Komodo National Park consists of the three main islands of Komodo, Rinca, and Padar Islands and numerous smaller islands. The highlight of the Park is the Komodo dragons – the largest lizard species in the world. A full grown dragon weights up to 70Kg and can be more 2-3m long. The dragon is endemic in Komodo National Park which means that it cannot be found in other parts of the world. Komodo and Rinca islands are the best sites within the Park to see the dragons. We signed up for a private tour which combined a visit to Rinca Island with snorkeling in Kelor Island and flying fox (bats) watching in Kalong Island. The tour agency picked us up from the hotel to the boat pier around 8am. The boat was a wooden boat with passenger seats in the front and a toilet at the back. The boat crew consisted of our tour guide Nei Gui, the boat captain and his helper. To our astonishment, there was no life jacket provided even though Nei Gui told us earlier that life jacket would be provided. Nei Gui apologized to us for the overlook and tried to assure us that the boat ride would be safe even without the life jacket. We refused to set sail without the life jackets as we had heard of many tragedy boat incidents around the Komodo region. The boat captain rode the boat to a quiet corner of the pier and jumped aboard a group of anchored boats. He disappeared for about 20 minutes and then came back with some life jackets. Apparently he had “borrowed” the life jackets from some other boats. About 30 minutes into the journey, we saw something jumped out of the water – it was a school of 2-3 dolphins. We were exhilarated as the dolphins were very near us and we didn’t expect the dolphins to appear so close to the mainland. Kelor Island about 1.5 hrs boat ride from Labuan Bajo is a very small uninhabited island with a hill that overlooks the surrounding vista. There is a small trail that leads to the top of the hill but we didn’t go for it.
The waters around Kelor Island were very clear, shallow and teaming with fishes and life corals. We had to constantly keep ourselves afloat so as not to step on the corals. The moment i stepped onto the coral, i had a slight feeling of guilt and felt instantly that there was no such thing as ecotourism – once you enter the ecosystem, you will bound to destroy a part of it no matter how careful you are. We saw many colourful reef creatures including nemo fish, nudibranch, urchin and starfishes. Interestingly, the shallow water gave way to a deep trench about 20 m from shore.
There were 4 different permit/entrance fee which we had to pay in order to see the dragons in Rinca; entrance fee (150 IDR), trekking permit (5 IDR), wildlife observation permit 10 IDR) and trail permit (80 IDR). It was quite an amusing fee system. Perhaps they should simplify things by combining them into 1 or 2 fees. There are three hiking routes in the park; short (45 min), medium (1.5 hrs) and long (3 hrs). We signed up for the medium hike hoping that we could see more wildlife if we hiked longer. It turned out to be a wrong decision. The weather was very dry and scorching hot and there was no shelter along the way. Along the trail, we didn’t see many animals except for 2-3 dragons, a deer and some animal skulls. We saw a group of lethargic dragons lazing underneath the huts around the national park office. They didn’t look as menacing as i though probably because they were less active at noon.
Next, we sailed towards Kalong Island to see the flying foxes. But it was too early so we dropped the anchor and waited for the sun to set and the bats to appear. Slightly after 7 pm, we saw some bird-liked creatures flying out of the mangrove swamp. There were more and more of these creatures till the sky was filled by tens of thousands of them. From a distance, they looked more like birds than bats. When they flew overhead us, we could see the shape of the skeletons in their spread wings. Interestingly there was barely any screeching sound even though there were thousands of them. They were flying towards the Labuan Bajo (16km away) to look for food. Imagine if you have to travel so far to look for food everyday:) It was really an amazing sight if you don’t mind the possibility of guano dropping from the sky.