Komodo dragons look menacing.  They are the biggest lizards in the world.  Although the people of the Lesser Sunda Islands have lived with them for thousands of years, science is just starting to understand them.  In 1912, barely more than 100 years ago, a westerner laid eyes on one for the first time.

Other posts about the trip to Bali:

Korean Air 747-8i Upper Deck Business (Prestige) Class – Atlanta, GA (ATL) to Seoul/Incheon, Republic of Korea (ICN)

Korean Air A330-300 Business (Prestige) Class – Seoul/Incheon, Republic of Korea (ICN) to Denpasar, Indonesia (DPS)

The Stones Hotel, Legian, Bali – A Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel

Wings Air ATR 72-500 Economy Class – Denpasar, Indonesia (DPS) to Labuan Bajo, Indonesia (LBJ) 

Review – NAM Air 737-500 Economy Class, Labuan Bajo (LBJ) to Denpasar, Indonesia (DPS)

Priority Pass Lounge Review – Premier Lounge Denpasar, Indonesia (Bali)

My Worst Ever Travel Mistake –  Qantas 737-800 Denpasar, Indonesia (Bali) to Sydney, Australia 

Komodo National Park – Indonesia

The Indonesian government established Komodo National Park in 1980.  The park covers three major islands, Komodo, Rinca, and Padar and 26 smaller ones in Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands.  Komodos also live on Flores Island, where Labuan Bajo is located.  Flores is not part of the park.

The park was established to protect the habitat of the Komodo dragon but it also protects the abundant and diverse marine life in these waters.  Whale Sharks are one of the standout species.  I’d enjoyed a brief swim with those awesome creatures at Oslob Municipality on Cebu Island in the Philippines.

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Lesser Sunda Island of southeast Indonesia.  Wikipedia map

In 1991 UNESCO named Komodo National Park a World Heritage Site.   In 2011, following a worldwide poll, the park was declared one of the New7Wonders of Nature.  Other places on that list that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting are Jeju Island, Republic of Korea, Halong Bay, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and Table Mountain National Park, South Africa, which includes Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope.

Getting to Komodo National Park

Labuan Bajo, a small fishing village on the northwest corner of Flores Island, is the gateway to the park.  The town’s population is only about 2,000, but in 2016 the Indonesian government expanded the airport to accommodate up to 1.5 million passengers annually.  That is 10 times the previous capacity.  I hope someone manages the effects massive waves of tourists might have on this tiny city and its people.

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The new terminal at Komodo Airport is a good background for photos on the tarmac.

While there are ferries to Labuan Bajo from several islands, including Bali, commercial flights are without a doubt the way nearly all tourists will get there.  I arrived from Bali on a Wings Air ATR-72.

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Wings ATR 72 on the ramp at Labuan Bajo.

Just outside the terminal, I met Sonny Sandur, the tour agent who would transport me to the park.  We drove a short distance to the harbor and boarded the boat to Komodo National Park.

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Labuan Bajo, a typical small Indonesian fishing village.

It would take over two hours by boat to get to Komodo National Park on Rinca Island.

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One of the crew secures the boat to Komodo National Park while I board.

Speed boats take less time; however, my herniated cervical disc had been flaring up for several weeks and speeding over the waves would do it no good.  I think the boat portion of an otherwise wonderful “off the beaten path” bike and long-tailed boat tour in Bangkok, Thailand was responsible for prolonging the episode I was suffering from.

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With Sonny Sandur aboard the boat to Rinca Island.

During the drive and on the boat, Sonny was great at explaining the itenary for the day and addressing my questions about the tour, park, and Komodo dragons.  I would have lunch on the way to Rinca Island, hike through the park for a few hours, and, if time permitted, do some snorkeling on the way back.  It was low season so I was the only tourist on the boat.  Sonny was confident though that I would see dragons at the park.

Getting out of the harbor was the hard part.  The anchor was caught on something.  Ultimately, a crewmember had to strip, put on a mask, and make several dives to get us free.

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Crewmember trying to unfoul the anchor.

Once we were underway, the 2.5-hour trip to Rinca was very enjoyable.  Waves were no more than two or three feet at most and that was only in a few places.  We passed several small islands with good looking beaches on the way.

