27th September 2017 to 30th September 2017
Labuan Bajo, Komodo National Park
The highlight of the 5th week was always going to be our tour of Komodo National Park. However, before we could enjoy the tour, we needed to get to Labuan Bajo. From Nusa Lembongan this required a 5 minute trip in the back of a small van to the ferry terminal (i.e the chosen bit of beach!), a small boat to the slightly larger boat, a ferry crossing to Sanur, a taxi to the airport, a plane from Denpasar to Labuan Bajo and another taxi to the hostel. Unsurprisingly, particularly as our boat and flight didn’t line up all that well and we spent 4 hours at the airport, that journey took the majority of the day.
Our hostel offered panoramic views of the bay. Watching the sunset over the islands that we would be visiting over the coming days, only served to whet our appetite for the tour ahead. Whilst watching the sunset, I also managed to strike up a conversation in Spanish with 3 guys from Bilbao. It was good to finally bump into some Spanish speakers, up until now it had mostly been Germans that we had met.
The 3 of them mostly spoke very quickly, but were very patient with me and it felt good to get my second Spanish conversation under my belt. It also gave me some areas to focus on for future Spanish conversations. Typical travelling conversations require a grasp of past, present and future tenses. Where have you been? What are you doing now? Where will you go after this? Present and future I am reasonably comfortable in, but I really struggled with the past. The past tense is something that I will practice some more to help with future conversations.
Having exhausted my Spanish conversational vocabulary, Kim and I headed into town to get some supplies for our tour the next day. We rounded off the evening with a dinner of barbecued snapper down by the fish market.
The next morning, we were back down by the harbour/fish market area to meet our boat and our travelling companions for the next 3 days.
We would be sailing on the Salacia 2, a charming wooden diving boat. The captain and crew spoke little to no English, but purposefully bustled around the ship like they had done it all hundreds if not thousands of times before. We were in safe hands. Our guides Edward and Jos introduced themselves and our itinerary for the tour as we pulled out from the harbour. Almost as soon as they had finished, we were joined by a small pod of dolphins, arching out of the water as they swam. It would set the tone for the abundance of marine life that we would see on the tour.
Our first snorkelling stop of the day was Kanawa island. Potentially one of the most beautiful places that we have ever been. It was a vision of paradise, blue seas, white sand and fabulous snorkelling. It was a short swim to the reef, but the moment we got there, we saw a turtle nestled in the coral on the edge of the reef. For me though, the highlight of that stop was a huge cuttlefish camouflaged to match the coral around it. It seemed to not only have changed colour, but to have developed a spikiness too. Kim and I both visibly double-took in disbelief as it returned to its normal state and swam off. How was that the same animal that we just saw?!
After lunch on the boat, we spied another turtle swimming along the surface as we set off to our next destination; Mini Wall. Here, our notable sightings included some huge (and aggressive) Titan Triggerfish, a stingray and a stonefish. Before this tour, Nusa Lembongan was by far the best snorkelling we had ever done. However, from the standard of the snorkelling on the first day of this tour, Lembongan may not hold that title for long!
After Mini Wall, we set off to our camp for the night on Sebayur island. As we landed on the island, a sea eagle circled above our heads. Even at camp the wildlife kept on coming!
For sunset, we trekked up the hill on the island. For reasons unbeknownst to us, we decided that it was a good idea to attempt this trek in flip flops. On the way up this proved to be tricky but doable, however on the way down walking in flip flops was nigh on impossible. Our issues were only compounded when Kim lost one of her contact lenses. It may not have been graceful or quick, but we got down eventually.
After a long day, evening at camp proved to be a quiet affair. The rest of the group retired to bed around 8pm, whilst Kim and I taught Edward and Jos card games. Even this was short lived and we too were in bed shortly after 9pm.
The second day of the tour started with breakfast on the island, followed by a 2 1/2 hour journey to Komodo island itself for our first encounter with its native dragons. Once on the island, we didn’t have to wait long for our first wildlife sighting. Two deer sat peacefully at the end of the jetty, seemingly unaware of the 1,300 dragons stalking the island.
Moments after we joined our park ranger, we saw two of those 1,300 Komodo dragons lazing about by one of the handful of buildings at the entrance to the national park. Whilst the dragons were every bit as huge as I had expected, what really struck me was quite how lazy and slow they seemed for creatures with a reported top speed of 20km/h. Still with it being as hot as it was, who can blame them for taking it easy.
Heading further into the park we soon came across another pair of dragons. These two weren’t doing much either, but this did mean that our ranger could take a great photo of the two of us with one of the dragons.
