Indonesia - Last chance to see....
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Many, many years ago, in a very difficult phase of my life I was reading the book "Last chance to see" written by Douglas Adams.For those who know this book: Douglas Adam is travelling together with Marc Carwadine to see animals around the globe who are critically endangered. One of his destinations was the Komodo National Parc with the Komodo dragons. It was such a fascinating, funny and exotic story - I had the feeling that I must go there some day. I was so curious to see these animals that look like being from another time or another planet. They live very remote (well, at least when you come from Europe), it is not that easy to get there and it is a superexotic place. Well, nearly. Things have changed in recent years and going to the Komodo National Parc is not really off the beaten path nowadays. But still, we kept to our wish and were so very excited that finally we were on our way to the island of Flores.
From Bali there are daily flights to Labuanbajo, the getaway point to Komodo National Parc. It is an easy 1 hour flight. But what a flight it was. We had perfect weather, slightly windy but clear skies and lots of sunshine. So by flying over Lombok we could see Mount Rinjani in all its splendour. We flew over Sumbawa and many more small islands and vulcanos were just popping out of the sea in different sizes. We saw remote coastlines, amazing riffs and the deepest blue waters one can imagine. To make it a point: this flight showed us all the incredible nature beauty of Indonesia. It was stunning and left us speechless. I (Nina) do not like flying, but this flight could have gone forever.
We safely arrived in the new and small airport of Labuanbajo. It is supermodern, but only on first sight. There is no automatic baggage carousel, it is all handmade. But with few flights per day it was straight forward. Outside we were picked up by our guesthouse. Just before leaving for Flores we had seen a vlog of a german couple (greetings and thanks to Life to go). And they suggest to stay in the Sunset Hilltop Guesthouse in Labuanbajo. So we rearranged spontanously our accomodation, as it looked like an affordable and practical alternative. Good value accomodation is not common in this town where tourist development has been booming in recent years. It was a jackpot - the pickup at the airport was free (and also the drop as it is just a 2 minute drive - but no noise from the airport as it is behind a hill). The guesthouse is on a hill over a bay in a very quiet corner of the town but close enough with stunning views and very promising sunsets. It has a nice terrasse, friendly staff and all is well kept and clean. We got a big room with a great balcony overlooking the bay. Great! They also offer free shuttle in the evening to restaurants. The owners are somehow connected to the Mediterranean Restaurant which also has a choice of vegan dishes and you get a 10% discount there. A deal, as I said. We settled down, after having taken hundreds of pictures of the view.
Well, but we were here for a very good reason. So we rented a scooter to be able to drive the 10 min. to town whenever we wanted. First mission was to find a reliable tour operator for going to the Komodo National Parc and visit the dragons! 20.000 IDR for half a day was a more than fair deal for the scooter as well! We had asked at the guesthouse which tour operator is reliable as there are tons of varying in quality. So with the list in mind we drove downtown. Labuanbajo looks scenic from above, but when you drive to town it is a terrible mess. A dusty shabby town which caters mainly for tourists but somehow is still a fishing village. You realise immediately - there is nothing to see here. It is just a getaway point. So, we went into the first good looking office of a tour operator. Our aim was to go by slow boat. We were a bit shocked when we heard that the same day was the first day after 7 days of closure of the National Park due to rough weather and sea conditions. No boat had been allowed to leave the harbour. The same day, some speed boats could go out, but no slow boats. With a first idea of prices and this information we went to 2 other agencies which were a no go for us. Finally we went to Red Whale, one of the recommendations of our guesthouse. The owner, a russian diver living in Labuanbajo since some years, gave us very honest information and explained the situation to us. Furthermore, their trip brings you to much more places than average tours and if everything has to be cancelled we would get back all our money. It look
very professional and reliable and we decided to book a tour there by speeboat which offered us more security as the slow boat taking in consideration the windy weather. And we would be able to see more of the national park of course. So, happily we went for a search of a supermarket. We needed something for breakfast (it was not included in the guesthouse and we had a fridge!). Vegan milk options, granola and fruits - we found everything. Finally we ended the day with a delicious vegan meal at the Mediterranean restaurant. We were so curious what the following day would bring for us.
