Friday 31st August 2018
Wednesday morning we got up at daybreak and armed with just water and our cameras we went to find our guide to go dragon hunting. Komodo National Park is home to the infamous komodo dragons, a giant lizard of the monitor family they can grow up to 3m in length and weigh up to 90kg. They kill their prey in a particularly grizzly way. Laying in wait they ambush their victims by hiding in the undergrowth, they attack using their large clawed front feet and sharp shark like teeth. If their prey escapes this first onslaught the dragon retreat and watch, their saliva contains a rich mix of bacteria, so most bites become fatally infected. The dragon stays close by until the casualty slowly fades and becomes too weak to defend themselves, at which point the dragon strikes again. They are carnivores and will attack large water buffalo, deer, wild pigs, smaller dragons and occasionally humans. It is recommended not to explore the islands without a guide.
Male Komodo dragons collected around the Rangers housing
Having picked Penny and Stephen up from the airport Monday afternoon, the next morning we left Labuan Bajo and wound are way through the countless reefs and islands that make up the west coast of Flores. We anchored down a narrow creek, Loh Buaya on Rinca Island. There is a Rangers station here where you can pay your park fees and join guided tours to see the dragons. We booked in for an early morning walk the next day and then settled on deck to watch the chaos of tourist boats that crowd into every available space, everyone in search of that komodo dragon moment.
Tourist boats fill every available space
As the sun dropped and the bay thinned out, a dingy safari revealed the Island was home to much more than the dragons. We spotted the bright turquoise of a kingfisher perched in the mangroves, a large heron waded in the shallows, birds of prey soared above the hills, a couple of deer wandered through a clearing and monkeys foraged and squabbled on the sandbanks.
At 6.30 the next morning as we followed the path from the dock to the Rangers station, more monkeys skitter across our path, a large water buffalo wallows in a small almost dry water hole and deer graze under the trees. Water buffaloes struggle during the dry season as there is little water around and no fresh grass . The whole island was in fact very dusty and brown, the only green provided by the trees growing in the valleys. Dried river beds snaked along beside our path and scorched hills towered above us.
Penny and Stephen on the parched hills of Rinca Island
We met our guide and armed with only an ineffectual looking forked stick, he leads us off in search of dragons. This turned out to be easier than expected, despite assuring us that they didn’t feed the dragons a group of about seven lolled, labrador like, in a cluster outside the Rangers housing. This of course guarantees that everybody gets to see a dragon and is an easy place to snap some photos, but it is difficult to accept they are not encouraging them to stick close by in some way. Luckily, during our 2hr walk, we also saw a young male stomping through the undergrowth and a female guarding her huge nest. Easily visible were two hollows, one a decoy nest, the eggs, up to about ten, were laid in the larger hollow which was about 3m long and 2m deep and were covered with soil and leaves to protect them during the 8 month long incubation period.
Female dragon guarding her nest
Returning to Raya the creek was beginning to fill up again, we motored off to find a quieter bay and do some snorkelling, as the National Park is also renowned for its crystal clear waters and stunning coral. We have had some marvellous snorkelling in Indonesia and off the north coast of Komodo Island and again off Banta Island the reefs didn’t disappoint. Especially impressive here was the amazing variety of soft corals and brightly coloured sponges. In the exceptional visibility and midday sun the extensive coral garden at Banta was stunning.
Coral gardens off Banta aisland
There is however a continuing problem with plastic rubbish on the beaches and in the sea. It is a tragedy that some of clearest waters we have experienced are also the most polluted.