Gustav and I were based in Komodo National Park for four months aboard the Raja Laut. During this time, we were privileged to get to know the park at a deeper level than most. Tourists flock to the northern parts of the park ( Siaba, Gili Lawa Darat, Makassasr Reef, Pink Beach, etc ) during the day in attempt to get they’re one grammable photo of an ‘elusive’ komodo dragon or a selfie with a Manta ray then head back to the port town of Labuan Bajo and move on to the next destination.
Although beautiful, the popular northern and central areas of the park have somewhat lost it’s ‘wild’ element due to oversaturation of day tourists. The Komodo dragons here are not enticed by the sight of humans and just sleep at the tourist stations and the manta rays, unfortunately, glide through plastic trash as hoards of lifejacketed tourists float above them on the surface of the water with GoPro selfie sticks.
Head to the very southern tips of the National Park, far away from the reaches of day boats and less seaworthy vessels, and the park truly comes alive. Down south, the ocean is a cold, cloudy green compared to the transparent warm turquoise tropical waters of the north. The murky, mysterious 19-degree water is not postcard perfect for most and thus keeps away the less adventurous travelers.
We often anchor the boat on the southern end of Rinca island in a bay known as Nusa Kode. This part of the island is not barren and savannah-like like the north. Instead, a dry, thick vegetation covers these lands. Here the beaches are alive with dragons – so alive, that walking on them means almost certain death by dragon.
Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) are an endemic species in Indonesia and are only found in Komodo. Adult dragons can grow up to 3 meters, and trust me they do live up to their fearsome reputation. As equipped carnivores, dragons feast predominantly on large herbivores such as pigs, deer, and other small mammals, whom also inhabit the islands in the national park. Komodo dragons have even killed and eaten tourists – the last being a Swiss tourist that was eaten in 1974 after he strayed off the main trail. To kill its prey, a dragon must only take a bite. Komodo dragon saliva is highly potent with a strain of bacteria that causes great infection and blood loss. Once bitten, the dragon will simply wait for its prey to die of infection before it feasts.
Down south in Nusa Kode, as the morning sun comes up, the dragons emerge from the bushes to bask in the warming light on the beaches. It’s possible to see over 20 of them at a time soaking up the sun. Gustav and I like to take the tender to see how close we can get. We are able to take the tender almost all the way up the shoreline, always keeping a close eye on them. Not used to the sight of humans (unlike they’re brothers in the north of the park), these guys are frisk and feisty. Any sudden movement will make them spring into hunting action. It’s happened more than once where a dragon has chased us on our tender, swimming out to sea after us for about 100 meters (Note: paddles are great for dragon defense).
The diving down here is incredible too. Nusa Kode is home to my favorite dive site in the entirety of the national park – Cannibal Rock. A submerged seamount in the middle of the bay, Cannibal Rock is home to a plethora of creatures. Down at 30m deep, pygmy seahorses inhabit the branches of magnificent giant Gorgonian sea fans. The diversity of macro life on Cannibal rock is overwhelming. Frogfish, ghost pipefish, Coleman shrimps, zebra crabs, nudibranchs, you name it. Peel your eyes away from the cracks and crevices and look into the open murky green to see black tip, white tip, and grey reef sharks cruise by. I’ve heard rumors of some sites just outside the sheltered bay where schools of hammerheads sharks can be seen. Unfortunately, the southeastern winds are blowing strong this time of year (August), making it challenging to dive the less protected sites in the open ocean. Something we’ll have to save for another time.
Evenings in Nusa Kode are spent sipping on our dwindling stash of red wine as we watch the sun go down behind the bay. Often, Mobula rays leap to the surface to a make one last splash before darkness. With no city or village lights for miles around, a blanket of stars soon lights up the bay. Gustav and I enjoy moving our blankets outside and laying in the boats bow nets to stare at the stars.
Interested in finding out more about of fav spots to dive / trek / swim in Komodo? Check out our KOMODO SUPER GUIDE for all the dirty exploration details on this epic dragon land!