Shortly before 6 am we were picked up by Red Whale in our guesthouse. We met the rest of the group at the harbour. The weather was cloudy and very windy but we were allowed to go out of the harbour. Anyway, we were not allowed to go as far as Komodo Island and Taka Makassar (a sandbank where you are nearly guaranteed to see manta rays). Red Whale offered us our money back or suggested 2 other interesting spots to go instead, one of it being Rinca Island where also the dragons can be seen. For us, no problem. We wanted to see the dragons, if this was on Komodo or Rinca, we did not care. So here we went. It was a 1 hour boat trip to Padar Island first. It was very choppy boat ride but we did not get seasick. That day, we were the first on PAdar Island. Most tour operators go to Rinca first, that is why
Red Whale decided to do Padar first. Great! It was so nice to experience this stunningly beautiful island and the hike there with only our group of 11 people. This landscape is out of this world - surreal and so beautiful. Just for the views the whole trip to flores was worth it! After that we went to a nice snorkelling spot in a bay on the other side of Padar Island. Wow, the corals and fishes here are really something else! This is not just a nice riff as we have seen many in Thailand, Malaysia or Bali - this is serious snorkeling with such a variety of wildlife. Huge corals, huge fishes, schools of fishes. We could not stop smiling under water. Markus spotted a riff shark even! Further on we went to pink beach. I have seen vlogs about the pink beaches in this region all saying that it was not really pink. But to our surprise: this was super pink! The pink coulour comes from the coral in the water. It was soft pink sand, a long beach and all for ourselves. We made pictures, collected some rubbish and put it in plastic bags provided by the tour operator (the recent storm brought some rubbish on shore, but it was not too bad). We had some fruits to snack and we went snorkelling again. And, we saw a little turtle playing in the water! On board again we could admire the landscape why enjoying a fantastic vegan lunch! They cooked only vegan for us and, to be honest, it was one of the best vegan meals we had in Indonesia so far! Our next spot was a secret Manta Point - and indeed, we were again the only ones there. We all jumped into the water with our snorkelling
gear in the search of mantas. For nearly one hour we swam around in the deep blue ocean. We could only see deep blue water underneath us - but no mantas. Oh my god, we were so tired as the current was really strong and snorkelling was hard work. But it paid off! Suddenly, underneath us was a huge manta silently passing by. Oh my god - what a beauty! Few minutes later another, smaller manta was swimming around us. We were so excited. It was a fantastic experience. What an incredible day and what an incredible tour. That was not all. Next was another snorkelling spot, again we were there without other boats. And, after only 5 minutes the first big turtle swam along. We saw about 5 or more turtles and a very nice and exciting riff. but we were really tired. So far, a hike up Padar island, 4 snorkelling spots and collecting rubbish on pink beach in the heat. The weather in the meantime was sunny, windy but really hot. So we pushed up our energy with some bananas because the best part was yet to come: Rinca Island and the Komodo Dragons. Again, we were the only boat there, all other boats had already left. So we went to the entrance gate of the park and were welcomed by our guide. As the dragons are roaming around freely, you are not allowed to walk on your own. Not that we wanted to - I mean, these dragons can kill you easily. It was so impressive to see this rare species - we saw about 10 of them, nearly all lazily hanging around the kitchen area of the
national park officials. One of them finally decided to walk a bit closer to us. Quite scary, we have to admit! We went for a 40 min. hike over the island with a ranger. We did not see any dragons there but "food" for them: many water buffalos, some deers, wild pigs and monkeys. Nature on Rinca is really beautiful. Yes - dream fulfilled. We visited the famous dragons. On Rinca there are now approx. 1500 left. So hopefully, they will survive for a long time. A really special feeling to be at such a remote place with these killing machines.
But we survived and we were really thrilled when we took the boat back to Labuanbajo. What an unbelievable day. For sure, this days ranks among the top 10 travel adventures we have experienced so far. We ended the day again in the Meditarranean Restaurant with a delicious pizza (shame on us but after so many days of indonesian food, a pizza was really a great deal!). That evening we were still lying in bed with a huge smile on our faces.