Shortly after we posed for that photo, the calm was broken as the ranger spotted a dragon enter the clearing from behind us. This was the first time we had seen one of these gigantic predators move with any purpose. It was considerably more fear inducing than its lazy counterparts we had encountered so far, particularly as it completely ignored deer and wild boar as it strode purposefully towards our group. I began racking my brain for the advice our guide had given us; run in zig zags or climb a tree. Before I could search for some trees to climb, the ranger pointed out that the dragon was walking to the watering hole, not about to launch an attack!
After visiting Komodo, we stopped at Pink Beach, so called because of the red coral fragments in the sand. The “pink” colour of the sand is probably best described as subtle!
The reef, metres from the beach, contains some stunning coral and an abundance of fish that we had come to expect from our snorkelling here. Aside from the general beauty of the coral at this spot, the highlight was seeing clown fish in a huge anemone.
After Pink Beach, our final stop of the day was at Turtle Bay off the island of Siaba. This stop certainly lived up to its name, as I saw 8 turtles at this one stop, more than doubling the amount of turtles that I had seen whilst snorkelling in my entire life in the space of about half an hour!
Our first activity on the final day of the tour was, you guessed it, more snorklling! Batu Bolong was the first stop of the day. Above the surface, the island was barely more than a rock, but below, a column of coral descended down far beyond what we could see as snorkellers. Some of the other guests on the boat scuba dived down to about 40m at the same site and returned with tales of some pretty large sharks. It was pretty amazing to think that we were essentially looking at the same piece of rock in the ocean but had completely different experiences. I was gutted that I still hadn’t seen a shark in all of our fantastic snorkelling. We are going to have to try diving at some point!
Back on the surface, the site was pretty small, as strong currents meant that it was only safe to snorkel on one side of the island. These same currents also meant that this was by far the densest concentration of fish that I had ever seen. We were surrounded by a wall of fish in every colour of the rainbow.
What the site lacked in width, it made up for in depth. Diving down (as far as I dared on a single breath) following the wall of coral that continued forever into the darkness below was an incredible experience. Despite seeing two turtles before we had even got in the water, in the water we drew a rare blank. The biggest thing we saw at Batu Bolong was a moray eel poking its head out of the rock. Even without the big ticket items, Batu Bolong had been incredible for the sheer density of marine life.
From Batu Bolong we travelled the short distance to Manta point. Prior to the trip, this had been one of the things that I had most been looking forward to, but having just swam with Mantas on three occasions in Lembongan, I was slightly less excited than I might otherwise have been. Still, another opportunity to swim with Mantas was an exciting prospect.
Except this time, we couldn’t find any Mantas, despite the best efforts of the crew. We got in the water anyway and drifted with the current in the hope that we would spot a Manta swimming against the current filtering out plankton. This didnt happen, but we did see even more turtles and a huge pufferfish that puffed up as we approached. Even when the snorkelling didn’t go to plan here, it was still fantastic!
Our final spot was Mawan island, for some more soft coral and another large anemone full of clown fish. I was sad to be finishing our snorkelling adventure here, it had been truly out of this world. Komodo will be the benchmark against which we judge all future snorkelling. If there is somewhere better than this in the world for snorkelling then please somebody let me know. We will be there in a flash!
Our final afternoon was spent on the island of Rinca, home to another 1,300 dragons. Before we even landed on the island, we saw some of their main food sources, water buffalo and monkeys, walking on the beach. Once again, we didn’t have to wait long for our first sighting of a dragon either as a group of 5 were waiting underneath the huts sheltering from the afternoon sun. In total we saw 10 dragons, a considerable haul given that we were probably only there for a little over an hour.
After Rinca, it was on to Kalong for the final stop of our tour. At Kalong we had been told we could see flying foxes that flew to neighbouring islands at nightfall to feast on fruit. We watched a beautiful sunset over the islands we had enjoyed so much over the past three days and then we waited.
“Is that what we were waiting for?!”
After a long day in the sun, some of the group were getting restless. I was fairly confident that there was more to come, as there was still a wall of noise coming from within the forest that suggested it was still very much saturated with bats. So we waited some more.
We sat atop of the boat waiting for the flying foxes to make their move. The colours in the sky changed from yellows and oranges to reds and purples as nightfall drew closer. The boat rocked gently in the waves and the only sounds were the gentle chug of the boat’s engine and the chirp of the bats slowly building to a crescendo behind a wall of trees.
As the last of the late evening light was fading, a smattering of bats took off from the trees. This smattering quickly built to a flood and there were soon thousands upon thousands of huge flying foxes filling the sky in a spectacle that seemed to go on forever. It had been well worth waiting for and what a way to conclude what had been a truly magical few days.