Our grande finale for Asia had been chosen months ago. While looking into cool places to go diving around South East Asia we had found out about Komodo National Park and booked ourselves on a liveaboard with Wicked Diving. Komodo is famed for it’s abundance of fish, rainbows of coral and also the currents. These currents are caused by the tides and increased by the island’s location: running nearly perfectly west to east, the form a barrier between the Indian and the Pacific ocean. A lot of water has to flow through some small gaps so depending on how you time your diving, things can be very easy and peaceful or turn into a roller coaster ride. We were unsure about the currents and therefore booked for the middle of the lunar cycle when they are a little more subdued, but we knew we wouldn’t find out how strong they were till we got there.
Having checked in the day before and picked our equipment, all we had to do was meet at the dive shop. We got a chance to meet our room mates while we waited for the boat to be ready. Then we were off on our 4 day 9 dive liveaboard with a visit to the Komodo dragons all rolled into one. Overall there were 14 guests, 4 dive guides and 6 boat crew. We had chosen the budget option in the six bed dorm, but there were also three double cabins. The beds were comfortable, but the dorm lacked storage room so most of us slept with their bags next to our feet. The deck was fairly spacious with a dining area and a chill-out area with beanbags.
Our first or check dive was at Kanawa house reef. This turned out to be a good place to get back in the water and used to our equipment and dive guide. Our guide Anne was great at checking we were okay and safe but sometimes we had a little too much school teacher vibe to feel relaxed. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact that we were currently only able to dive to 18m and in order to make the dives more exciting we agreed to do a deep adventure dive so that we could go to 30m. The depth was no problem at all but the dive computers took a bit of getting used to. Surfacing from our deepest dive yet and knowing there was much more to see over the next few days was a good feeling. Diving works up an appetite (about 600kcal per dive) so the fried bananas on deck of the big boat were very welcome.
The next morning we were woken early for a day jam packed with diving and interspersed with eating and sleeping. Our first dive of the day was a lovely easy one at a site called China Shop, where there were huge corals and so many fish to see. The site draws its name from the tubular corals that look like huge china vases. Maybe we were lulled into a false sense of security or the current gods hadn’t woken up yet, but the next dive at Crystal Rock was a bit of a challenge. Our speed boat dropped us off, but we had a few problems descending and ended up being washed past the dive site. This meant we got an extra speed boat ride holding onto a rope at the side of the boat and breathing through our regulators while being dragged back upstream. Despite the stress of the descent we managed to enjoy the rest of the dive, perhaps a little too much. Our final dive of the day was a little more textbook but no less interesting. Castle Rock is another pinnacle dive site with lots of coral and small fish, but also some big guys lurking in the blue. We were lucky to see a white tip reef shark on the prowl. Back at the surface unfortunately dehydration and motion sickness combined to ruin Matthias’ night so he went to bed early to get some much needed rest. The challenges of the day meant we were pretty tired so we decided it was best to miss out the night dive which was probably a very good decision.
The next day, our earlier wake up call meant were at the dive site early and luckily Matthias was feeling fit to dive. The Cauldron of Komodo is famous for being a bowl shaped hollow between two islands where the current can shoot you out the other side or give you a ride into the deep blue. We waited until the current started and had a relaxed start in the sheltered reef before making our way along the side of the cauldron and to another sheltered reef. It was nice to drift along watching the reef go by, but took a little getting used to how to move your body to choose where to go.
Our next dive at Makassar reef sounded exciting as soon as someone mentioned Manta rays but we never expected the drift ride we got. The current was stronger than any we had been in before and as we drifted along we couldn’t reposition fast enough to copy our guide. This meant that our group of three was travelling along at totally different speeds and gaps opened up. Trying to stay close to your buddy who is travelling slower and in a slightly different direction was scary, especially for Zoë who was stuck in the middle trying to keep close to both. We kept trying to get as close to the reef as possible to get out of the current, but even there with nothing to hold onto we kept on sliding backwards. Once our guide got a reef hook in a rock that was attached to the seabed we had a few minutes to watch the manta rays flying through the drift without a care in the world. Needles to say this was a complete contrast to our minds. The highlight of the dive was close to the end where we found a spot on the reef out of the current to see two mantas swimming asyncronously to form a silhouette against the blue.
The final dive of the day was a little more relaxing and less terrifying. The reef at Mauan was beautiful and we both drifted along happily (and slowly) stopping to look at fish and nudibranches along the way. At one point our attention was drawn to a rock with five divers around it and when we went to see what they were after we found a little ornate ghostfish. The best part was definitely the end where during our safety stop we heard someone banging a metal stick on their tank. We turned to see a manta ray flying past our group before taking a sweeping turn into the blue. After picking us out the water our speed boad dropped us on a beach to watch the sunset and enjoy a cold drink.
Time was flying and sadly our trip was almost over. We only had one dive left and our trip to see the dragons. We got up early enough to see sunrise before waiting for all the kit to be ready. A long speed boat ride later we jumped out close to a large rock and descended down to around 30m. Our friends on the boat mentioned that this was a good site for photography but nothing prepared us for looking up at the wall of coral at Batu Bolong. It certainly deserves to be one of Komodo’s signature dives. We zigzagged upwards past corals in every colour and shape. Hidden amongst the corals we saw a huge moray eel and some very cute puffer fish. The entire wall was surrounded by fish. The closer we got to the surface the more fish there were. It felt incredible to be surrounded by fish of all sizes, shapes and colours. It was an amazing final dive.
Sad to be finished with the diving but proud of ourselves for overcoming the challenges we headed off in search of Komodo dragons on Rinca island. Our guides were great at explaining the dragons habits and behaviours. Funnily enough, they like to hang out right by the kitchen in the hope that they will get some food too. We walked away from the buildings and found a young dragon hanging around with some guinea fowl. The guinea fowl build huge circular mount nests which the dragons also use for their eggs. The dragons were sleepy so we went off to climb a hill and get a panoramic view of the national park. It was beautiful to see the barren islands and white sandy beaches meeting the turquoise waters which then fade to deep blue. Awesome to see but even better to know how much life there is beneath the waves.
Komodo NP is definitely worthy of it’s place on the short list of the best dive sites in the world. For us it was THE best due to the incredible amount of life forms under water. The strong currents can take some getting used to so if you are new to diving let your diving instructor/guide know and ask them to take you to some easy sites first. Make sure you spend more than a day or two exploring the underwater world; it is totally worth it. In our opinion liveaboards are the best way to explore the further-away corners. Just be aware that multiple days of three to four dives each put quite a strain on your body; especially if you have not been on a boat for that long before.