Wonderful Indonesia: Exploring Rinca, Padar & Komodo Islands

After a few days in the jungles of Borneo and another few spent in the island paradise of Wakatobi, it was on to our next destination… Labuan Bajo and the Komodo Islands.

Once again I had no idea what to expect having never even heard of this part of the world (besides the fact that it’s home to Komodo Dragons!!) and once again I was blown away!

I think one of the biggest lessons I have learnt from this #TripofWonders to Indonesia is to travel with low expectations. In fact, have none! I am the first to admit that I knew very little about the country before I arrived.

Yes, I’d heard of Bali but I thought that was primarily a surfing destination. I’d heard of Jakarta, but from what I’d heard it was a megalopolis city best avoided. What this trip revealed to me is that every place is worth exploring if you visit with an open mind and whatever you discover along the way will surprise you more than you know!

The Komodo islands of Indonesia did just that. I was totally unprepared for the raw natural beauty of this part of the world. A whole new landscape, quite different from the jungles and beaches of before, yet equally mesmerising!

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During our 2 days in Komodo we stayed in a town called Labuan Bajo and then took boat trips on each of the days to visit the various islands located in the Komodo National Park. The national park was established in 1980 to conserve the unique Komodo dragon, it was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1991 and more recently has been selected as one of the New7Wonders of Nature.

We visited the three largest islands in the park, namely Komodo, Padar and Rinca.

Rinca Island

Rinca Island is smaller than Komodo Island but is a good alternative for those wishing to escape the crowds and explore the natural terrain of the Komodo dragons. We arrived by boat, enjoyed lunch under a lapa, visited the toilet accompanied by guides (just in case there were lizards hiding in the stalls) and then headed out to find “dragons”.

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We first came across a Komodo nest with one female keeping guard, this was followed by a hike up to what felt like the top of the island!

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As with all hikes it was totally worth it! The vegetation at the top was quite different from below and the views were incredible. The island really felt like it was from the Jurassic Park set with towering palm trees and open grasslands.

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We then came across another Komodo nest and I set about trying to capture it’s best angle….

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After the photoshoot we headed to a spot notorious as a Komodo hangout – the buildings, homes and offices of the national park personnel!!

Bumping into a water buffalo along the way…

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Here we found about 8 Komodo dragons lazily lying around in the shade of the buildings and trees. This was definitely the closest we would come to this beasts!

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After we could take no more adrenalin we headed back to our boat and onto our next natural spectacular…

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No, not this incredible sunset (although it was pretty spectacular), something far more unexpected…

While our boat bobbed around in the waves off the coast of Pulau Kalong, we cracked open a few cold beers and waited, and waited, keeping our eyes to the skies… And finally the purpose of our sundowner cruise revealed itself, or should I say themselves…

Rising up out of the mangrove trees, hundreds of bats started to fill the sky…. known as Flying Foxes, these are not just any fruit bat, these are the biggest bats on the planet and literally look like the size of a small cat with wings. And while hundreds of bats (or even one) would usually creep me out, this actually turned into a really magical experience!

Flying Foxes

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Padar Island

After heading back to our hotel in Labuan Bajo, we were up again bright and early the next month and back on a boat. This time heading off on a speed boat to explore 2 more of the Komodo islands, namely Padar and Komodo itself.

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After a few detours at sea, our boat finally reached Padar (located approx 90mins from Labuan Bajo) and then we set about the tricky task of disembarking the boat with no pier or jetty and only a small inflatable dingy to ferry us from the boat to the shore…

It took some time but we eventually all had our feet on dry land… and then realised the task at hand

A very steep, very high mountain climb!

After scrambling up the first section I wasn’t too convinced I wanted to go all the way to the top… It was a scorchingly hot day, the air was dry, the paths were dusty and the gradient was super steep.

BUT I wasn’t going to be finding myself on Padar Island again was I!? So I headed up…

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and up…

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and up…

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Until finally I was rewarded with this most incredible view!

From the peak of Padar you look out across the
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Komodo Island

Komodo Island, previously a convict colony, gives it’s name to the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest living lizard that lives here. After our exhilarating hike to the top of Padar island we didn’t know how much time we would have to explore this island so we quickly took the opportunity to find some of the “dragons” that call this island home…

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We didn’t have to go far, just a few metres from the entrance to the island we spotted the first free roaming lizard, and then another and another. One under the stairs, one digging in the trash can. In fact one in every direction I turned! After learning about the dangers of these lizards at Rinca island the day before I kept wondering where our guide was!!

He was nonchalantly standing near the largest lizard in the vicinity with his rather flimsy forked stick his only protection… and the next thing I knew he was encouraging me to come behind the lizard and pose for a photo…. without him in the shot! I thought he had gone completely crazy. With my heart-racing in my chest I did it! Truth be told I did it to impress a boy…. my son! He had been the most excited about the Komodo dragons when I had spoken to my kids about what I would be doing in Indonesia and all of his friends had now heard about it and were most impressed. I had to get the shot for the street cred!

