As I said in the last blog on the 16th of April I flew from Lombok to Labuan Bajo, which is on the island of Flores and the base camp for exploring Komodo National Park. I was a little apprehensive about my flight as when I booked with Wings Air I was only allowed 6 kg of carry-on luggage and was unable to add a checked bag. Obviously, this was a problem as although I’d say I have been travelling fairly light, I still had about 12 kg of checked luggage plus my rucksack. I was, therefore, stressed it was going to cost me a fortune or I wouldn’t be able to fly. Thankfully Fred and Connor kindly offered to hold onto some of my stuff for a week while I flew out to Flores, then give it back to me when I met them in Bali. When I arrived at the check-in desk I was told it shall cost me 25,000 IDR per kilo (just over £1) I had 8 kg of checked luggage after stuffing as much as I could in my rucksack meaning I only had to pay an extra £10. This was a big relief for me as I thought I would be paying much more. Obviously, I shall have to pay the same on the way back making the total cost for my return flight around £120, not too cheap, but also not too bad either. After checking in and everything I boarded the plane which was a very small twin propeller plane. The only time I’ve ever flown in a plane such as this is when I jumped out of it. Luckily there was no such need on this occasion and the short plane ride took just over an hour. I’m grateful it was so short as it is possibly the hottest plane I have ever been on. The poor air hostess was sweating buckets doing the safety demonstration as was the rest of the plane (which was practically empty). On arrival in Labuan Bajo, I was picked up by a taxi sent from the dive shop I would be using, who took me immediately to the diving centre to fill in forms and try on gear. This is because on the 18th I would spend 3 days on a liveaboard dive boat, scuba diving and exploring Komodo national park. More on this later though. After visiting the dive shop I then checked into my hotel and had a quiet evening. I did catch the sunset and enjoy Taco Tuesday with a cocktail in a nearby restaurant called Le Pirate Restaurant & Deck which has a great rooftop bar.
As my 3-day diving boat tour didn’t start until the 18th I spent the 17th exploring the area around Labuan Bajo. I hired a scooter and first visited the nearby Batu Cermin which was a cave. Supposedly it used to be underwater millions of years ago and there was fossilised coral plus a turtle, which was cool, but overall the cave wasn’t that special. Plus, I was worried about getting bitten by mosquitos or bats. After the cave, I then just decided to explore on the motorbike. I rode out toward the very tip of Labuan Bajo which offered some stunning views before making my way to a fancy restaurant within the Plataran Komodo Beach Resort. The resort looked amazing but far too pricey for me, thankfully the restaurant prices were more accommodating, and I had a quick bite to eat. After this, I planned to head back to the hostel but instead couldn’t resist the lure of a newly tarmacked road that led off into the distance. I spent the next 20-30 minutes racing around on the deserted road that followed the coastline enjoying the view and the wind in my hair (don’t worry mum I wore a helmet). Eventually, I made a turn for home and head back towards the hostel to escape the mid-day sun. That evening I would return to a viewpoint to catch the sunset, then had an early night in preparation to board my boat home the following morning.
The following day I made my way to the dive shop with all my stuff, here I met my dive guide for the next few days and the other people I would be living on the boat with, a lovely Indonesian family. We boarded the boat around 8 am and set sail shortly after. The boat was a reasonable size considering the number of people onboard, which was the Indonesian family of 3, two dive masters, 4 crew members including the captain and chef plus me. I shared a room with the male of the Indonesian family which was a cosy but done the job for two nights. On the remaining bottom deck, there was another bedroom, toilets, kitchen in the back and in the front the diving part where all the dive equipment was kept. On the top deck, there was a table in the back where all our meals would be served and, in the front, a nice chill out zone with bean bags where I spent most of my time while onboard. After a few hours travelling to the northern part of Komodo national park, we arrived at our first dive site which was in a lovely little bay overlooking a stunning, empty, white sandy beach.
The water was also crystal clear. The dive started a little badly as I had a problem with equalising my ears but once I’d sorted this it went by with no further incidents. There wasn’t too much to see under the water as this was supposed to be an easier dive, so the guide could see our level as the currents in Komodo are notorious for being very strong. The dive was still lovely however and it was great to be back under the water after around a month off. After the first dive, we made our way to the second dive site called Crystal Rock. Here the current was much stronger, and the dive guide made the decision to stay within the protected side of the rock where it was less powerful. The dive was really really nice, stunning coral and some really big fish (I need to work on my fish ID skills as currently the majority of what I see I’m like “ah cool fish, no idea what you are though”). So, I’m afraid unless its something well known I have no idea, you’ll, therefore, have to live with less detailed descriptions for the time being.
After the second dive which was a lot better than the first and no ear problems, we travelled to our 3-dive site of the day. Where we would also spend the night. While travelling to the dive site I saw turtles and a pod of dolphins just from sitting on the top deck. The national park really is stunning and exploring by sea through this small archipelago of islands was breath-taking, especially relaxing in the comfort of the bean bag and getting severed breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and refreshments by the boat chef who was a wizard in his little kitchen cooking up some amazing delights during the trip. On the final dive, we saw lots of turtles, so many that that would often surprise me as I looked down and was floating above yet another one.
They were also the biggest I’ve ever seen, but that was a reoccurring theme diving here all the aquatic life seemed to be on steroids and was huge compared to places I’d previously dived. We also saw some cool shoals of fish plus a swimming lionfish which I’ve only ever seen static. Additionally, I felt the true power of the ocean as we were swept up and over the reef on a massive surging current that was impossible to fight. Diving here is certainly not for beginners, although I’m aware I’m far from being experienced! After an amazing day, I watched the most insane sunset I’ve ever witnessed before the full moon appeared like a disco ball lighting up the night sky (this did block out the stars though which I was a little gutted about). That evening I drifted off to sleep under the gentle rocking motion of the boat out in the ocean.
