Visiting the Komodo Islands of Indonesia and their Komodo Dragons is a once in a lifetime experience that I have been lucky enough to do twice.
Both times I came by cruise ship and Komodo island was a shore excursion offered by the ship. Mum has a fear of all things scaly so she stayed on the cruise ship.
To visit Komodo island from a cruise ship you have three choices; No tour – stay on the cruise ship, A ships shore excursion tour or A private tour.
No unescorted visitors are allowed, if you’re one of the people who thought you’d just “wing-it”, without a guide or tour, then you’re out of luck. No visitor to Komodo Island without something pre-arranged.
There a very few private tour companies that do day trips / shore excursions for cruise ships, and those that do are often fully booked a long time in advance with people filling their group from cruising message boards and cruise roll calls.
Both times I visited I arranged to go with Jeffrey Buana from www.putrikomodo.com The tours he organized are friendly, well staffed with good English, reliable and the lunch served was amazing!
The cruise ships can’t get close enough to the island to dock so it’s a tender boat to get there. The first time I went in 2012 there was a wooden dock, the following year there is a giant new concrete dock.
Komodo Island is one of those ‘out of the way’ places and sailing into Komodo and the surrounding islands they look scrubby and desolate, just ripe to be full of dragons. Indeed, the Komodo National Park named for the ancient creature (Komodo means dragon in Indonesian) is the only place in the world where people can see today’s modern dinosaurs in the wild.
The first time I went I was a touch nervous, between the isolated islands and the currents in the transparent water,and the animal inhabitants I knew this could be a dangerous place, add this to the heat and a very unfit uncoordinated me, you have a recipe for potential disaster.
TIP- Komodo island is really, really HOT. When you hike through the scrubby forest to find the Komodo dragons there’s no breeze. None. One of our group was having trouble because of the heat and had to be escorted back to the ranger station.Take water and wear a hat – there is no relief from the heat – be prepared.
Stepping off the tender boat, walking down the small wooden pier and into the forest feels like you are taking a trip back in time – maybe to a land where dinosaurs rule supreme.
Jeffrey Buana was there with a sign to meet us as we stepped off the pier, he took any bags we had for the afternoon with him and he and his staff led us to the ranger station for a briefing.
We had been sent a precaution letter from Jeffrey Buana and the cruise ship also supplied the same information.
Nobody is allowed on Komodo that has a cut or open wound and any no women can visit who is having their period (Komodo Dragons can smell blood from 18kms away)
No food to be brought onto the island especially no meat, so no sneaking a bacon roll from breakfast for a snack.
Komodo dragons have very sensitive sense of smell and can smell cologne,perfume, aftershave even sunscreen so be careful.
Talk quietly and listen to your ranger guide at all times.
Stay with the Ranger at all times as he carries a long twig which might or might not be effective
Don’t run from the Dragon if he starts to chase you, trust in the Rangers twiggy stick.
But if the Ranger says run – run in a zig zag as the Dragons have trouble chasing you in a zig zag pattern !’
Don’t wander off on your own,EVER. the Rangers are not responsible for you being a meal for any Dragons you may encounter if you are not with a guide
Me, I had a different tactic, ‘Always walk near a slow walker – I might not be able to out run a dragon but I can out run a slow walker !”
If we were to be attacked by a Komodo Dragon the rangers were armed to protect us. Not with a gun, no the dragons are endangered and protected, but they are armed with a big forked V stick. (no.. it was a twig) I asked how that works,they said they get under a Komodo Dragon’s neck with it, to push it away. Then he whispered “if the stick breaks just run” OK confidence on surviving the trek was plummeting.
The he added ‘Always check your surroundings. Look up in the trees. Young Komodo Dragons live in trees until they are too heavy to climb, to prevent their mothers and other dragons from eating them.’
So now I am worried about a ground and an air attack
We start along the trails through a Kapok grove, then suddenly the guide raises his hand for us to stop and we all go deathly silent, I’m standing near the ranger guide and can’t see what he is looking at, is it beyond that big log by the side of the path? I get my answer when the big log gets up and walks away from us. Holy..um..smoke??!!. It was the side of the path and huge, about 3 metres long and best guess about 60kg. I was too shocked to get a photograph.
