Hours spent on airplanes make you wonder if you’re traveling to another galaxy rather than to Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, one of the world’s most precious biospheres. Even after arrival, a lingering “Are we there yet?” feeling remains — until you glimpse the prehistoric legends of this remote archipelago: the Komodo dragons.
“Even the hard-core divers repeatedly ask about the dragons,” says Michael Ishak, cruise director of the Komodo Dancer. “No matter what we show them on the dives, they look forward to seeing the Komodos.”
And there’s the rub. KNP, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers unparalleled diving, and yet the famous dragons garner most of the glory.
I confess that I too am under the dragon’s spell during the first five days on the Dancer. Dives in the warm waters of the Flores Sea feature stops at Sangeang Island’s Hot Rocks and Gili Lawa Laut’s Castle Rock. Diving at Hot Rocks is like splashing into a flute of champagne, as steady streams of bubbles emanate from subterranean steam vents all around us. The busy seamount at Castle Rock serves as a playground for bottlenose dolphins and dense schools of blue-stripe fusiliers and blackspot snappers. Yet I can’t scratch the dragon itch that keeps me looking to the south.
The second half of the trip is a chilly change of pace. The Antarctic-enriched waters of the Indian Ocean replace the balmy conditions in the park’s north. Though we have traveled only 30 miles south from Castle Rock, our 3 mm wetsuits are no match for water temps that have fallen by 10 degrees.
It is in Rinca Island’s Horseshoe Bay that we finally see the Komodos. But the much-anticipated dragon sightings are not the highlight of the trip after all — that distinction belongs to an amazing manta ray parade at Langkoi Island’s Manta Alley.
My group descends and slowly makes its way to the Alley. I spot a manta below me at around 65 feet, and realize that if I want an up-close view, I’ll have to use rocky handholds to make my way to the massive ray in the strong current.
My efforts are rewarded with a panoramic view of more than 20 mantas, also struggling to advance into the swift current. The graceful mantas seem to be otherworldly mimes, swimming in place, and slowly, but surely, they pass through the channel.
My long trip home provides time to ponder where to place Komodo among my favorite destinations — a spot in the top five, surely. The chance to see the dragons is a factor, but those impressive scaly marvels are the proverbial icing on the cake. It’s the diving in KNP that will prompt a return to the Komodo Dancer — even if the journey there is epic.