Komodo: The Trip That Had It All

Author: Rachel Lee Horsfield

My first taste of Indonesia diving was at Wakatobi in 2005. From this moment I knew I would forever be drawn to this country and its seemingly never ending array of underwater delights. After trips to Bali, Maratua, Sangalaki, Kakaban and Derawan, one destination kept luring me in; Komodo. I had heard tell of the currents, the diversity, the sharks, the Manta Rays, the drift dives, the walls, the soft corals, the macro critters…what could be missing?! And so I booked myself on the Indo Siren and waited nine months for what can easily be said to be my best dive trip to date.

The vessel itself is without doubt one of the finest dive boats on the seas. The attention to detail, especially where the diving is concerned is superlative. The boat takes 16 guests but one never feels short of space. Each diver has their own dive station at which to gear up and a drawer for all those accessories that us divers love to carry. Everything is set up for you, even your suits are laid out ready for you to put on! The crew are extremely efficient in getting everybody on and off the dinghys. The Indo Siren is a very comfortable boat with a number of great spots for reclining between dives and after the diving day, especially the cushioned centre of the dive deck and the bow areas. Dining al fresco on the back of the boat was always a treat, with delicious Indonesian, Thai and some western food always rounded off by a scrumptious desert. Beer is included in the cost of the trip and coffee drinkers on board seemed impressed by the ‘real’ coffee on offer. The crew and cruise director put so much effort and energy into making the trip special for all of us and they were a true delight to spend time with.

The first dives of our trip were mostly macro dives around Gili Banta, either on the black laval sands close to Bima Bay where we dived The Unusual Suspects and Techno Reef (so called for the amazingly bright blue reef fish and corals that contrast against the black sand) or on the slopes and bommies of Estuary, Hot Rocks and Circus. Hot Rocks is a delightful maze of soft coral walls teeming with reef fish, which ends on a sandy slope from which gas bubbles continually emit. The sand is warm to the touch! Circus is a fabulous night dive where one can witness Lionfish feed on their unsuspecting pray using the lights of your torch or strobe! It is a little sinister when one edges past your arm from nowhere, silently stalking its dinner and then SNAP! With a quick dart the little fish is no more and the Lionfish moves on. Stargazers do their best not to be seen amongst the sand and if you are lucky you may spot a large crab with a whacky anemone hairstyle waltzing and side-stepping along the sandy bottom.

On the third day of our trip we entered ‘Current City’ Gili Lawa Laut, and each dive was preceded by a briefing outlining the unpredictable nature of Komodo National Park. Our cruise director Eva would say to us, before we merrily donned suits, ‘Welcome to Komodo’ with a knowing smile and a fond wink, ‘and don’t forget your reef hooks!’ Castle Rock (part one) was an eventful negative entry to 20 metres where we found a suitable perch to hook on and admire the White-tip Reef Sharks coming up over the lip of the wall. I always love watching them bend with the current, as if ‘surfing’ an invisible stream. Large Trevally bombed about the place and streams of jacks followed.

The second dive on Castle Rock represented the start of what was possibly the best day of diving I have ever done. There was nothing that this day didn’t have! Some dive sites can be dived again and again and again and there are many of these in Komodo. Our second time on Castle Rock was even better than the first, there was not much that it lacked! The current was far less strong but we still used reef hooks to good effect. The White-tip Reef Sharks were out in force and I spent a long time hovering with them in the water column as they gradually let me get closer and closer, all the while watching me with their pearly eyes. Pretty soon there were four or five of them circling in front of me and before long one of them swooped down to a sandy gap in the reef for a quick snooze. If I wasn’t stalking the sharks then I was engulfed in an enormous school of fusiliers that swept us up and wrapped us in a cocoon of blue and silver. We all let off whoops of delight as we rolled around to admire the three dimensional spectacle. Several large Yellowfin Tuna slowly whittled away at our blanket of fusiliers as the school jerked and darted with a soft ‘boom’ each time it shifted. Waiting on the sidelines were some enormous Goliath Groupers which hovered over the reef inspecting the proceedings. We were joined on our safety stop by a playful Green Turtle and I think we all could have stayed on that site for another hour!

The dive that followed at Batu Bolong was in a sheltered part of Current City which allowed for a more relaxed approach. Following Castle Rock was a very tall order but this stunning wall delivered at every turn. The reef top between the surface and 15 metres is like staring down a kaleidoscope. Orange and purple anthias form an ever moving frame to the reef where hard corals in reds, oranges, blues, greens and yellows make the diver groan with delight. The wide angle photographic opportunities are immeasurable and even away from the reef wall into the blue the Bannerfish and Pyramid Butterfly fish are just as distracting. We couldn’t wait to get back here again!

We took one morning out of our dive schedule to ‘Walk with the Dragons’ on Rinca Island. Being ashore on the dusty orange islands with their green trees, vast meadows and gentle hills reminded me a little bit of Jurassic Park, only the lizards were a bit smaller! We witnessed a number of Komodo Dragons during the morning, either basking in the sun, flicking their slender pink tongues in and out, or fighting with one another as they emitted great hisses and snorts (but no balls of fire sadly). The sight of seeing one of these beasts lumbering down the path towards you is a life affirming occasion, but fortunately our guides carried some very big sticks! After our short land visit we sailed off to Rinca Bay where things were about to get a lot different!

