Visit to Komodo Island National Park,
Indonesia 4/03 

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We were off on a plane on Merpati Airlines from Bali to the island of Flores to the east, to see the mysterious Komodo Dragons, (Varanus komodoensis) and dive in the pristine waters of Komodo National Park. The Park has a large diversity of marine life and has been afforded the protection of park status since 1980, administered by PKA Balai Taman Nasional Komodo and The Nature Conservancy. In 1986, the Park was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Thus protection is afforded to these large monitor lizards that can grow to be over ten feet in length and weigh over 150 pounds. There were estimated to be about 2400 Dragons on the two islands of Komodo and Rinca in 1998 and the population appears to be dwindling.

As we flew to Flores Island, east of Bali, we were afforded
fantastic views out the window- islands with mountain ridges...

... and tall volcanoes.

We saw ponds for cultivating fish and prawns.

As we landed in transit in Bima, it even felt like we might land in one of the ponds!

But treasures await in the airport at Bima ... freshwater pearls!

We flew over tiny islands with crowded populations.

We saw uninhabited forested mountain ranges and uninhabited barren islands.



...every shade of blue...

As we approached our landing at Labuan Bajo, Flores Island,
we were awed by the beauty of the harbor!

A dash off the plane and we're on our way to the boat!

Onto the dinghy and off to our home for the next week- the Evening Star II.



Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh- what a way to look at life!

We were immediately treated to magnificent scenery.

Currents are very strong in the passages between the many islands and there are many vortices created in the water. You don't want to dive anywhere near these! I got sucked into a downdraft by one of these "underwater tornadoes" diving in Papua in 2000 and it is not an experience I would ever want to repeat!

We had a fun loving but professional and hard-working staff
helping us to enjoy every aspect of our trip!

Our cook, Wayan, prepares the rice. The food on our trip was excellent!


We shared the boat with a raucous group of Dutch fraternity brothers!

the jolly crew

A chance encounter with another dive boat makes for some lovely sunset/moonrise photos.



moon in the mast


We knew a bit about Komodo Dragons before the trip, but books on the dive boat brought into sharp focus the dangers of the Dragons. The people who live in the village on Komodo Island are mostly decendents of people who were banished to live on the island by the Sultan of Bima in previous times. These people eeke out a living by fishing and pearl farming. It is difficult to grow crops there as the soil is rocky and there are many months of drought in any given year- plus there is the danger of gardening with the Dragons about. They have been known to take people, especially small children, in areas away from the village. The forested hills are the Dragons' domain. The people hudddle together in a small area,
building their homes on stilts and taking their livestock inside their homes every night-
for fear of the Dragons. They even use large boulders around their burial area-
to keep out the Dragons!

Komodo Dragons like to kill their prey with a large bite to the abdominal area, often disembowling the prey. If the bite doesn't kill right away, it is just a matter of time.
Several bacteria found in the saliva of these huge lizards have no known antibiotics. The
bite will kill in a short time. All the Dragon has to do is smell its prey and follow patiently.

In past years, guides killed a goat and hung it by rope in a tree above a ravine so tourists could sit inside a fenced area and see the Dragons devour the carcass. This is no longer done, as it was determined that the Dragons would gather in anticipation of a meal, and if people arrived to see them with no goat offering, it was a dangerous situation!

We awoke early one morning, eager for our trip to Komodo Island- off to see the lizard! We played Jimmy Buffett's CD with the tune, "Off To See The Lizard", to get into the right frame of mind!
After a hearty breakfast, we were ready to go for a hike.
There're Dragons in them thar hills!

The sturdy wharf leads to the beach at Komodo National Park Headquarters
where we were greeted with this reassuring sign regarding life insurance included
with every ticket purchase!

A Swiss Baron, Rudolf Von Reding Biberegg, was presumed killed and eaten by Dragons on July, 18, 1974. He was with a group of other tourists, walking back on the trail. They had been to the dry river bed to see the Dragons devour a goat. The count was tired and lagged a bit behind the others. He sat down on a rock and said he would catch up in a bit. He never did. Upon being missed, searchers returned to the spot to find but a shoe and some blood near the rock where he'd last been seen sitting to rest. OK- ready to take that hike?


We walked past a dry creek bed used as a roadway by Komodo Dragons
and entered the park. Dave and Gail posed for a photo, last chance to chicken out!

photo by Cindy Hollingshead

The two quite large resident Komodo Dragons by the ranger station proved to be
impressive in size but largely impassive to the small groups of tourists gawking at them.


Dave turns his back on the Dragon.


Guess he's just not hungry right now.

