Part two of my divemaster series focuses on the diving itself in Komodo. Whether you’re thinking of diving at a dive resort, or a liveaboard with the many operators available in Komodo, you will undoubtedly leave with the best of memories. Diving in Komodo is unlike anywhere else I’ve been. The mountains, the corals, the huge abundance of marine life, MANTAS, and just being in a place that is far away from the commercialization of the dive industry makes this place one of a kind. It’s the best diving I’ve done to date, and the next best place is not really that close.
Komodo National Park Overview
After careful and meticulous deliberation, I settled on Komodo National Park, Indonesia after a friend raved about a liveaboard he did. I hadn’t dived in SE Asia up to this point but always knew that it had the world’s best diving. Komodo itself is an absolutely stunning group of islands about 500km east of Bali. It has some of the most dramatic landscape contrasts I’ve seen between starkly rugged hillsides of dry savanna, pockets of thorny green vegetation, brilliant white sandy beaches and blue waters surging over coral. It’s another world compared to the tropical dense jungle environment of Bali.
After running a google search of “Komodo Divemaster”, I clicked on the first link that popped up and it was Scuba Junkie Komodo. The cost of the Divemaster Internship was 19 million Rupiah (~$1400) for a month long course that included food and accommodation at their resort far away from the craziness of town. That’s an absolute steal of a price. For someone that lives in NYC, I spend more money in a month on food and alcohol alone and New Yorkers will back me up when I say $1400 isn’t even that much. So to pay that same amount to dive multiple times a day, obtain my professional dive certification, AND all food/accommodation? Sign me up.
Carys, the lovely owner of the resort along with her husband Rohan, wrote me back immediately and promptly answered all questions I had. After ironing out all the details, I was excited to fly out to Indonesia and get started!
Getting to Komodo
Komodo National Park, a group of islands in Indonesia, is most famous for being the natural habitat of the largest land based lizard int he world, the Komodo Dragon. It’s also known among the dive community to have some of the best diving in the world, especially if you want to see Manta Rays.
Located east of Bali, the easiest way to get here is to take a flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo. Labuan Bajo is a sleepy port town on the island of Flores, that serves as the base for all diving within the Komodo National Park. Labuan Bajo is a bit of a shitshow. It’s dirty, noisy, and just not a very pretty place to be. The primary reason people come to LBJ (Labuan Bajo) is to see Komodo Dragons and go diving, which is why 90% of the liveaboards and dive operators have their offices and hostels in town.
Garuda Indonesia, WingsAir, and Kal Star fly regularly from Bali to Labuan Bajo. Upon arriving in Labuan Bajo on my WingsAir flight, Carys greeted me in town and we took an hour long boat ride through the sea to the resort.
Scuba Junkie Resort
It was love at first sight. The resort was just what I was hoping for. Secluded from the rest of society, the place was rustic but in the best of ways. It’s surrounded by palm trees, mountains, and beach. It’s beautifully built with plenty of hammocks, bungalows (bales as they call them), and a common area designed with recycled wood and thatched roofing. The bungalows are open air, and the perfect place to fall asleep after a long day of diving.
Because the resort is in the middle of nowhere, everything is done at the resort. There are local villages within walking distance but not the tourist catering sort with Western style restaurants and bars. We ate all our meals at the resort, and they were amazing meals at that. The chef Rhian is an all star that cooked up delicious local foods every night, along with the best damn Sambal (spicy sauce) I’ve ever had. As I write this post, I’m drooling at the thought of that sambal as it brings back such good memories. For those that can’t handle being away from society for so long, I did go back to Labuan Bajo for a day to run some errands and this made me really appreciate staying at the resort, away from the dirty shitshow of Labuan Bajo.
The pictures tell it all. It’s in such an amazing location next to a fishing village, and surrounded by mountains and ocean. There was even a completely deserted beach a quick walk over the hilltop in case this wasn’t secluded enough already.
After arriving at the resort, I checked into the dorms, and as far as dorms go at a dive shop, these were top notch. For it being included in the price of my divemaster course, I had zero complaints. I was pretty tired at this point, having spending the previous day getting from Sipadan, Malaysia to Bali at midnight, and then flying out the next morning at 7am to Labuan Bajo. Nevertheless, I came here to dive so diving I will do on my first day.
