N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
NORTH KOMODO - INDONESIA'S RICHEST REALM
By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
Komodo has been top of our must-dive list for many years. Well we finally got there, had a great time, but also discovered that we couldn’t cross it off the must-dive list as we barely scratched the surface of this very rich and extremely varied marine realm.
The Komodo National Park is found in Indonesia and covers an area of 1733sqkm. This immense area is dotted with countless islands, sea mounts and reefs with literally hundreds of brilliant dive sites to explore. You can dive parts of Komodo from shore based dive operations, but to really see the best this area has to offer you need to join a liveaboard. Numerous liveaboards ply these waters and depart from the town of Labuan Bajo, on the west tip of Flores.
Our liveaboard of choice was Blue Dragon, a 26m long traditional Phinisi styled boat that accommodates 14 divers in air-conditioned cabins. Blue Dragon offers six day trips to Komodo each week and has placed itself at the budget end of the market, but without compromising on safety, comfort and service. We found the crew, all local guys, very professional, the food excellent and most importantly the diving was simply superb.
Departing the harbour in the afternoon our first stop was only twenty minutes away for a checkout dive at Sture Rock. Checkout dive sites are sometimes on the average side, but this one was full of surprises. We explored a rocky wall covered in beautiful sponges, soft corals, gorgonians and sea whips. Nudibranchs were abundant, but we also found zeno crabs, mantis shrimps, porcelain crabs, jawfish, pipefish, lionfish and a great collection of reef fish. Our only complaint was the 10m visibility. We followed this up with a night dive on the same spot, which was equally impressive, before a two hour steam into the heart of the Komodo National Park.
The next morning we quickly got into the liveaboard routine of dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat and sleep. Diving in June we were exploring North Komodo, which is best dived in the months of May to December, while the very different South Komodo dive sites are visited in January to April. When packing for this trip we had included hoods and vests as we had heard so many reports of cold thermoclines from up-wellings at Komodo. However, the crew informed us that while up-wellings can occur anywhere they are more common in the south, and during our trip we enjoyed water temperatures between 27°C and 29°C and generally 30m visibility.
Our first true Komodo dive was at Castle Rock, a sea mount that rises from the depths to within 3m of the surface, and what an introduction! Descending on this large sea mount all we could see were fish; schools of trevally, surgeonfish, batfish and fusiliers, and swimming amongst them were white tip reef sharks, large GT's, mackerel and several huge Maori wrasse.
If that wasn’t enough Castle Rock is covered in lovely corals - giant barrel sponges, sea whips, soft corals, gorgonians and healthy hard corals; plus multitudes of reef fish, nudibranchs, moray eels, leaf scorpionfish and blue ribbon eels. This was one of those dive sites where you could point your camera in any direction and get great photos.
The next dive was just as good at Crystal Rock, another sea mount covered in life. At this site we also experienced the notorious Komodo currents, but our guide Syam had briefed us about these so we knew what to expect and limited our diving to one side of the rock. The highlights of this site were again the beautiful corals, gropers, sweetlips and white tip reef sharks.
The afternoon and morning dive the next day were drift dives between the islands at The Cauldron and Golden Passage. Both dives were brilliant with schools of reef and pelagic fish, turtles, garden eels, barracuda, GT's, humphead parrotfish and gropers.
Komodo is famous for manta rays with the main site to see these majestic rays in the north being Manta Point. We dived this site twice, but the conditions were just too good for mantas, too clear and too warm with no plankton in the water, with only one manta sighted by our group. This didn't really matter as it was still an interesting, if strange, dive site with undulating dunes of broken coral and little oasis’s of life in the hollows. We saw several hawksbill turtles, plus cuttlefish, nudibranchs, blue ribbon eels, stingrays and moray eels.
Our afternoon and night dive at Sebayur Reef were very nice with pretty coral gardens that were home to leaf scorpionfish, crocodilefish, gropers, turtles, garden eels, sweetlips and even a brown banded catshark. But our favourite dive site was Batu Belong, which we did twice on day four. This spectacular pinnacle of rock breaks the surface and plummets into deep water, and is always swept by strong currents. The corals at this site were beautiful and swarming with millions of fairy basslets and damsels. It was quite easy to avoid the currents, sticking to one side of the rock, but we still saw turtles, Maori wrasse, sweetlips, trevally, moray eels, leaf scorpionfish, anemonefish and a great assortment of nudibranchs. Batu Belong is the sort of dive site where you wished you had a rebreather and never had to surface!
Day five was our last diving day and a chance to do some muck diving at a site called Wae Nilu. Komodo has plenty of macro subjects but is not renowned as a muck diving destination, but we found Wae Nilu to be quite brilliant. The sloping sand and rubble bottom was full of surprises - cowfish, ghost pipefish, razorfish, nudibranchs, flatworms, zebra crabs, mantis shrimps, commensal shrimps, demon stingers, lionfish and a great variety of small reef fish. But the highlights were the frogfish and the numerous blue ribbon eels in blue and black colour phases.
With sixteen dives under our weight belts our North Komodo diving experience was over, but our adventure continued with a trek to see the legendary Komodo dragon. Blue Dragon tied up at a mooring at Rinca Island and we went ashore at the National Park office. Even walking to the office we saw monkeys, deer and one huge Komodo dragon. We signed up for a two kilometre trek with a group of guides hoping to see a few of the 2000 dragons that live on this island. We saw a number of bird species, but all the dragons we saw, seven in total, were lazing around the ranger’s camp, or more accurately at their kitchen!
We had a wonderful six days on Blue Dragon exploring North Komodo. The boat is basic, but quite comfortable, the crew were excellent, the food, all local cuisine, was tasty and filling and the diving was just sensational. Now we just have to cross off South Komodo from the must-dive list!
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