Our group of five, including the guide wielding a long forked stick (to fend off the Dragons, ya think?), headed up the long dusty path to the spot where goats were once fed to them in years past. The viewing area is near a river bed that the lizards like to use due to the easy pathway it provides.

It was quite a lovely walk! We saw a large number of birds including drongoes, friarbirds, orioles, and Lesser Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos. We saw mounds made by Megapodes, chicken-like birds who lay their eggs in soil mounds, created by and attended
by the parent birds. There were open sunny meadows, and dense forests along dry riverbanks. In the trees, we saw epiphytic Vanda orchids and large geckos hiding in crevices. Many of the trees had wicked-looking thorns.



Our guide showed us a Dragon's sleeping lair in the bank of the dry river bed,
behind some large tree roots. Anyone home?

Wait a minute, what's that on the trail?! Could it be Dragon dung?! Does that mean there could be Komodo Dragons using this same trail?! In an instant, I realized that it might be
a bit foolish to let the group, with our trusty guide wielding the forked stick, walk ahead
of me as I paused alone to look at birds, orchids, and geckos!

After about a forty-five minute walk, we arrived at Banunggulung, the area where
the Dragons have been fed goats in previous years.


photo by Cindy Hollingshead

This leafy glade marks the spot in the dry river bed where the dragons used to gather,
waiting for the fresh meat. See anything moving out there?



Nope, we waited around about twenty minutes. We didn't have a lot of time to wait as the azure water was beckoning us for a refreshing dive after the hot walk. Disappointed, we were about to leave when...

...suddenly we heard a rustling sound and saw a Dragon trotting down the path upon which we had just arrived! It had been following our SCENT! Its head was held high as it sampled the air for our presence. This was no well-fed pet, this was a REAL WILD DRAGON AND IT WAS HUNTING US!

In my excitement, I stumbled into a tree inhabited by tree ants and was promptly beset upon by stinging hoards, but I did manage to take a few photos of the Dragon before it ran
off into the dense foliage.

Back on the trail back to the rangers' station, we were more aware than ever of the
danger of the Dragons! Sheesh, they could be ANYWHERE!


These lines in the sand show that a Dragon has walked along these paths before us,
dragging its tail. Yikes.



All of a sudden, we were again startled by a noise- it was a huge Dragon running in
front of us. It seemed wary of us and disappeared quickly. Was this just a ploy to
entice us further down the path? How smart are these Dragons, anyway?
I did see Jurassic Park ... hmmmmmm...

Back on the boat, we were famished for a hearty lunch and then it was time for a dive!

Steve from England and Locky (right) from Australia were our capable and affable divemasters.


A quick dive briefing by Locky and it's onto the dingies for the short ride to the reef.





This lovely stretch of beach on Rinca Island in the southern area of the park is frequented by Dragons. They have even been known to swim in the ocean.
This spot is famous in the diving community. It is known as "Cannibal Rock". It was named this because the divers that discovered the site surfaced from the dive
to see a Dragon eating a smaller one of its own kind, on the large rock right above the dive site. This is world-class diving! Every surface on the reef is covered
with a myriad of extremely colorful marine life but the water is colder and murkier than the blue waters in the northern section of the park.

Some of our boat crew went to shore in a dinghy and put some raw chicken in a couple of places- in a tree and at the top of a forked stick that was stuck in the sand. We didn't have to wait long; the men had barely made it back to the boat when we saw a huge Dragon come trotting down the dry riverbed to the beach.
He had his head held high, sniffing the enticing aroma of raw meat. A nesting Sea Eagle began to swoop towards the meat on the stick and managed to get it
before the Dragon did. But the Dragon was not foiled entirely, as he clambered up the tree and got the other meat there.



Islands within the park are protected but we saw people setting small fires on this little island right outside the park boundry.
We are not sure of the purpose of the fires, but we watched as a number of fires burned.

One of the favorite times of day was sunset.




On our last morning on the boat, we watched the activities in the tranquil harbor.

As our plane gained altitude, we looked back to see the Evening Star II anchored,
a fuzzy white shape in the azure sea.. We watched, transfixed, until it became
but a speck, and then indistinguishable in the vast landscape.

Can't see 'em, but I know there're dragons down there!

Thank-you to the captain and crew of the Evening Star II for a fantastic trip! The serviceand the staff were top rate and the boat
was comfortable and roomy.
We would not hesitate to recommend this dive operation and would jump at the opportunity to return!
Evening Star II-

Komodo Underwater Photos
visit to Bali, Indonesia
All photographs on this page are by Gail J. Worth (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted.
They may not be reproduced by any method without written permission.

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