I’m just going to come out and say it. Sailing around Komodo National Park was without doubt the highlight of my whirlwind tour of Indonesia.
We flew into Labuan Bajo from Tanjung Pinang (Bintan Island) via an overnight stop in Bali on what was one of the most spectacular flights of my life. It was only half an hour from Bali so I’m not sure we even got to cruising altitude. But on the way, we passed many islands and many mountains. This is Mount Rinjani and was shot out of the window of the plane.
After a couple of days as landlubbers, it was time to find our sea legs out in the Flores Sea.
…It didn’t take long.
From the port of Labuan Bajo, Komodo Island is a mere 90 minute ride by power boat or about 3-4 hours by yacht. I know because we did it both ways. We visited a number of spots around the Flores Sea and while it was an incredible few days, it felt like there was so much to explore.
The first day in the Flores Sea our group took a 90 minute power boat ride out to Komodo Island, home to an estimated 3,000-5,000 Komodo dragons. Since the tour is always pressed for time we took the shorter of 3 possible walks through the bush and unfortunately we did not actually see any dragons on the walk.
The walk was about 45 minutes long and it was hot. Real hot. It was a nice enough walk, but to say that doing it without seeing a dragon was disappointing would be an understatement. However, as we got back to camp there were 2 just lazing about in the shade, waiting for us to crowd around taking photos.
As the shade moved, the dragons would occasionally move too. Ever so slowly we’d see them pick up their 70kg body and march to a nearby spot. If there was food around they would also poke out their tongues and open their mouth. This really got the crowd humming.
After lunch we stopped at Pink Beach, which is on the opposite of Komodo Island to where we spent the morning.
Pink Beach is a paradise.
We had 3 boats and they all docked together with one other boat that had already dropped anchor. A few of us guys and girls took the opportunity to start jumping off the top floor of the boats. That is, until the owner of the first boat told us to get off his boat. Well it was fun while it lasted.
Pink Beach is not a large beach, but it doesn’t have to be. The water is crystal clear, and a perfect temperature. The sand has an ever so slightly pink tinge to it due to broken up coral that is mixed through it.
Behind the beach there is a walk that takes you up the hill and gives a stunning panorama of the beach and surrounding islands. The beach is beautiful at sea level, but it is not until you see it from above that you can truly appreciate it in its context.
For more incredible Indonesian beach inspiration, check out these 16 beaches from Where in the World is Nina.
There is a mangrove forest on Pulau Kalong (Bat Island) where thousands upon thousands of fruit bats sleep during the day. Then, as dusk falls, these bats come screeching out of their hiding spots, over the Flores Sea, backlit by the sunset. Our boat found a spot between Padar Island and Pulau Serai (Serai Island) to watch the show. It was an eery thing seeing so many bats flying overhead in the low light, but what a spectacle to behold.
This ended day 1 of our exploration, but the fun was only just beginning.
All aboard the Raja Ampat Explorer
Only a few days prior, Indonesia Travel changed our plans for us to have one less day in Bali, and an extra day in Labuan Bajo island hopping through Komodo National Park. At first we all groaned, but what a terrific decision this turned out to be.
We were lead to the docks and boarded the Raja Ampat Explorer, a large, multi-story, wooden yacht operated by Grand Komodo.
As usual, we were given little info on where we were going and how long it would take so we made a nest on the top deck with the wind blowing, the sun beating, keeping hydrated with Bintag in hand. It was the perfect spot to absorb the magical scenery. We passed hundreds of islands, which just looked like floating mountains in the sea and actually reminded me somewhat of sailing through the Whitsundays.
We made a wake towards Kanawa Island, where we tendered in to shore and headed straight out into the clear water, armed with snorkel gear, GoPro’s in hand. The water was some of the clearest I’ve seen for snorkelling. The fish life was abundant and the coral was colourful and diverse. We spent about an hour drifting before boarding the ship again for our next island.
Related: If you love island hopping, make the effort to also get out to Raja Ampat.
A short cruise later and we’d dropped anchor again. This time for a completely different experience: Mesa Village.
Mesa village is a small fishing village in the middle of the Flores Sea. The first thing I noticed was a large net by the dock with hundreds of fish out drying. I couldn’t tell how long they’d been there but the pungent smell told me this was not their first day in the sun.
There is no source of fresh water on the island so during the day the men go out in their boats to collect fresh water. Being a fishing village it is also their job to go out and catch fish for their families while the women stay back with the kids welcoming the foreigners.
It is clear that they do get a lot of visitors: the kids were not shy at all and were more than happy to show us around and take photos with us.
There was one boy who was wearing a big black helmet. I’m not sure why, or why it even made it onto the island since I didn’t see any scooters around. But damn he must have been hot.
The most startling thing about the village was how primitive it looked, how little access to water they have, yet every house has a satellite dish as big as a small room and I saw quite a few kids watching iPads. I didn’t ask but I do wonder what the wifi situation is. Maybe that explains the satellites.
3 glorious hours cruising in the blistering sun and any number of Bintangs later, we pulled up at Padar Island.
Padar Island is apparently one of the most photographed locations in Indonesia, and most certainly in Komodo National Park. I would believe it because the landscape is stunning.
We tendered ashore began our ascent. 30 steep minutes it took to reach the summit. It wasn’t easy hiking in that regard, but it was over quickly and since it was devoid of all trees you enjoyed the view the whole up and the whole way down. Once we reached the top we were well rewarded with a magnificent view of the nearby islands. It was a truly perfect place to watch the sun go down.
I actually walked down before most because I was keen to get back to the boat early to get some sweet shots jumping off it, since we hadn’t time to do that before with all the activities planned. Unfortunately, there was no one at the tender to take me back so I walked back up the hill in time to watch the sun disappear behind the horizon.
I didn’t go all the way back up, maybe half way, and as soon as the sun went down one of the guides walked past. Skye, Sarah and I followed him back and got the first tender back to the boat. Although we might have missed much of the actual sun setting, there was a certain satisfaction we felt watching all the flashlights dance down the hill in the dark from the boat. I did not envy them all walking down over the rocky, dusty terrain in the dark.
Once we were all aboard we pulled up anchor and had dinner under sail…or…erm, engine. We settled in on the bean bags on the top deck and watch the beautiful stars sail past. By 8:30 the first of us turned in and before long most had hit had the hay. The boat powered on through the night and dropped anchor for the final time near the Labuan Bajo dock, as some had an early start in the morning.
I was hosted by Indonesia Travel and a guest of Grand Komodo cruises but all opinions remain my own.
For more ideas on some of the best places to visit in Indonesia, read on.
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