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Our group were heading back to the boat but a few of us hadn’t yet seen the Komodo dragons feeding on the beach so decided to make a run for it through the bush… probably not our best idea!

Fortunately we found most of our party on the beach watching the last of the fish feeding frenzy before the Komodo decided he was out of there too and we all had to make a hasty retreat to safety!!

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Pink Beach

After our adrenalin pumping visit to see the “dragons” and our morning mountain hike, we were only to grateful to have some time to unwind and relax and what better place to do that than having a fish “braai” on a pink beach (one of only 7 in the world!!)

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Except the sand didn’t look quite so pink from where we were waiting on our boat. Eventually we couldn’t wait any longer and decided to make a swim for it… Diving in and swimming for shore. Turns out up close the sand didn’t look too pink either, until the waves hit the sand and then the sand turned pink! This beautiful natural phenomenon comes about because the white beach sand is combined with red pigment from a type of coral called Foraminifera. Tiny flecks of the red coral are broken down and washed up on the beach to create a beautiful pink hue.

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We were lucky enough to spend the afternoon snorkelling here where the marine life was once again unbelievable. It really is so amazing to walk a few steps into the water and put your eyes under to discover all the activity going on beneath the surface. A wonderful underwater world!

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How to get to Komodo Islands

Fly from Jakarta/ Bali / Makassar airport to Labuan Bajo located on Flores Island.

Based yourself in Labuan Bajo as it’s easy to explore the KomodoNational Park from there.

Once you have arrived in Labuan Bajo head down to the main road where you will find loads of tour operators who will happily take you to Komodo or Rinca island or diving with one of the local dive centre during daytrips in the marine reserve.

 

Tips for travelling to Komodo

  • Labuan Bajo is the closest town to Komodo National Park and it offers abundant tourist facilities such as restaurants, shops, ATMs and banks, money changers, and pharmacies.
  • There is a wide range of accommodation located along the beach front.
  • Numerous dive operators and travel agencies are located on the main street and will be more than happy to help you in planning your dive trip or visit to the islands of the Komodo National Park.
  • Wear a hat, sunscreen, good walking shoes, thick socks and cotton clothing that will absorb sweat. The sun is very hot in this part of the world!
  • Tell your ranger if you have a cut on your leg, an open wound or are menstruating at the time of you visit. Komodo dragons can smell blood as far as 18km away and will instinctively think the blood-smell is potential prey. You can still go trekking but the ranger will need to guard you more than the others! This message came through quite a few times on our trip, most of us girls looked at each horrified that it might be us that would have to identify ourselves. Fortunately not, but I wouldn’t mess around with this… the rangers were pretty adamant about it!
  • When visit the islands that are home to Komodo dragons make sure you are always with the ranger. The ranger always carries Y-branched wood stick and is experienced in knowing how to use it to keep the Komodo’s away from the tourists.
  • Always walk in a group, even when going to the bathroom (Komodo only attack prey that are alone!)
  • Avoid sudden movements and don’t make loud noises as these attract their attention!
  • If you do happen to be chased by a Komodo remember to run in a zigzag pattern, never straight. Komodo dragons can run at about 18km per hour in a straight line.
  • Do not climb trees because younger Komodos live in trees to avoid being eaten by their parents! True story!
  • All buildings in the Komodo islands are built off the ground as Komodo dragons find it difficult to climb stairs but I did see one make it’s way down stairs quite easily!!
  • Be careful around homes and buildings because the dragons like to shelter in the shade under buildings.
  • Being part of the Coral Triangle this part of the world offers some of the best diving and snorkelling opportunities and is a great place to explore the underwater world. The snorkelling is great, even if you are fairly new to the sport like myself. If you’re keen to go a bit deeper then be sure to do a scuba diving course and get certified before you travel here.
  • If you are a keen wildlife photographer don’t forget your zoom lens. If you want to capture some underwater shots be sure to bring a GoPro or similar camera.

 
For more about the Komodo Islands watch this great video by Mike from Mike & Jay Explore

 

Read more about my #TripofWonders experience in Indonesia here:

Exploring Jakarta

A cruise through the Borneo jungle on a Klotok

Orangutan encounters in Borneo

The incredible islands of Wakatobi

Visiting the Bajo Tribe of Water Gypsies

The paradise of Hoga Island

Experiencing the culture of Melo Village in Flores Island

A visit to Uluwatu Temple in Bali

A beautiful day spent at a Balinese home -cooking Balinese food and ploughing the rice paddies!

Images: Kathryn Rossiter; Pink Beach image: Amelia from xameliax.com; Snorkelling image: Roselinde from Roselinde on the Road, Underwater images: Rob from Love & Road

 

Disclosure: 8.

My trip to Indonesia was on the invitation of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism as part of the Trip of Wonders. For more information on travelling to Indonesia please visit www.indonesia.travel and follow @indtravel on Twitter or Instagram and search the hashtags #WonderfulIndonesia #TripofWonders for more incredible photos from our journey.

I write reviews and feature beautiful places on my blog in order to inspire others to find new, exciting and different places to visit. As always all thoughts, opinions and images are my own.

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for almost 6 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

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