In all honesty, we were very lukewarm about taking the 4day/3night boat trip from Lombok to Flores. We’d read the nightmarish reports of boats sinking in rough seas, cramped onboard conditions and not enough food to go around.
The experience seemed like it might turn into an episode of Survivor. As we proceeded with the booking, our minds swam with doubt wondering was it really going to be worth it?
The voyage turned out to be an enormous success, one of the highlights of the two months we traveled in Indonesia. Calm seas and hot, sultry weather made for excellent boating weather. We snorkeled the colorful reefs of Komodo National Park and swam among turtles and manta rays. Best of all, we went all Animal Planet getting up close and personal with the lethal Komodo Dragons!
We’re always reluctant when it comes to joining organized tours, and if you’ve followed our blog, you’ll know we are huge fans of DIY travel. In this case, there’s no way around it.
We kept our expectations low, hoping mostly things would go smooth and safe and that we wouldn’t starve. And if the conditions were perfect, we’d enjoy some spectacular landscapes above and below the water along with some interesting critters.
Here’s how it all turned out…..
This is the least interesting day of all. The meeting point for the trip is Bangsal, Lombok. Wanua Adventures has an office inside Pandu Restaurant in Bangsal, where we paid the remainder of our fees before hopping into a minibus for the three and a half hour drive to Kyangan Harbor….no stops for lunch or restrooms.
By 3:00 pm we reached Kyangan and boarded our boat, Hasmajaya Komodo, a wooden monster that would be our home for the next four days. We selected our ‘bunks’ in the upper deck quarters, basically twenty-five mats spread out on the floor. We chose spots close to the entrance for quick and easy access.
Shortly after, we began our adventure on the open sea. Days spent swimming in turquoise water and soaking up the sun on the bleached white decks. Nights spent gazing at the stars playing never-ending card games with newly made friends.
As darkness settled in, the sea was filled with the glowing eyes of squid or fishes and the wake of the boat brightly glittered with what we presumed was bioluminescence. Dinner came late and it was a pleasing revelation of things to come…white rice, cooked vegetables, fish curry and papaya wedges. This staple was the typical fare we would dine on over the next few nights.
We rise early to an outstanding pink marshmallow sunrise. It is something special to be in the vast sea staring at the first light of the day. Staring at the rising orb, the ship’s bow has transformed into a meditative temple.
The morning program is Moya Island for a short waterfall trek. Many of us choose to swim from the boat and once in the water we are annoyingly stung by tiny, transluscent jellyfish, albeit harmlessly.
The 20-minute trek climbs up the cascading waterfall to a series of deep pools suitable for a quick plunge. Although the waterfall and the pools are small, everyone had a splash.
Back at the beach, we are given an hour to snorkel around before heading back to the Hasmajaya and the comfort of the ice cold Bintangs stocked in the cooler.
The Hasmajaya’s course passes rocky cliffs and black sand beaches making one stop for swimming before sunset. There is nothing much to see underwater here except a garden of small eels rising like seagrass from the sandy seafloor.
We dine under the Milky Way sharing stories with new friends. Afterwards we play cards as the boat cruises through the Flores Sea.
The morning starts off with a ridiculously sublime sunrise…again. The orb pops up out of the sea like a flaming butterscotch candy and it’s exactly like watching a sunset in reverse. The hard nights of partying mean most everyone is fast asleep and during these mesmerizing dawns, we are practically on our own private boat.
We arrive at Gili Laba, and like many of the islands in the Komodo archipelago, it is a barren, shadeless, conical hunk of rock surrounded by a fringing coral reef and crescent shaped bays. Our goal is to climb to the many lookout points and soak in the outstanding turquoise seascapes.
We take full advantage of our allotted time and hike the full loop to four viewpoints. We’ve brought 2 liters of water and that’s not really enough for this steep and heavily exposed terrain. But our visions were filled with most amazing views. The colors of the sea are a mixture of sapphire, turquoise, aquamarine….50 shades of blue.
With borderline heatstroke, we’re back on the boat. Our next destination is Pink Beach, one of several in the Komodo National Park. The sand is not the vibrant pink you might imagine, but a fine white powder covered with flecks of a red coral giving off a pink tinge.