The next morning, we were up at 6 am and off to our next dive site Batu Balong. We were in the water by 7 am and the dive was actually out of this world. The dive site was phenomenal, it felt like I was swimming in an aquarium. The sheer number of fish was insane, the coral was stunning, we saw reef tip sharks, giant trevally, napoleon and some other monster fish which I can’t name. There was also all the smaller fish like clown and surgeonfish (Nemo and Dory). It truly was an incredible dive with so much life swimming around you (certainly my favourite dive of the trip). After Batu Balong we then made our way to Manta point in search of Manta rays. As we arrived I could already see the mantas schooling together in the sea. We headed down to get up close and personal with these beautiful giant creatures. The Mantas were so majestic and absolutely massive. Once again, the current was very strong, but also the reason why the mantas are drawn here as the current brings plankton which they eat while floating effortlessly in the ocean current. We also got a brief glimpse at a marble ray which was also very cool. After exploring manta point and surfacing about 300m from the boat due to the current, which is a humbling experience in itself just floating aimlessly in the middle of the sea, we headed to our 3rd dive site of the day.
Just after lunch, we arrived at a beautiful island sticking out of the waves, which once again possessed empty white sandy beaches. Here we would again see manta rays, probably the biggest of the lot, maybe 7m from wing tip to tip as well as other stunning marine life. The highlight was certainly when one of the mantas swam up from the depths and breached the surface of the water before crashing back into the sea (I even captured this on video, check my Instagram).
This concluded the diving aspect of the liveaboard, in the afternoon we made our way to Komodo island itself in search of Komodo dragons for which the region is famous for. I must admit I was a little underwhelmed by this part. We hired a guide and trekked (if you can call it that) for around 30 minutes in search of the dragoons. We did come across 3 right near the start but I’m certain these are always here and probably fed to keep visitors happy. Other than this we saw nothing during our shortest of stays on the island. I would have loved to explore a little more and seen some more “wild” dragoons but I’ll get over it.
Next, we then headed to Pink Beach which is still part of the main Komodo island, where tinny flecks of what I presumed was coral made the sand have an ever so slight pink tinge. There was also a little hill to the side of the beach which offered a lovely view of the bay. After snorkelling and stopping on Pink Beach we headed back to the boat to eat dinner and made our way to Padar Island.
Here we spent the night in Padar Bay, before waking up at 5 am to tackle the short hike up to the viewpoint on the island in time for sunrise. The views from Padar were utterly stunning first with a lovely sunrise followed by the views of the sun-kissed island itself. Probably took my best ever photo here. Even though it was a nightmare to avoid pictures with people in, managed it just about though! The view of Padar offers you the chance to see, black, white and pink beaches all in one photo (although the pink is very hard to see unless I imagine you are up close, probably little pink flecks like that seen on pink beach Komodo island). Having explored Padar and enjoyed the stunning views it was back to the boat for breakfast and the journey back to Labuan Bajo where we had departed. The journey back took several hours, and we arrived back to port just after midday on the 20th of April. I had a wonderful time living on the boat for 2 and a half days. The crew were so friendly and helpful, the diving fantastic and the scenery stunning. I also didn’t get any phone signal the whole time and it was great to switch off from the outside world and just live in the moment enjoying myself. I really would like to do this more often as we are all far too connected to our phones in this day and age (me included). It was a truly great way to cap off this unbelievable 6-month trip of South East Asia.
I wasn’t done diving yet though haha. I had been expecting to do 8 dives on the boat trip and only got 6 (the only slight downside to the trip). I made this known to the dive shop Paradise Divers Komodo (who I highly recommend) and after some back and forth agreed a reasonable deal that I could go on another day diving trip at a reduced cost. This pleased me as I got to do more diving! Therefore, on the 21st I set off again for another 3 dives. I won’t go into too much detail as everyone is most likely sick of me talking about diving but once again it was incredible diving and I’m so glad I went out again. This time we hit a few of the more challenging dive site. Crystal Rock again but hitting the unprotected side where the big stuff comes out to play like grey and white tip reef sharks, plus a massive tuna as well. The second dive we headed to the infamously named “Cauldron” which is a channel between two islands where the current usually surges with great power. We arrived at slack tide though so were able to explore the beautiful cauldron reef which was stunning and full of life without being swept off in the usual drift dive fashion. Once again saw some monster fish and a cool octopus. Finally, we headed back to Manta point were the manta rays were even better than the last time, there were so many and some even flying pretty much directly over my head. We also saw a massive lobster chilling in a little cave which was bloody huge! Diving in Flores certainly lived up to all the hype that everyone had said about this place and I’m so glad I came out here to dive. Bringing my total dive count to 33 dives now and 24 hours under the water. Not bad considering my first dive was February 14!
That now really does conclude my time in South East Asia! What can I say it has been the most ridiculously insane 6 months of my life. I now fly to Cairns at 1 am on the 24th to start my year working holiday visa of Australia. So, the adventures are far from over. Stay tuned for a concluding blog on my whole time in Asia, before starting to detail my time in Aus. I’m also working on some travel tip blogs to help people looking to travel themselves and a big video edit of the Asia trip which I’m excited to get stuck into. I hope it’s as well received as my European adventure video. Best get to work!