When people ask about our favorite trips we always mention, without hesitation, Komodo National Park. Sure, the park is beautiful and possesses some of the coolest lizards on the planet, but there is something consistent about Komodo; it is always epic! Our recent trip was just that. Epic.
Snorkelers in Komodo
The islands in Komodo are quite unique among almost any that range along the equatorial region in that they are almost devoid of lush tropical jungle. The islands not only reside in a quasi- ‘rain shadow’ (larger and taller peaks on Flores and Sumbawa capture a lot of moisture before it reaches the islands in Komodo National Park), but they also receive heated air from the Australian deserts transported via the trade winds. While Komodo does have a rainy season, the islands tend to have flora that resembles savannahs rather than jungles. Underwater, however, the story is much different. Ultra-lush coral reefs harboring some of the highest levels of marine biodiversity on the planet can be found just about anywhere in the park.
Juvenile Rockmover Wrasse
We began our tour along the eastern edge of the park, visiting several islands that showcase just how amazing the reefs are in this part of the world. On our first snorkel we swam with thousands of tropical fishes as they hovered above the reef to capture plankton as it floated by in the gentle currents, as well as some larger reef inhabitants including turtles and a large bamboo shark. Several snorkelers spent good time with a fairly cooperative juvenile rock-mover wrasse and were treated to a rare sight: foraging behavior and the successful capture of a crab!
Moving into the park, we had great conditions at our favorite places to snorkel, including a nearly perfect snorkel where we had close to 100ft visibility, a slow-moving current that allowed us to stay in the area but brought out all of the planktivorous fish, and plenty of sunshine to light up the reef! Not only is this sight one of my top destinations in the world, it was one of the top snorkeling sessions I’ve had on that reef!
With a few days of fantastic snorkeling under our belts, we traded our fins for shoes and spent the morning visiting Komodo National Park on Rinca Island. Much like our snorkels, the park offered us the chance to see adults displaying some aggressive behavior towards each other as opposed to our usual encounters where they are lounging around the ranger station. The group also had rare sighting of a juvenile resting on a tree limb, where it remains protected from adults until it grows large enough to defend itself. That evening we did our first of two night snorkels and saw lots of nudibranchs, a couple of octopuses, flatworms, and a long encounter with a coral cat shark that remained exposed on the reef for several minutes before continuing with its hunt for food under the cover of darkness.
Aerial view of Horseshoe Bay
The next day we embarked for Horseshoe Bay at the southern end of Rinca Island. With cooler water temps, we still managed to log a lot of time in the water and saw a huge variety of nudibranchs, fishes, and rare invertebrates like a blue-ringed octopus and basket stars. We also had the chance to visit the beach for some more encounters with awesome Komodo dragons. The next day we moved back towards the north end of the park and visited one of our sites that allows us the chance to ride swift currents in search of large reef fish, and then ‘eddy out’ onto a health reef flat where more gentle currents guided us around the island. Towards the end of our snorkel session, we had a manta hang out with us in the same currents that we enjoyed.
Clown nudibranch laying eggs
The next day we began our cruise westward towards Bali, but still had plenty of snorkeling days ahead of us. Gili Darat and Gili Laut, both on the northeastern tip of Komodo Island, offered us more mantas, another great night snorkel that included egg-laying and mating nudibranchs, and healthy reefs with a such a huge diversity of fishes that we felt like we were in an aquarium!
Our last full day of snorkeling was at Sangeang volcano and like many times before, it delivered on the rare critters! Ornate ghost pipefish, frogfish, nudibranchs, leaffish, and garden eels were some of the crowd-pleasers, with mantis shrimp, cuttlefish, and unusual reef fishes adding to the excitement. For an area that has little in terms of coral reef, this spot was easily one of the highlights of the trip!
On our last day, we decided to try something different. Rather than visit our usual reef, we opted for the chance to snorkel around floating fish platforms called bagans. While there was no reef, no bottom for that matter, it did offer us the chance to see one of the more incredible fish species on the planet: Whale sharks! And we had many to choose from. At our designated bagan, we had two that remained with us then entire time. There were four others nearby, one of them easily 25ft long! Our gamble paid off and we ended our snorkeling adventure on an incredible high note!
Ornate Ghost Pipefish
We love Komodo National Park and it is and always will be a stable part of our portfolio of snorkeling adventures. Our next departure is in September 2020 aboard the Gaia Love and we very much look forward to re-visiting some of our favorite snorkeling sites in the world!