Diving in Labuan Bajo and Komodo dragons
After some consideration, we decided to fly to Labuan Bajo instead of taking the long slow route by ferry/bus. We'll save that method on the way back to Lombok. There were only 2-3 domestic airlines that flew directly to Labuan Bajo. The most frequent were Lion Air and Merpati Airlines. A little late but we saw that Trans Nusa also flies there. Anyway, we took the Merpati flight. Costed close to IDR 800k/ticket but we got there within an hour and a half.
Someone was there to pick us up to our accomodation at the Bayview Gardens. The units were quite separated as you have to climb some steep steps or take the longer ramp pathway to get to your room. I must admit, the view was really nice at this place. It includes daily breakfast that is room serviced. The wifi was only available in the restaurant area though. We stayed in the unit very close by so I could still use it in the patio area.
View during the day
Heading downstairs to use the wifi
Nice sunset view here
We had to switch accommodations as we were unable to extend our stay for an extra night at Bayview Gardens. End up finding a place called Bagus Bagus hotel. It had a nice atmosphere but we were eaten alive by mosquitos here!
Oh look, a big open ceiling so more bugs can come in
The walk into town takes about 15-20min from the main road. We were shown a shortcut back to our hotel afterwards by the dive shop which shaved off a good 10min 🙂 We had to cut through the primary school and 'trespass' a couple of local resident's properties. They don't seem to mind and one local ended up chit-chatting with us as we went by.
The main road heading into town
At night this strip houses street food vendors
Clear shallow waters where you could see the bottom
In town you'll often see vans passing by that are decked out with stuffed animals, car wraps, spoilers, and booming sound systems. These are the funkiest cabs here lol
Another sunset view looking out at one of the restaurants
Well back in town we did a few walk-ins to several dive centers to check price, diving locations, equipment, etc. Overall the prices were practically the same with everyone at around IDR 800k for 2 dives/day. The shop that made the most sense was the first one we visited, Divine Diving. Their 2 day itinerary suited us the most and we did 4 dives in total with them. The dive sites were at the Komodo National Park area. It took 2 hours to reach the sites but well worth it! Sorry i didn't have an underwater camera at the time to take pics. We'd have to invest in one someday that's for sure.
Out at sea
Here's a breakdown of the reefs we experienced:
Batu Bolong – This was in the central area where a lot of dive centers go to as the starting point (East of Komodo Island). The reef was like a pyramid, a descending slope to the bottom floor. We followed our guide and made sure we pay attention to his signals. The reef was subject to current changes, so once we get close to the edge, we have to turn around and go back the other way. We zigzag upwards from one end to the other to cover the whole surface. Some impressive looking corals here. We got a glimpse of a white tip reef shark swimming away. Then from a distance we saw a school of blue fin trevallys swim towards us. There must have been a couple thousand of them! So cool to see them swim in unison like a symphony 🙂
Manta Point – Wow, we saw over 10 mantas feeding on this dive! It was rising tide so the current was flushing nutrient rich waters and plankton into this area. This was the first time we did drift diving, it was kind of intimidating since it was the first time we experienced diving in a stronger current. We got the hang of it after 10min or so. Whenever we spotted a manta, we had to stick to the ground and hang on to a rock/dead coral. The current is at its weakest on the floor but still strong enough to pull you away if you don't hang onto something, The mantas swam to the 'cleaning stations' where they do the feeding. It was such an incredible sight. They flapped their fins steadily against the current so they would remain in one spot. Their movements were so majestic. A couple of them were over 4m wide! One of the mantas were curious and hovered about 3m away from us. A while later when we stopped to watch another manta, there was a mini moray eel no more than 8 inches long slithering through the dead corals right in front of me. This was a dive to remember.
Crystal Rock – On our second day of diving we went to an area North of Komodo Island. Crystal Rock was the first dive site we went to. Similar to the Batu Bolong reef from the day before, it was a sloping pyramid type of reef. Again, lots of different hard/soft corals and fish down there. We saw a big turtle resting against some corals which was neat. We saw a larger moray eel as well, but it wasn't as big as the 2m monsters I witnessed in the Great Barrier Reef though.
Castle Rock – Aside from Manta Point, this was our favourite dive site! There were at least 6-7 schools of fish swimming around us – angel fish, blue fin trevally, giant trevally, and others I don't remember 😛 Imagine thousands of fish swimming around you in every direction. We did a few 360 degree turns and felt overwhelmed by the amount of sea life that was in front of our eyes. It was another surreal moment in the books. We could have spent hours down here if we could, but the tanks only give us an hour unfortunately. We also saw more sharks. A few white tip reef sharks and a larger grey reef shark (about 2m long). The best two days of diving yet!
After dinner we were walking back to our hotel and saw a very tiny stray kitten on the sidewalk. It looked so fraile and was meowing continuously when Viv and I approached it. We have a soft spot for cats as we own two at home. It must have been very hungry. At first Viv went to buy a carton of milk but the shop only had chocolate milk. The kitten didn't want it. I went to one of the street food vendors and bought a small grilled fish. I put it on the ground and the kitten made such loud growling sounds when it started gorging on it. Viv attempted to help break up part of the fish so it'd be easier for it to eat. The kitten snarled and swiped away her hand! At first I found it funny, but then sad at the thought that it probably hasn't ever been fed a decent meal. It only finished half the fish so hopefully it'll eat the rest before some other animal snatches it away. That was our good deed of the day.
The following day we did a day trip to Rinca Island to see the infamous Komodo Dragons. It was another two hour boat ride one way. We got there and was greeted by one of the guides that will take us on an 1.5hr trek through one of the trail routes. He was holding a long stick with split at the end…yes, safety first, safety first!
Off for another two hour boat ride
It was about 11am and the heat had already hit its peak so the dragons were mainly relaxing in the shady areas. The guide said that they are the most active in the morning and evening when the climate is cooler. The first one we saw was resting under some trees. Komodo dragons have very good camouflage as it took a few seconds for us to pinpoint it in the shade.
The next one we saw was actually chilling out under the steps of the guide's room! This one suffered a broken arm due to fighting with another male. It was over? Yup, you guessed it, a woman! Apparently the ratio of males to females is 4:1 so competition during mating season gets fierce.
There were four dragons lounging underneath someone's home. A indicator on the gender is size. Generally the females are skinnier and males bulkier.
During the trek we passed by a few dug up holes where the dragons keep their eggs. This was a cool fact – the females would dig up one real nest and a few fake ones. Wild pigs and other Komodo dragons are the main predators for these eggs. Yes, they are cannibalistic. The survival rate increases when it's the wet season as the water eliminates the smell of the buried eggs. The gestation period is about 7-8 months.
This was the coolest dragon in the park! A true tree hugger!
The one lying here in the middle looks like its a part of the tree roots
Other primary animals that live on this island are water buffalo, deer, macaque monkeys, wild pigs, and fruit bats. The dragon would feed on all of these so it looks like its on top of the food chain here!
It's been a really cool experience here aside from the plus 35 degree heat and pesky mosquitos. Hoping to come back someday to dive Castle Rock and Manta Point again. Now we head back West to Mataram, Lombok for a couple of days before flying back out to Kuala Lumpur to continue our journey through SE Asia.