About ten minutes later we stopped near a group of wild deer and there was a dragon looking towards us. I got down on my hands and knees to get a photo of the dragon looking straight at the camera. There I was clicking away, watching through the safety of my camera lens as the dragon looked towards me, flicking his tongue and started to rise. The guide started prodding me with his stick. he lent down and said ‘ummm mrs… he is flicking his tongue at you to scent you, he is starting to move as he thinks you are now lunch.. move’ I don’t need to be told twice, Usain Bolt couldn’t have caught me.
We saw other Komodos at the watering hole. We saw two tussling in a clearing, one had a bloody saliva dripping mouth, so we assumed food was involved.
Last time I went to Komodo island my group decided to hike the “Medium Trek’ to the Sulphurea Hill lookout. Boy oh boy this is arduous in the heat, walking through scrubby savannah, up and down hills and rock faces all the while watching for attacking dragons.
It can take its toll. One of the men in our group slipped and cut his leg. I asked if I could walk with him; after a few minutes he asked why .. I said So I can get photos for your insurance company when you get attacked. Most of us thought this was extremely funny, a couple said I was distasteful.. ohh well.
After the photo op at the lookout, we rested for 5 minutes and hiked back. We saw a few more Komodo dragons on the way back. All of us taking as many photos as we could. We were so lucky, a couple of the shore excursions didn’t see any dragons. This is not a zoo and the animals are not always going to be in designated viewing areas. They are wild and they come and go as they please.
Personally, I thought it was quite a special experience to come to Komodo Island and to know that I am part of only the tiniest fraction of the world’s human population has ever seen the Komodo Dragons in the wild, in their natural habitat, as they have been for million of years, is amazing.
After our exhausting but enjoyable three hours of hiking and searching, we ran the gauntlet of the souvenir sellers from the local villages selling everything from t-shirts to dragon teeth to lovely carved dragons of all sizes.
We went back to the pier to reach Jeffrey Buana’s boat to travel to a pink sand beach to go snorkeling.
Boarding the boat was quite a feat, we had to jump down from the jetty, across a gap, down on to the front of the bobbing and moving boat. The staff was so helpful, making sure we all got on safely.
He and his staff had arranged an amazing lunch on board with plates of chicken, fish, noodles, salads,rice and fresh fruits and bottles of water. It was all so fresh, delicious and filling.
We arrived at one of the nearby outlying islands, to a beach named “Pink Beach” the local people call Pantai Merah, for an hour or two of snorkeling in the pristine waters.
The beach is called “Pink Beach” because tiny fragments of red coral may have mixed with the white sand to give this small strip of beach (not more than 50 yards wide) a pink hue.
The water temperature was perfect on this hot day. The reef was about 2 or 3 metres down when I entered but the water was so clear it seemed I could touch it. I had one of the best snorkel experiences I have had years, there were so many fish, both large and small, and schools of beautifully multi-coloured fish.
At one point I was swimming the side of someone I had made friends with on the cruise ship, both of us engrossed in the underwater scenery. I saw a beautiful turtle to my right so I taped her on the shoulder and pointed to the turtle.
She screamed through the snorkel so loudly that Jeffrey heard her on the boat. We had to paddle for a while as we were laughing so hard. She had forgotten I was the side of her and when I taped her she thought it was a shark. That set me off laughing harder at her polite shark. She said she was glad she was in the water as she thought she wet herself, which set us off laughing again. meanwhile everyone on the boat was staring at these two crazy ladies gasping for breath and roaring with laughter in 3 metre deep water.
After a couple of hours of wonderful snorkeling and a walk along the pink sand beach, we all returned to Jeffery’s boat for the return to the dock on Komodo Island and tender back to the cruise ship.
Suddenly, a gigantic manta ray leaps out of the water not 3m from the boat. One of Jeffery’s guys jumps in the water I throw him my waterproof camera and he gets some lovely photos. I slip gently into the water but I’m too nervous to move too far from the boat. We spend 15 minutes watching these graceful giants.
It was the prefect end to a perfect day.
That night back on the Cruise ship they showed the James Bond film ´Skyfall´ and the audience cheered for the Komodo dragons.
I would recommend Jeffrey Buana from www.putrikomodo.com tours. This post was not sponsored or endorsed by him or his company in anyway. This is my personal recommendation, I received no recompense for recommending him