Komodo National Park: Into The Heart of The Dragons

Komodos, the real life dragons, are a sight indeed. The gigantic, lizard-like creatures are about two or three metres in length. They can easily weigh about 165 kilograms. Despite their sheer size and appearance, they are not active hunters. What makes them intimidating is that they are a patient predator. In the wild they stalk a victim, usually a weak or injured one. One bite is usually all it takes. After following the victim for a while, sometimes for up to several days, the Komodos will devour the dying prey.

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The Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is an endangered species which can only be found in Komodo National Park (KNP) in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). Because of the unique and rare nature of this animal, KNP was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.

The park covers the three major islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar, plus numerous smaller islands together totaling 603 km2 of land. The total size of Komodo National Park is presently 1,817 km2. Proposed extensions would bring the total surface area up to 2,321 km2. At least 2,500 Komodo dragons live in this area. Large dragons are usually three metres long and weigh up to 90kg. Their habitats have beautiful panoramic views of savannahs, rainforests, white beaches, beautiful corals, and clear blue seas. In this area, visitors will also find horses, wild buffalo, deer, wild boar, snakes, monkeys and various types of birds.

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KNP has a rich and amazing underwater sea world. Divers claim that Komodo is one of the best dive sites in the world. It has fascinating underwater scenery with 385 species of beautiful corals, mangrove forests and seaweeds that are home to thousands of fish species. In addition there are 70 types of sponges, 10 types of dolphin, 6 types of whale, green turtles and various sharks and stingrays.

Getting There
There are daily flights from: Bali - Labuan Bajo/Komodo Airport - Bali (each 1.5 hours)

Every day, there are two to three flights from Bali to Labuan Bajo by Transnusa, IAT (Indonesia Air Transport), and Merpati.  In addition, there is a twice weekly flight from Kupang.

Inter-island motorboats from Sape in West Nusa Tenggara are also available daily (weather permitting), and the Pelni ship from Bali and Lombok makes a stop there every two weeks.

Land transportation from the East (Flores mainland e.g. Ruteng, Bajawa, Ende and Maumere) is also available.  If you are planning a long trip in Flores, you can start from Maumere to the west i.e. to Moni, Kelimutu, Ende, Bena, Bajawa, Ruteng and lastly Labuan Bajo (Komodo) or vice versa.

To Do
You can see and do many things here. It is amazing to see Komodo dragons up close in their native habitat. On Rinca Island, you can see Komodos lying down outside the homes of national park rangers, or "parking" near the officials' homes. Previously, to find one, you had to “offer” a goat to attract the Komodo but this practice is no longer allowed.

If you don't see a dragon, Rinca and Komodo have beautiful sceneries with white beaches, mangroves, savannahs and blue waters. During the dry season, these savannahs and hills have dry grass.

You can also engage in other activities such as diving and snorkelling. You can take a cruise ship or fishermen's boat to enjoy these activities. Some highly-recommended diving spots include Merah Beach, Batu Bolong and Tatawa islands. If you want to see thousands of bats, you can stay overnight in a motorboat on Kalong Island waters (near Rinca Island).

To Stay
Similar to those available in Loh Liang (Komodo Island), Loh Buaya (Rinca Island) has simple guest houses offering a few rooms. A luxurious hotel with limited capacity is currently being built in Loh Liang. Most tourists visiting Rinca Island don't stay overnight (they come from Labuan Bajo and stay in the hotels in Labuan), while those coming to Komodo Island usually stay in their rented motorboats. Nearly all motorboats have cabins and bedrooms. Large motorboats usually have good bedrooms.

To Eat
In Loh Liang, the KNP management (PT Putri Naga Komodo) owns a restaurant. No restaurant is available in Rinca Island, though. There is only one kiosk selling drinks and snacks. If you stay in a guest house, you will have food available during your stay. If you take a rented motorboat, your rental usually includes meals (this needs to be confirmed when negotiating the rental price).

Tips:

  • Don't walk alone. It is best to walk around with a ranger or guide.
  • Don't disturb or feed Komodos. Despite slow and lazy movement, this animal can suddenly turn aggressive and move fast.
  • When trekking, please take a stick with you. Komodos are usually afraid when threatened with a stick.
  • Please wear shoes. Komodo, Rinca, and Padar islands have 12 types of snakes and three of them are poisonous. These are namely green snakes that live in trees and cobras and Russel’s viper that live in holes on the group or on the savannahs.
  • Women having their menstruation must report to a guide or ranger for special attention. Komodos have a very strong sense of smell and can turn aggressive when they smell blood.
  • Please take insect repellent. This area has many mosquitoes who'll be excited at the prospect of fresh blood.
  • Most lands on Komodo and Rinca islands are savannahs which are prone to fire during the dry season. Smoking and making fire is therefore prohibited.