I came with zero equipment (except a dive computer) so I spent some time getting acquainted with the equipment room. After I sorted all my gear out, we did a shore dive in front of the resort. The house reef isn’t the most picturesque site, especially compared to the rest of Komodo Komodo diving but we did see some awesome macro stuff thanks to one of the amazing local DMs, Fandi. Komodo’s famous for its unpredictable and often times hectic currents and I got my first taste here. The house reef would also be the basis for the mapping project, a requirement of the DMT, that I’ll cover later.
Scuba Junkie’s dive boat, the Birostris, also my home for the next month, was a beautiful boat. They embraced the old school designs, not unlike a lot of the other boats in the National Park. It was big enough to hold 20 people comfortably.
First Week – Diving, diving, and more diving
The first week passed by like a blur. The first few days were dedicated to just “fundiving”, so to get a lay of the land. With just a short briefing of the boat, daily duties, and expectations, I was shadowing other Divemasters and Instructors immediately. The boat routinely had 5-10 customers each day so my main job was to hang at the back of the group and watch how the DMs were guiding and to learn the sites.
Wow, the diving in Komodo is absolutely incredible. Komodo National Park is part of the Coral triangle, a small part of the South Pacific that is home to the highest marine life density in the world. The corals were out of this world. Healthy, vibrant, and abundant, I was shocked at how much more intensely beautiful it was compared to the other places I’ve dived. It was so picturesque that this was what I thought diving would be like, having only watched Nat Geo documentaries.
Landscape of Komodo
Komodo’s landscape also makes it stand out from everywhere else. It’s an archipelago of islands that are mostly large rock formations and mountains that resemble the American southwest. I’d marvel at the landscape everyday because it just isn’t the type of place you’d associate with having world class diving, but it absolutely did which made it even more amazing. I was immediately mesmerized and a bit in disbelief that I’d be diving in these parts for the next month. Every dive site, whether you’re into macro diving or corally dive, was world class. If I had to choose my favorite dive sights for endless amounts of beautiful coral, Tatawa Besar, Siaba Besar and Batu Balong were my favorites.
Without a doubt, Komodo’s claim to fame is the Komodo Dragons, the largest living lizards in the world that only exist on the islands of Komodo and Rinca. However, as cool as Komodo dragons are, they really don’t do anything. For the dive community, Komodo is revered for its pristine diving and abundance of Manta Rays. The famous currents of Komodo, along with an abundance of pytoplankton draw Mantas here year round. There are two types of Manta Rays, Manta Alfredi (reef manta) and Manta Birostris (Oceanic manta). Komodo is home to one of the largest populations of Manta Alfredi. The manta experiences that I had here were out of this world. As we approached the manta dive sites, we could already see dozens of mantas feeding on the surface. As beautiful as they looked from the boat, it was tenfold underwater.
More Manta Rays!
Mantas are some of the most amazing animals in the world. I saw them on a daily basis for a month, but I never tired of it. Mantas are smart fish and they are inherently as curious about divers as we are about them. The protocol here is when we saw a manta and because the currents were so strong, we would hang on to a rock and watch them do their thing. No complaints from anyone here. The best experiences had to be when the mantas would swim right over me and you could fully appreciate just how massive and incredible these animals are. They are so graceful and powerful underwater that one effortless flap of their wings would propel them forward in hectic current.
Mantas are very intelligent animals and they are naturally curious of divers as much as we are of them. As they swam near me, I could see their eyes staring at me trying to analyze what I was. There was even one occasion where the same manta swam over me multiple times and eventually hit me on the head! Don’t worry, I survived and I’d do it again.
The day we saw over 100
And to top it off, the most insane thing I’ve ever seen while diving. For those that want to see mantas guaranteed, the wet season is the best time of year to visit (Dec to Mar). In the middle of a big storm, we veered off track on Karang Makkasar (the main manta dive) and ended up in a bay that was teeming with endless mantas. We lost count after the hundredth or so manta. This is the type of stuff that doesn’t come along very often but we got lucky.
