Komodo Islands

August 19, 2020

LocationLabuan Bajo, Komodo Islands – Indonesia

Photography Helen Janneson Bense

Where to stay – Labuan Bajo Sylvia Resort – Liveaboard @stravel.co – opt for an air conditioned private room. All your meals will be included and they were able to cater to my plant based diet, yet you might want to grab a few supplies and snacks from Labuan Bajo before you set sail. They have filtered water on board you can refill with your reusable bottle.

What to bringReusable water bottles, straws, food containers, food wraps, cutlery, wet/dry bag, backpack, snorkel gear (I’m a fan of Scubapro), bikinis and cover ups, modest clothing, underwater camera, hiking shoes, flip flops, reef safe sunscreen, noise canceling headphones (for the boat noise), sunhat, sea sickness medication, snacks

2020 has been a year! While there has been so much heartbreak, we’ve experienced a worldwide awakening. The emotional challenges have been a catalyst for some deep personal growth and healing. It’s really brought into focus what matters most. I’m filled with gratitude for my life, connecting with my family, and supporting our global community in need. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to slow down, create more intentionally and breathe for a while. It’s been a chance to exhale deeply. Time has also been a treasured gift to reflect upon some of my amazing experiences that I never fully integrated and shared. I love that by sharing my experiences here; I get to create a permanent space for them to live once again. After the year it’s been so far, it fills my heart with joy to relive this adventure from what feels like a lifetime ago. And yet this was just last year, and an almost completely different me.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a place so otherworldly like Komodo Islands. Accompanied by a wonderful group of bloggers, members of Indonesian tourism, experienced local boat crew, we set sail for 3 days to explore the islands. We set off from the main hub of Labuan Bajo, the westernmost tip of the Flores island. Our first stop was Kelor Island. I was first struck by the multiple shades of turquoise water and the breathtaking landscape. As I looked closer, I saw local children playing soccer with an old plastic water bottle. I soon realised that the rubbish that lined the shores at Labuan Bajo, was also making its way to this once pristine island paradise. We climbed the many steps to the top and were rewarded with grand views of the surrounding islands and ocean. It was an easy climb, however I would recommend good shoes and a beginner-moderate fitness level to get to the top and back down again.

From here we set sail to Kalong island to settle in for the night and watch the sunset while the bats took off into the night sky. It was such a sight to see! For over 15 minutes, hundreds upon hundreds of bats flew from the mangroves across the sunset sky, some with a wingspan of up to 1.5m!

I would love to say that first night was a good night’s sleep on the boat. Boat trips always take some adjustment for light sleepers; the motion, the generator sounds, the smell of fuel. We had a 4.30am wake up to hike to the top of Padar Island for sunrise. I was a little worse for wear to say the least, but I was up and excited for adventure. This hike was probably one of the more challenging I’ve done. It feels like a million steps to get to the top, though it’s roughly 700 steps. I would suggest a moderate fitness level for this one, good hiking shoes, sunscreen, setting off as early as you can, and taking lots of water because it gets very hot. It’s about a 2 hour boat trip from Labuan Bajo if you don’t want to go for sunrise or sleep overnight on a boat. For me, it really was worth every bit of muscle pain and bad nights sleep to watch that sunrise over the water and light everything up. As the sun rose, tears of joy ran down my cheeks. I watched the pastel colours changing with the light over the majestic island landscape. With black, white and pink sand beaches, Padar island is one for the adventure bucket list for sure.

Next we headed off to the very Instagrammable Pantai Merah, also known as Pink beach. Why is the sand pink? A microorganism, known as Foraminifera, produces the pinkish red colour pigment on nearby coral reefs. The broken coral then washes up onto the beach. The intensity of the pink colour varies due to the amount of coral found in the sand. The contrast of pink sand and vibrant turquoise water makes it feel otherworldly. It’s worth mentioning that even though you might not see Komodo dragons here, they are known to live on the island and they are also very good swimmers, going from one island to another within Komodo National Park. I didn’t realise this while I was having a relaxing float in the water by myself that Komodo dragons could be swimming by me!

