Diving in Komodo

Last month I made another dive trip to Indonesia. This was my second trip to Komodo aboard the same liveaboard boat, the Seven Seas. The trip was organized by Steve Webster and I was the only non-Californian among the sixteen of us.

The trip started with some difficulties. One member of our party fainted on an escalator at the San Francisco airport. Paramedics took her to the hospital and she ended up missing the trip. Apparently it was an interaction of a drug she was on and a drink at the airport bar. The remaining 15 of us made it to Bali via Hong Kong and Singapore and overnighted at a hotel near the airport. The next morning we had a domestic flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores where we were to meet the boat. There was a mix-up with the tickets for this flight and only 13 of us made it. And on arriving, we discovered that none of our luggage made the trip. We went to the boat, and were able to do a little snorkeling. The next morning the other two people and all of the luggage made it, and finally we were underway.

The Seven Seas is a 100 foot wooden boat, a Buginese Phinisi. It is quite comfortable with eight guest cabins and a crew of twelve. Mark Heighs, the owner, was aboard as cruise director while his regular cruise directors are on vacation. The other two dive guides are brothers, Frankie and Irwan, and excellent critter spotters. The food was very tasty. Our day started with a cold breakfast (with of course the self-service fully automatic coffee/espresso machine), then a dive, then a hot breakfast where we could order from a pretty varied menu of eggs, french toast, pancakes, and my new favorite, Indonesian stir-fry noodles. Another dive, then lunch, served buffet style. Another dive, then afternoon snack like a cookie or pastry, chips & guacamole, or cheese & crackers. Most days had a dusk or night dive before dinner. We had most dinners outside on the sun deck. They started with soup, then a choice of entrees and sides served buffet style, and a plated dessert. Doc Webster did a series of lectures on marine invertebrates, and I did a couple on identifying reef fish. We filled out our schedule with beach walks, swims, and plenty of relaxing.

We headed west from Flores into Komodo National Park for the next ten days of diving. Our first day was at a wonderful muck site called Wainilu where there were a variety of strange fish, shrimp, crabs, and cuttlefish amongst the basketball-sized fire urchins and soft corals.

Then we headed to Horseshoe Bay on the south side of Rinca island for a few days. Here the water was cold, about 75ºF, but there are a bunch of great dive sites including Cannibal Rock and Crystal Rock. These sites had a nice mix of large and small creatures, with schools of snapper, white-tipped reef sharks, and the occasional mackerel or tuna. I enjoyed checking out small caves and under ledges for shy fish like dottybacks. We did a couple of dives at a manta ray cleaning station where we had a great show, with as many as five mantas circling each other like ballet dancers. From the boat we saw Komodo dragons on the beach. The dragons are 8 to 10 foot long monitor lizards with a nasty bite. There were often three or four visible, and they even swam out a ways to check us out when we motored by. Wild pigs and crab-eating macaques were also seen on the beach, and soaring raptors, both Brahminy Kites and White-bellied Sea Eagles. One morning we went ashore where a park ranger led us on an hour-long hike where we saw dragons up close as well as monkeys and birds.

After several days on the south side of Komodo, we moved north where the water was much warmer, about 84ºF. We had more good diving there, with pygmy seahorses and beautiful coral gardens and sand plains with many garden eels. Then we moved west to Sanaeng, a volcano outside the national park. There weren’t as many large fish there because they’ve been taken by fishermen, but the black sand habitat had different fishes including a huge variety of shrimp gobies who share a burrow in the sand with blind snapping shrimp, and delicate flowing threadfin sand-divers whose wispy dorsal fins are as long as their bodies. On Bubble Reef streams of gas bubble up out of the sand from volcanic activity.

Rather than fly back to Bali, the boat cruised there. So our last couple of days diving were in spots on the way west where we had different habitats with other fishes. Bontoh had long-arm octopus and a variety of nudibranchs in the sand. Satonda had lots of juvenile fishes and five different kinds of anemonefish. Our final dive of the trip was at Amed Reef on a sloping wall topped by a coral garden that was teaming with fusiliers and anthias fishes and a great way to wrap up the trip. Then we had 20 hours of motoring to get back to Bali the next morning. We did a whitewater rafting trip on the Ayung River near Ubud that afternoon, and most of us went to the Dirty Duck restaurant for a delicious dinner of crispy duck, their house speciality.

Overall it was a good trip. I’ll certainly be back to Indonesia. Hoping to get to Raja Ampat next. Heidi and I logged 533 species of fish during the trip, and at least 54 of those were lifers for me. It will probably turn out to be more, once I identify what is in the rest of my photos. I took over 4,000 photos during the 2 weeks.

Journal Comments

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