Because I can’t say it enough times, if you’re looking to dive with mantas, GO TO KOMODO!!! As far as price, accessibility, quality of diving, and abundance of mantas, Komodo might be unrivaled in the world. If there is competition, PLEASE leave me a comment and let me know! The sheer number of mantas I saw and the types of interactions I enjoyed with them will make me return to Komodo forever.
Don’t just take it from me either, there were plenty of customers during my time here that were manta virgins and there is no clearer look of happiness than after a dive or two on Karang Makkasar. So with that said, more pictures of mantas just because:
For those that like macro diving, there is no shortage of amazing macro life in Komodo. Every dive site has amazing macro life to be found but some sites I was distracted by mantas, and others, I was distracted by endless amounts of coral and fish. It’s hard to pay attention to the small stuff when you’re being circled by hundreds of parrotfish and a coral garden the size of a football stadium. Nevertheless, I managed to survive through all those distracting things and found so much cool macro life. Nudibranchs, frogfish, blue ring octopus, various types of scorpionfish, pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish were just a few of the amazing things I saw during my time here.
And a video of my favorite macro creature, the flamboyant cuttlefish!
Another video of the incredibly rare Lacy Rhinopia (Scorpionfish)
The craziest currents of all time
Komodo is world famous for its unpredictable and hectic currents. Most dives had at least some sort of current whether it was consistent throughout the dive, or changed midway through. None of it was predictable and even if you surveyed the ocean from the boat, anything would happen underwater. You could be floating effortlessly one way, and then a massive thermocline will make it 5 degrees colder and the current will start pushing you in the opposite direction. It’s invaluable experience for a DMT in my opinion!
Nearing the end of my divemaster course, the tides had changed completely vs when I first started. This meant that the currents were doing crazy, inexplicable things all over the park. One dive site in particular, Siaba Kecil, was particular crazy. Normally, this dive site is a beautiful drift dive along a coral wall that ends in a vast and beautiful coral garden (or vice versa depending on the currents).
On this specific day, currents on steroids would have been an understatement. During the briefing, we knew the currents were hectic but as soon as I jumped in, I could feel myself being forcefully pulled along. I’ve been in strong currents before but nothing even close to this. I felt completely useless trying to do any sort of swimming. The trick is to just settle down, be aware, and enjoy the ride. As we zoomed by the corals, I could see fish being tossed around like a salad.
I really wanted to just grab a hold of a rock and feel the strength of that current against my mask. As we approached the end of the dive, my computer read 4 minutes dive time!! Usually, Siaba Kecil is a drift dive that takes a half hour but we managed to do it in fraction of the time. We even skipped our safety stop because another three minutes would have meant we would have drifted well into the blue before surfacing.
And the video to prove it
After a long day of diving, we would visit an island near the resort that was home to a hundred thousand bats. They would routinely come out every night to go hunting. I’d never seen bats in the wild before in these numbers so it was a cool experience to drink some sunset beers while watching these guys wake up to do their thing.
A visit to the Komodo Dragons
The Komodo dragons are actually one of the main reasons people visit this part of Indonesia with more marketing done on the dragons than the diving. Staying at Scuba Junkie, the morning of the last day is usually reserved for a short visit to the dragons before heading back to Labuan Bajo. The islands of Rinca and Komodo are home to the Komodo Dragons and from everyone’s experiences, Rinca was the most scenic so that’s where we went. We docked our boat with the many other dive boats, and proceeded to the entrance to pay for our tickets.
There are multiple hiking options around the island ranging from 3km to 5km. With the sun beaming down and having just done my snorkel test the night before (which I will touch on in the next post), I was massively hungover so we opted for the 3km walk. The island is home to a “resort” where tourists can stay and turns out that the komodo dragons all stay around the resort. We saw them within 5 minutes of starting our “hike”.
The dragons are definitely as advertised. There were some big boys here! Some almost 3m long! There were no fences or cages, they roam as they wish and we got within a few meters of them before the guide told us not to go any further. For those that don’t know, Komodo Dragons are some of the most poisonous animals alive.
Their saliva contains some intense bacteria that they use to paralyze their prey which allows them to bite animals far larger than they are, and just wait until they collapse. Easy life. For the most part, these guys don’t do much. Unless they’re eating or hunting, which isn’t often, they just chill like they own the place.