What is so special about diving in Komodo National Park? We were on the plane flying from Bali to Flores Island, where we would depart from the grungy port town of Labuan Bajo into the magical Komodo archipelago dotted with small grass covered island surrounded by tropical blue and turquoise waters.
The man sitting next to me on the flight and I started talking. He shared that he has dived Komodo many times and that him and his friends have dove all over but somehow, it is Komodo that they keep coming back to.
“At Raja Ampat,” he said, naming another well known remote diving area in Indonesia, “the fish are just come to you. It’s beautiful but it gets boring. Komodo is exciting.”
Komodo has the extra excitement of wicked currents at time, which definitely keeps things exciting. I was skeptical that strong currents would be a perk of the dive but I smiled and nodded and soon our flight landed.
The next day, we boarded onto the Mikumba Ratu Laut for a 7 day liveaboard with Wicked Diving . Mikumba Ratu Laut is a rather long name of a boat with both a first and second name after the two Indonesian shipbuilders. A sturdy wooden ship built in the traditional Indonesian style, the Phinisi, it felt a little like out of a pirate’s tale….except with modern amenities such as hot showers and air conditioned cabins. Ratu Laut is the name of an Indonesian goddess, the Queen of the South Seas. She is beautiful but can be dangerous, stealing the heart and soul of anyone she wished for. Kinda fits the pirate theme, hmm?
Ratu Laut perfectly expresses how I feel about scuba diving in the Komodo Archipelago…. stunningly beautiful, can be dangerous with wicked currents and definitely can steal your heart.
While many people have heard of Komodo dragons (which I will write about next…stay tuned!), they may not know that natural wonders extend below the water’s surface as well. Komodo National Park is an underwater paradise, one that you almost don’t want to dive because you know it will spoil you and all diving afterwards will be judged against the amazing Komodo.
I say “almost” because you really do have to dive here.
From healthy coral gardens to vibrant marine life both big such as sharks and manta as well as small such as nudibranches, Komodo National Park has it all.
From the town, we got onto a dingy (small boat) and went out Mikumba Ratu Laut, where we could call home for the next 6 nights. The town was hot and sticky but immediately on the boat, there was a bit of a breeze and life was a lot less hectic. Life became four words: Dive, Eat, Sleep, Repeat.
We did a check dive where we got comfortable with our gear and familiarized ourselves with the system of diving on the boat and came up as the gorgeous sunset lit the sky with vibrant reds, oranges, yellows and magentas. Then, it was dinner and some stargazing on the top most deck with a full view of the glorious Milky Way galaxy above us.
The next two days, we would get into a serious diving zone with three dives one day and then four dives the next. We woke up at 7am, ate first breakfast, dove, ate second larger breakfast and rested for a bit until our second dive. After second dive was lunch and rest and then a third dive in the mid afternoon. One day, we hiked up to a viewpoint on one of the islands to watch the stunning sunset over the islands, oceans and a volcano puffing off smoke on the horizon. The other day, we instead did a night dive to explore the interesting critters that come out at night such as shrimps, crabs, squid and other mysterious creatures. I had two large lionfish that were following me around using my flashlight to hunt with!
On the third day, we woke up with the dawn and did two early dives. Our early dive was at Batu Balong, one of the most famous dive sites in the Komodo Archipelago that we got to before any other boats had arrived for the day. It is a pinnacle in the middle of a large channel where the Indian Ocean meets the Pacific and currents sweep through. While diving in current may seem like a daunting activity, it is actually where it is the most interesting because the current sweeps food in and sea life thrives in it. It is especially a place of sharks. With Batu Balong, the direction of the current depends on if it is a rising or falling tide so one side is protected but still teeming with life. Diving at Batu Balong was like diving in a fish bowl with sharks at the lower depths around 25 metres and clouds of small colourful fish in the upper 10 metres. In between, there were schools of surgeon fish (think Dory from Finding Nemo), bannerfish and fusilers….which would immediately dissipate as a school of big travelly fish started hunting. There was a sea turtle hiding under a coral ledge, two white tip sharks sleeping together and a giant moray eel swimming along the reef.
After a couple dives on the third day, we went back to port to resupply and there was a change of guests who were on the three day liveaboard tour. The first three nights from Saturday to Tuesday went to the north and central part of the park while the second three nights from Tuesday to Friday disembarking are intended to go more to the south and central. However, the conditions were poor when we were there so we decided to go back to the north again. There are lots of dive sites and a few repeats of the best sites were actually amazing.
Some of my favourite dive sites included the beautiful coral garden including a slope of delicate staghorn coral at the China Shop at the end of The Cauldron dive when the current between two narrow islands carved an underwater bowl where sharks sometimes swim and a geographical dip launches the diver out like a Shotgun, as it is named.
My most favourite, however, was Mauan, where there are two cleaning stations where mantas regularly visit. Cleaning stations are natural phenomena. They are certain areas of coral reef where mantas go to on a daily basis and reef fish such as butterfly fish and others come up and pick any parasites or scabs off the manta. Mantas optimally need to come to a cleaning station every day, which is lucky for divers! I have never seen as many mantas as here in Komodo. Sometimes they swim right up to divers as they are curious. When one swam right at me, it was really amazing to look into their eyes and see a sense of intelligence as the manta was considering me at the same time I was considering it.
As introduced at the beginning of this write-up, diving at Komodo National Park has some wicked currents sometimes as water courses in narrow passages between islands and swirl around other islands. However, it is fun to go with the ride and feel like you’re flying. One time, we had a crazy drift dive where we flew around an island onto a sloping reef that was on the lee side of the current and all of a sudden it became calm. There we saw so many turtles, most hawksbill but also one big green turtle as well.
So after a week on a wooden sailboat going to all of the best dive sites in Komodo National Park, I completely understand why people come back time and time again. Komodo has a little of it all, from big sea life like mantas, sharks and turtles but also small “macro” sea life that is a treasure hunt in the deep. There is a little black and white band octopus called a “wonderpus” that I have yet to see, which is known in this area.
However, overall, scuba diving is like visiting another world and diving down with my tank, mask and other gear is probably the closest I will feel to being an astronaut. Add in there currents to fly on and dragons that still roam on land… Komodo is a slice of paradise for those who love to explore.
A couple notes about the liveaboard experience in Komodo:
- There is diving ventures of all budgets from Labuan Bajo on Flores Island. Searchable online are the expensive, luxury boats where you will have your own ensuite cabin and etc. However, these can be quite expensive. Also searchable online is Wicked Diving, which runs a more budget liveaboard including two private bunk bed cabins for couples and then one four bed dorm for solo travellers. At Labuan Bajo itself, there are a lot of different dive shops and some run overnight boats as well. You can walk around to the different dive shops in town itself and find a boat last minute. However, carefully check into them as many seem to feature guests all sleeping on the top deck of the boat on mats and also check how environmentally friendly they are. Didn’t seem like you would save that much money by shopping around in Labuan Bajo. I think our 7 day liveaboard with Wicked Diving, which included a dragon walk on the last day, was one of the best deals around.
- Additionally, you can do day trips from the growing port town of Labuan Bajo on Flores Island but it is about a 2 hour boat ride each way to get out to the national park. By doing a liveaboard, you can get to some of the more remote sites, get to the famous sites earlier than other boats arrive and spend more of the time diving!
- Personally, we had a great experience with Wicked Diving. They were professional, environmentally conscious, fed us well, had good diving equipment and knowledge of the area, employed local staff and the boat was comfortable. I would recommend them in a heartbeat!