Horseshoe Bay traps a body of water into a very small area as Rinca Island and a smaller land mass off its southern tip form a horseshoe shaped stretch of sea. As such the water can be much greener than in the rest of Komodo and the visibility not quite as good, but the dive sites here are truly spectacular. The water is a cool 21-22° C but there is so much to see and explore that once you are lost in the walls the water temperature takes a back seat. Cannibal Rock is a wall filled with macro delights and a seriously diverse selection of soft and hard corals. Nudibranchs are parked on every corner of the wall and a huge swathe of the reef is replete with anemones of varying colours, all home of course to a multitude of different anemonefish. A second dive here yielded several Orange Frogfish as well as two Bamboo Sharks, though they didn’t want to be found as only their tails were noticed trailing out from under a rock. Perhaps one of Komodo’s most famous sites is Yellow Wall, which as it sounds is a plunging wall festooned with yellow soft corals which is quite a spectacle. It is worth going slowly to see what lurks amongst the crevices.

Once back into the warmer waters off the southern tip of Komodo Island, we were on a hunt for Manta Rays. A few had been sighted on dives up to now but the next two days we would dedicate our dives to some even better encounters. Our first stop was Manta Alley, so named due to the high success rate for spotting Mantas at this feeding station. The dive site is a series of pinnacles and inlets, constantly washed by surge and swell that brings in nutrient rich waters for the Manta Rays to feed on. This is not a straightforward dive as you are continually pushed forwards and backwards in the swell and often end up neatly ‘cuddled up’ against an unsuspecting member of your group, or indeed the side of the pinnacle! Perhaps one of the best all round sites and a place where we saw several Manta Rays was German Flag in Hingst Bay. The site is so called because you jump in directly under a cliff face that through some geological quirk of fate has formed a perfect German flag with three stripes layered into the rock of black, red and yellow (or ‘gold’ if there are Germans present, of which there were several on this trip!) This is an exquisite drift dive across shallow reefs and at any moment you can expect one or more Manta Rays to swoop down. Keep looking around the whole time or like me you will miss one ‘flying’ up behind you at which point you only see the back of it as it sails off into the blue.

During a transition day we had several hours to spare one afternoon before a dusk dive. Never one to sit still for long, my trusty companion and I persuaded the crew to take us Extreme Dinghy Kayaking! The theory is simple; tie a one person kayak to the back of the dinghy, sit two people in it and see how fast the dinghy driver dares to go! The result – a fabulously exhilarating and thrilling wet and wild ride! Extreme Dinghy Kayaking works best when your partner is as adventurous as you are and twists and rocks the kayak as the dinghy driver makes ever faster and tighter turns! It is a test of core stability and recognising when to hold each other in the kayak! Be prepared for the kayak to flip – this is all just part of the fun!

When you dive a site three times in a row, you know it must be a mind-blower! Shotgun! entertained us as a dusk dive, a morning dive and an afternoon dive and each time the current was a little different. The topography of the site is what helps make it so compelling as one drifts over sleeping sharks, across ‘plains’ of corals and into a large ‘bowl’ or ‘amphitheatre’ where when you hit the ‘sweet spot’ the current will scoop you up and spit you out over the lip of the reef and out on to the wall for a pleasant and relaxed end to the dive amongst the smaller schooling reef fish.

There was one more highlight left on this trip and that was a dive at Crystal Rock (which we re-named One Fin Rock after an unsuspecting member of our group lost a fin here!). It was another dive that had it all, where I began stealthily following a number of White-tip Reef Sharks to try to get a decent shot before we edged out on to the reef wall and gradually made our way up to the shallow reef top. The schooling fish were out in great numbers and a Manta Ray flashed past us in the blue but it was the end of the dive where I sucked my cylinder down to 20 bar! The wide angle reef scenes are breathtaking here, especially when the sun light is overhead. I was delighted to spend a good twenty minutes rattling off hundreds of hard coral bommie shots and very grateful to my ever patient and cooperative model!

What struck me about diving in Komodo was the combination of different types of dive sites, biodiversity and stunning variation which is second to none. There is something for everyone on this itinerary and photographers will delight in the plethora of subjects. On some dives you’ll need both your wide angle and macro lenses!

Rachel sailed on Indo Siren’s 10 nights Komodo itinerary. She stayed in Bali before and after the cruise, diving Nusa Penida and Tulamben – a truly spectacular combination. Talk to us about the possibilities.

Ornate Ghostpipefish (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Reef hooks are vital in 'Current City' (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Pink Anemonefish (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Batu Bolong is easily one of the world's top dive sites (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Crystal Rock offers great wide angle opportunities (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Orange Frogfish (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Mantas gilde by at German Flag (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Komodo is know for its very fishy sites! (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Hard coral scene (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Exploring the wall at Batu Bolong (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Banded Seasnake (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

More joy at Batu Bolong! (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Green Turtle (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Here be Dragons! (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

A walk with the Dragons is a fine experience (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Testament to the chef's delicious creations! (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Extreme dinghy kayaking (Penny Hunking)

Indo Siren (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

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