The next part of our journey was to Komodo Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see the Komodo dragons up close and personal and meet the locals in Komodo Village. I was once again stunned by the amount of plastic rubbish along the shores. We met some local children from the village who were playing here with these mounds of plastic junk. I’ve included some pictures showing this because I feel it’s vital we realise that these beautiful places will only stay pristine if we keep them that way. The strong currents are constantly bringing more and more rubbish to the shores, killing marine life along the way. We must be mindful of plastic use and disposal during our visit to places where proper waste disposal systems are not in place. Your best option is to bring your own reusables and choose eco tours like @stravel.co. If you do use plastic, please collect all your rubbish and take it home with you to recycle properly. Placing it in a local bin means it will most likely end up in the ocean. Taking your plastic rubbish home may feel inconvenient, but please look at these pictures; the beauty and the pollution and think about the larger impact of leaving your rubbish behind.

Komodo island had a very eerie feel to it. I’m not sure if it was because I knew that deadly Komodo dragons were here in their natural habitat and I felt like the intruder. As I took part in the very touristy experience walking along with a guide, and stopping for a very staged photo op with a Komodo dragon, I started to feel uneasy about this entire experience. It didn’t sit right for me. I didn’t want to take a photo. I soon learnt Komodo dragon numbers are in the decline. The over polluting, the poaching, burning of their habitat, relocating, climate change (rising temperature impacts on the survival and sex of their offspring), and over tourism (feeding the dragons, affecting their mating habits) has endangered the species. Concerns have arisen that Komodo dragons could be extinct within 50-100 years. In 2019 the Indonesian government had called for a closure of the island for 1 year to help replenish numbers and then back flipped on that move. As much as I loved learning about Komodo dragons, I also feel like there are parts of this world that I’d rather not be able to see, knowing that my lack of presence will work towards protecting these species. My hope is that a sustainable eco-tourism approach will be maintained moving forward.

After this wild adventure with the dragons, we set sail for one of my favourite spots of this entire trip – Taka Makassar; a sandbank island amidst the archipelago. We settled in for a much-needed sleep after a huge day. After a much better sleep, I woke before sunrise to the calm and soothing sounds of the ocean. I watched the sunrise from the top of the boat with 360 degree ocean views. After breakfast we set off in a smaller boat to Taka Makassar for some snorkelling and swimming in crystalline blue waters. It’s a tiny sandbank that gets very busy, so it’s best to visit early in the morning. We experienced some of the cleanest waters I’ve seen. It reminded me of the Maldives. From here we took our small boat to Manta Point to snorkel with the Manta rays. I was amazed at how many there were as soon as I dove into the water. Snorkelling in and around this area was absolutely amazing, and in hindsight I’d probably spend a lot more time here next time I visit.

For the afternoon we visited Kanawa Island. Another fabulous snorkelling spot with crystal clear turquoise waters. We spent the afternoon hanging out on the beach, doing some painting and relaxing together. This was the last of our island stops before heading back to Labuan Bajo.

Labuan Bajo has such a rich cultural history. Make sure you head to the Melo village to experience the mesmerising Tetek Alu and Caci dance with the local tribe. These dances are an important part of their cultural identity and ceremonial life. The ocean vista from high in the mountains is breathtaking. Supporting locals is an important part of sustainable tourism. When we visit these places, we must show respect and consider the impact to the locals. A few ways to show your gratitude for being able to visit these beautiful places – buy your art and treasures directly from the locals, show respect for their customs and cultural protocols, and always take all your rubbish with you.

I’m grateful for having this space to share this beautiful adventure with you all. I hope you enjoy the pictures and this post. Feel free to ask any questions. I’d love to help you create your dream Komodo Island itinerary when it’s safe to travel again.

With love and gratitude, Helen xx

Copyright images and text Helen Janneson Bense 2020

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