Komodo National Park
The Komodo National Park is one of the oldest national parks in Indonesia. It is part of the so-called “coral triangle” an area of incredible bio-diversity.
You have to pay a steep entrance fee into the park for every day you are there. Your tour guide or dive shop will take care of the payment on your behalf. It is policed quite strictly.
I did some scuba diving and snorkelling with Scuba Junkies. They are located right on the border of the national park, only accessible by boat. This makes it much quicker to enter the park early in the morning and get to the dive sites. Plus, you are the first at the dive sites as other boats travel the additional distance from Labuan Bajo. The diving was incredible. I dived with manta rays for the first time. I was just swimming along a wall to my left when I looked up and 2 giant mantas were swimming directly at me! I froze. I didn’t know what to do! At the last minute, the mantas changed directly and glided gracefully over the top of me.
On the last day, they drop you off an Rinca island to see Komodo dragons. These ancient dinosaur like creatures are found on both Komodo and Rinca islands, and to a lesser extent, mainland Flores. They are the largest lizard in the world growing up to 3m long and weighing over 70kg. At the time of writing, there has been announced a shutdown of Komodo island, apparently to stop poachers stealing the dragons to sell for wealthy international collectors. How shutting down the island will prevent this, is not known, but you will still be able to see the dragons on Rinca island.
On Rinca, there is a rangers’ camp and tourist ticket office. Here there are loads of dragons, just hanging around, offering many photo opportunities. The rangers say they do not feed them, but sooner or later, someone will drop a banana and the dragons will scoop up the scraps. From there, the ranger takes you on a short walk to a nest, where we say one additional dragon and then to a view point. It is highly unlikely that you will see wild ones just roaming around. The dragons are dangerous and they can excrete an enzyme when they bite, which can stop the blood coagulating. There have been several attacks over the years, but deaths are rare. They live in trees during adolescence and only come down to hunt. They have no predators, but can be killed by small animals when young. The biggest threat comes, however, from other dragons, as they are cannibals. Even parents have been known to kill and eat their own young. The reason for this is assumed to be some kind of natural population control to counter the lack of predators.
Unfortunately, I did not make it to Padar island. All tours to Padar included visits to Komodo and Rinca, where I had already been. All boats leave very early in the morning too. This has to do with tides and getting out of the bay at Labuan Bajo, I was told. If you do decide to go, make sure to get a fast boat, as not all boats are created equal.
A final note on Labuan Bajo, the entry point to the park. It is the dirtiest city I visited on my 4 month trip in Indonesia. It is also oppressively hot. There are some nice cafes which have sprouted up to service the foreign tourist industry. I recommend the Happy Banana cafe for great sushi and healthy fare.