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Komodo & Rinca

Our track through Komodo National Park
Our track through Komodo National Park.  Click on a dive-flag to go to our description of that dive.
Komodo dragon carving
Komodo dragon carving

Major islands:  (from the east) Pulau Rinca (pronounced RIN-cha) and Pulau Komodo.  Other islands in the Park include Pulau Sebayur, Gili Lawa Laut, and Gili Lawa Darat.
Population:
  Uninhabited except for one small fishing village (a few hundred people) on the eastern side of Komodo Island. Both islands have national park offices.
Landscape:  Hilly, dry, scrub-covered and rocky. Offshore islands are almost barren, dry and rocky. The water is exceptionally clear (and chilly, for the tropics) and full of life.
Visited:  25 August through 1 September, 2006.

Illegal net fishing threatens  the park
Illegal net fishing threatens the park

History:  Komodo National Park includes the two main islands of Rinca and Komodo, and has only one small village, Komodo Kampung.  Previously under the auspices of international conservation organizations, the park is now run by Indonesians who have increased the entry fees ten-fold, and are said to be living in quite luxurious homes on the hills above Labuan Bajo on Flores.  The komodo dragons are a protected species, but given that there is no demand for them (the local people have never hunted them for meat) there is little threat to their existence as long as the park remains inviolate.  More in need of protection are the fish.  It is not park rangers, but more often the commercial scuba diving companies, that have to chase the illegal Indonesian fishermen off the abundant reefs.

For more info and photos check out our newsletters "Venting Volcanoes" and "Dancing and Diving" that covered this part of Indonesia.  For underwater enthusiasts, see our Diving Indonesia page.

(Amanda)  Our introduction to the Komodo area was our dive at Sabolan Besar which, after a year without diving, was pretty awesome even without so many fish and only mediocre coral.  But then, when we went south to Rinca, the water visibility went down considerably and I almost despaired.  We'd been so long without good clear water, and Komodo had been the promise of good diving.  As we continued on, I realized that the water clarity really had to do with the state of the tide and current, and where you are in the area.  Pink Beach, between Punja and Komodo Islands, had great visibility one afternoon but was really stirred up the next morning.  My favorite place was probably up by Gili Lawa Laut and Gili Lawa Darat.  The dive sites were just a dinghy ride away, and there was clear water under the boat, too.

Wild boars on the beach of Komodo Island
Wild boars on the beach of Komodo Island

I never saw a Komodo dragon while we were there.  There were tracks all over the beach, but I didn't go on the hike up Rinca that everyone else did.  Instead I stayed on the boat getting more and more nervous as the tide went out and a rocky ledge appeared around the bay, right behind the boat.  I walked around on Komodo a bit, but while we saw many wild boar, no dragons.  I guess our dragon carving, which we got in Gingga Bay and which now lives in the corner of the salon, will have to do.

We did a fair amount of trading with locals in Komodo.  We paid for the dragon, but also acquired several smaller dragon carvings, some nice pearl necklaces and a couple masks.  For all that we traded a jerry jug without a lid, several pairs of sunglasses, an old snorkeling mask or two, and a T―shirt.  Unfortunately the masks, which were carved and nicely painted, were full of bugs and got millions of little holes chewed through them.  Oops.  But it was fun to trade with the locals, joking and making outrageous requests and such.

Hiking into the hills on Rinca
Hiking into the stark, dry Rinca hills

(Sue) Getting to visit Komodo National Park was fulfillment of a long-time dream.  It was, unfortunately, the only time I wished we were not part of the Darwin-Indonesia Rally.  For those of us arriving by sailboat, the anchorage off the National Park Headquarters on Rinca is problematic.  The entrance is narrow and deep, with room for very few boats on the inside protected area.  When we were approaching the area we heard via radio that over 20 yachts were vying for space in there, and we chose not to join the fray.  Unfortunately, it meant missing some of the best viewing of Komodo dragons.  Expecting to see dragons on our own, we sailed around to the western side of Rinca to a large convoluted bay, called Gingga.  Here, in isolation, with just 1 or 2 other cruising boats we were able to enjoy the beauty of this incredible national park.  I loved being able to take the dinghy to shore where we saw macaque monkeys and wild boars on the beach and Sunda (barking) deer hiding behind the rocky coast.  Walking on the beaches we caught sight of several small Komodo dragons which scurried away as we approached.  With cruising friends we followed animal trails high into the hills where we saw a wild horse on a sloping grassland.  Overhead, White Bellied Sea Eagles soared.  After the heavily inhabited coast of East Nusa Tenggara it was wonderful to be surrounded by so much nature.  The boats that went from western Rinca to the southern bight were able to see more dragons.  Oh well, next time.  The underwater world of the Park was heavenly and more than made up for the lack of land-animals sighted.

A school of Black-baked Butterflyfish off Komodo Island
A school of Black-baked Butterflyfish off Komodo Island

(Jon)  I enjoyed Komodo, but I probably saw the most Dragons as I enjoy exploring off the beaten track.  On Komodo I did it while carrying a big stick - Dragon bites aren't poisonous per se, but their mouth bacteria is quite dangerous.  Exploring off the beaten track also let me see several deer, wild pigs, and even a wild horse.  The main problem (for me, as the primary navigator) was that both our 2000 and our 2005 electronic chart databases had the whole of Komodo National Park displaced by a good quarter mile (half a kilometer).  While this is OK for going around islands (we never trust our charts completely and always steer by eye) inaccurate charts make undersea obstructions like reefs much more of a problem.  On the plus side, there are several public moorings sprinkled around in convenient anchorages, which means that we didn't have to drop our anchor as much.  This is one of the ways the Indonesians are preserving the vibrant corals in the park.

Strong currents rip through the Komodo area
Strong currents rip through the Komodo area

The most amazing part of Komodo for me was the diving.  Where the rest of Indonesia is so intensively fished that only one rally boat ever caught any fish at all, Komodo National Park has a prolific fish population.  We were fortunate to be cruising with Rob & Dee on Ventana, as they had a dive compressor and were happy to both dive with us and to fill our tanks afterwards.  They're both very experienced divers - good folks to have around when not going with a dive company.  You can see our write-ups of those dives on our Indonesian Diving page, but let me say here that the diving was wonderful.  There's a fairly strong current running between the big islands of Flores and Sumbawa, which is right where the National Park is.  Although this means that dives have to be carefully timed to coincide with slack water, it brings lots of nutrients and the fish life has blossomed.  In contrast to Pacific dive sites where we might see the odd Moorish Idol nosing around the coral heads, here in Komodo we saw whole schools of them.  We'd try to get a picture of one fish only to have another get in the way.  Delightful.

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