred bottom composition, washed over daily by a gentle tidal current and preferably mixed with a fresh water outflow such as a stream or river. Whenthese environments combine then things start to get interesting, and there are plenty of opportunites to find them in the hundreds of bays and coves that are a feature of the islands.
Along our route there are some incredible topside sights too - white sandy beaches, sparkling blue seas, emeral greenforests, scorched savannah and more strikingly - many active volcanoes. Earlier this year we decided to visit one of these fire breathing monsters located out in the ocean and were once again surprised. Creeping up on the smoke puffing beast before first light gave us the awesome sight of molten lava flowing down the mountainside into the sea punctuated by thunderous bangs blasting out clouds of dust from deep inside the island - so of course we decided to dive there and found even more fascinating but very different sites to add to our list.
The Local People
What is not known is that the people of these Islands are especially rich in cultural traditions. The scenery throughout the Island is breathtaking, from the ever-imposing "Ile Ape" volcano of the palm fringed bays to the colorful bustling local markets - beauty and excitement are everywhere.
Although not densely populated we often get to meet the people of this far flung region, their smiling friendly faces making a welcome addition to any trip. The ladies from the islands of the Alor/Pantar Strait specialise in decorative Ikat fabrics that are entirely made from homegrown cotton, spun and dyed by the weaver and will brave the currents and row in their precarious water craft out for us to sample and buy their colourful weaves. If you like live entertainment donít worry there isplenty of that too, we often roll up to a dive site to be greeted by an entire school of children singing and shouting to us from the shore or paddling their dugout canoes around the boat.
Lamalera village is an interesting place located on the southern tip of Lembata Island and is the home of a traditional whale hunting community. Here, Sperm Whales have been hunted for centuries using all hand made equipment; their spears, rope and boats are all made in the village. The boats are without motors and the harpooner must jump from the boat to implant his harpoon in to the whale to ensure success. All parts of the whale are either consumed or traded with other Islanders for corn or other food. While whale hunting is not generally condoned by modernsocieties, when consider the ancestral links, the primitive equipment used and the importance to the people of Lamalera it is understandable that this traditional hunting has been sanctioned by the United Nations.
The quality of the coral reefs of the Strait owe a lot to the local fishermen. Sustainable fishing practices using basket weave traps are in place and it is not unusual to see a spear fisherman going about his aquatic business whilst completing a safety stop after a dive, they love to pose for underwater photographs too.
The Komodo Dancer and her experienced crew has now put East Flores and the Alor area firmly on the map of must see places for divers wanting to experience something exciting, new and out of the ordinary. For pioneering diving off the beaten track the underwater world of Alor is hard to beat!
Surprise yourself - we did!
Trekking and wildlife
On every Komodo dive trip we visit the mythical island for a morning trek into the interior. Apart from the famous dragons there is a lot more flora and fauna to be seen on the savanah like hills and plains and inside the leafy forests.
Wild pigs and deer forage in the undergrowth and the trees sing with imperial pigeons and suphur crested cockatoos. Wild orchids grow in the bushes and lontar palms can be seen flowering and fruiting.
Other land trips on either our Komodo or Alor cruises are also popular with our guests so we make frequentexcursions to explore, climb, beachcomb and photograph to majestic scenery.
Lofty hilltops, spectacular pink sand beaches and mysterious flooded volcanos are just some of the extraordinary sights that await you.
On any of our cruises to dive Komodo or Alor the scenery en]route is made all the more spectacular by the volcanoes on view.
As a major part of the "Ring of Fire", Indonesia is a very active geological area with volcanoes from one end of the country to the other that play an integral part in the way of life for millions of Indonesians. Volcanoes are also worshipped as being the home of the gods and places of intense magic. Gunung Agung on Bali and Rinjani on Lombok are given annual offerings to appease the spirits.