The snorkeling here is excellent. We are all so fried from hiking earlier, the majority of the afternoon is spent hiding in the shade or under the water snorkeling . We have a couple hours here to relax but the time just went by too fast. Back on the Hasmajaya, we move on to our nighttime mooring just off Komodo Island.
Tonight is the ‘big’ party since it is our last night, but really everyone has been going hard since day 1. The galley is strung with lights and an impromptu disco comes alive. A small motorboat ferries between all the backpacker cruise ships selling cold Bintangs. It’s hard to imagine that after so much isolation we now have cold beers being delivered.
Today is the big day and we have treks planned for Komodo and Rinca Islands followed by a snorkel at Manta Point. The sea is like a sheet of lavender glass as we rise early for the crispy sunrise…..again!
We all inhale banana pancakes then jump onto the pier at Komodo Island. This is what we’ve been waiting for…Komodo dragons and manta rays. Our large group stays together and we are accompanied by a handful of ‘guides’ armed with long forked sticks to fend off any unwanted attention we may receive from the prehistoric dragons.
The Komodo dragons are both hideous and beautiful creatures. The males reach 200 kilos and can eat eighty percent of their body weight in one sitting. When they feel like it, they can move at speeds of 20 km/hour (that’s 12 mph) and can snap bones with their strong jaws. Attacks on humans, though rare do happen. The last attack was only three months ago on a poor tourist wandering off all by his lonesome!
In all, we see more than 12 dragons during the 90-minute trek. Three are chilling in the wild, the majority are lounging around the park rangers’ huts. Either they smell the food, or smell the rangers. We expected this would be the case, though many of our shipmates were shocked to see these giants congregating here and speculations about them being fed were high.
The dragons are super lazy, for better or worse, and most are too sedate to even move. There’s one exception, a small juvenile was strutting about unpredictably. This one is the wild card and the ranger explains we have to watch out.
Rinca Island is much the same. We see fewer dragons overall and only two during the 90-minute trek in the bush. Most dragons are sleeping in the shade of the ranger station huts.
Newly hatched dragons head to the trees spending the first 3 years of their lives in the canopy hiding from their cannibalistic parents.
Following both treks, we are hot, sweaty, and dirty. We stop at a shallow reef along Rinca Island for a swim. There we spot our first sea turtle as we snorkel among a colorful coral garden.
The final destination is Manta Point and we arrive to a cluster of boats all looking for the same thing, elusive mantas. It seems we are all chasing the giants, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Deep inside we feel conflicted to be bothering these massive and elegant creatures. To put it into perspective (and reconcile our conflicted ethos), mantas are protected from fishing in Komodo National Park. Elsewhere in Indonesia mantas are caught for their prized gills which are dried and sold in Chinese markets around the world.
Only when communities and government realize there’s more money to be made in the long term selling snorkeling tours than allowing unregulated fishing of these magnificent creatures in the short term, then and only then, there will exist a balance between the manta populations and humans.
The water at Manta Point is 8-16 meters (roughly 25-50 feet) deep and getting close to the mantas is pretty tough without swim fins. We are pleased to see several of these gigantic critters and our mission here has been a success.
The tour delivered everything we wanted: surreal ocean and island views, Komodo Dragons, manta rays, sea turtles, and the vibrant underwater universe in Komodo National Park. The boat was comfortable, the bathrooms clean (there were three toilets), and the food was palatable and plentiful.
The crew of the Hasmajaya Komodo were very hands off and left it up to one person, our guide Diat, to keep us informed. The others kept up on their duties of managing the boat, cooking and keeping the decks cleaned. Overall, our worries and anxieties about worst case scenarios never materialized, and Wanua Adventures gets our nod of approval.
Thirty or so complete strangers living in close quarters makes for some interesting dynamics, but that’s the beauty of diversity. We learn, accept and appreciate the different backgrounds.
The cost for the boat trip varied considerably among passengers. We paid 1.5 million rupiah (~$112 USD) each. We made our reservations with the Wanua Adventures website, which we later learned is run by a travel agent. Our price did not include entrance to Komodo National Park and we paid an additional 240K rupiah ($18 USD) each when we reached park headquarters. The admission tickets were good for Rinca Island as well.
Most of our shipmates paid 1.8 million rupiah ($135 USD) including national park entry fees. Others paid even more, depending on what agent they purchased the tour from.
So was it worth it? Hell yes it is!
To watch our video of this epic boat trip, click here.