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A boat like the one the tour booked.  These boats can be hired for single- or multi-day scuba and sightseeing tours in Komodo National Park.

The crew cooked up a delicious buffet lunch on the way to Rinca.

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Various Indonesian dishes and fried chicken.  No black jokes, please.

Komodo Dragon Trek On Rinca Island

We tied up at a dock at Loh Buaya (Crocodile Bay) on Rinca Island.

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Komodo dragons are not the only large reptiles in the area.

It was a short walk to meet the park ranger who would show me around the park.

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Loh Buaya entrance.

Sonny accompanied me to the park office where I met the guide for the trek.  There are three marked trails.  After explaining some general information about Komodo dragons and the park rules, we set out on the medium length 1.5 hour trek.

Komodo National Park ain’t no zoo – Jurassic Park, maybe.  There are no fences or enclosures separating the dragons from the tourists.  Komodos feed on wild prey.  The first dragons we encountered were just outside one of the park offices.

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People in the office seemed unconcerned. That was reassuring.  However a few years ago, a ranger was attacked in his office by a dragon that had walked in and was laying under his desk. His leg was amputated.

Several dragons were in the vicinity of the offices.

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Dragons can run 15 -20 mph over short distances. This guy didn’t look like he was in any mood to run.  The ranger volunteered to take this photo.
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Like snakes, Komodos use a forked tongue to sense prey. Swinging the head from side to side helps identify the direction.  I hoped this dragon was not sensing me.

A few ‘facts’ about Komodo dragons:  Komodos can be over 3 meters (almost 10′) from nose to tail and weigh upwards of 170 pounds.  They eat only about once every two months.  That sounded like good news.  The bad news is when they hunt, they are very hungry.  A Komodo can eat up to 80% of its body weight in one meal.  Their jaws dislocate to swallow enormous chunks of meat in one gulp.  Komodos mainly hunt by ambush.  Only recently scientists discovered that Komodos have venomous glands.  Venom and infection from a Komodo bite might take a few days to kill the prey.   Komodos can smell carrion several kilometers away.  They live as long as 30 years or more.  It is reported that dragons can reproduce asexually.  The Komodo population on Rinca, just over 2,000, is the most of any of the islands in the park.  Facts is in quotes because western knowledge about the Komodo is evolving.  Google Komodo dragon and Komodo National Park for more info.

We proceeded on the trail with the ranger in the lead.  Naturalist guide is probably  a more appropriate term because he was full of information about all of the flora and fauna on the island.

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Rangers have only a long stick forked on one end to ward off any Komodos that get too close.

A light rain fell as we continued the Trek.  Every so often we came upon Komodos wandering through the jungle and underbrush.  Dragons on the trail moved off as we approached.20190215_12531320190414_21033720190215_13000520190215_125606

We saw several Timor deer and other animals on the trek.  Timor deer are the primary prey.

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A monkey or macaque.

Komodos attack animals as large as water buffaloes.

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Komodo food on the hoof.

Unfortunately, Komodos have attacked and killed locals.  It is rare.  As far as anyone is telling, no visitors to the park have been killed.

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A dragon nest. Komodos build multiple nests to confuse animals seeking its eggs.

The trail wound for several kilometers through jungle and savannah and crossed valleys and hills – all of it  territory where the Komodo dragon reigns supreme.  After about one hour and 45 minutes we arrived back at the office.

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With the guide after a spectacular and educational trek.  I’m a little soaked from the rain but very pleased with  the experience.

I slept for most of the return trip to Labuan Bajo.  We skipped snorkeling because time was short to make the flight to Bali.  Snorkeling and scuba diving in this area is reportedly some of the best in the world.  One problem though – currents are exceptionally strong.  The Lesser Sundas lie between the Pacific Ocean to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south.

These currents are enhanced because the Pacific and Indian Oceans are not at the same level here!  I never knew that.  It is complicated.  Look it up as I did to get a decent explanation.  This post is long enough as is.

Overall Impression

This was one of the best one-day adventures I’ve had the privilege to experience.  I  recommend it highly with some reservation about the effects on the ecosystem and local population of large numbers of tourists.  For the best experience avoid the peak tourist months of June, July and August.  Those who make it to Labuan Bajo and Komodo National Park will enjoy a unique and highly educational experience.

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