Blue Marlin has long been established as one of the premier dive shops in Gili Trawangan. So when I heard they were opening shop in the Komodo Islands I booked some leave, packed my gear and I was on a flight before you could say ‘big-scary-slobbery-dragons’! Unfortunately my eagerness didn’t do me any favours as the dive shop accommodation wasn’t yet finished and the ‘Ikan Biru’ hadn’t quite finished it’s maiden voyage from Lombok. Damn it! I am notoriously early for everything.
Regardless, Kim and the team had me well catered for. They were there to greet me at the airport in Labuan Bajo then took me to grab some lunch in town, fill in the paperwork and meet with Darren – the friendly Saffa instructor with an infectious enthusiasm for all things Komodo! At this stage Darren had already been in the Komodo islands for a few weeks, learning every intricate detail of the dive sites he now calls home, and waiting ever so patiently for his new boat to arrive from Lombok. Our stand in boat and crew were more than adequate, so much so that I end up changing my plans and staying on board for an extra few days.
Our boat was a simple yet comfortable vessel with ample room for sleeping, a central area for eating and a rooftop for stargazing. There was a tender attached to zip us to and from the dive sites and we would generally gear up in the tender too. The great thing about Komodo Island livaboards is that all the dive sites really aren’t too far from Flores Island and the township of Labuan Bajo. This means that you don’t have to conform to strict departure and arrival dates because they can just whip you out to meet the crew via speed boat.
Darren asked me upon boarding, how do you feel about diving in currents? This wasn’t something I wasn’t particularly experienced in, I would soon become an expert! The diving around the Komodo Islands is challenging and not something that you would want to attempt without proper instruction, but I was in good hands. As this was one of the first commercial trips for Blue Marlin it was a small group. Just Darren, a photographer and 3 of Darren’s mates who he DM’d with in Mozambique a few years earlier, and me. I was in for quite a trip. Prior to each dive we were thoroughly briefed, we didn’t enter the water until the current was perfect, techniques to deal with the current was explained, as was how to use a reef hook. I also learned quickly that a shorty suit was not suitable. Hydroid is prevalent in these areas and the sting is enough for your regulator to be subject to extreme profanity.
The diving was a good mix if high action, adrenalin pumping, fat moving current diving and a more relaxed regular dive scenario. We snorkelled with mantas and dolphins and dived with sharks, turtles, eagle and bull rays and teems of tropical fish. On one dive we were also lucky enough to see a swimming ribbon eel, this was also the same dive that saw me get assaulted by a remora, but that’s a whole other story.
Night dives were particularly special and provided mandarin fish, frog fish and a blue ringed octopus for our entertainment.
Mid way through the trip the boat docked at Rintja Island for a wee on land excursion to see the completely and utterly petrifying Komodo Dragons. Now, growing up in rural Australia I am familiar with the odd wandering goanna. But this is a whole different story. These dragons are the biggest in the world and seem to be either sleepy or ready and waiting to tear your face off. I was told my fear was irrational, but I begged to differ. Technically these animals are not poisonous, however their saliva contains so much bacteria that if bitten, without immediate treatment you will most certainly end up with a life threatening infection. This is how they kill animals much bigger than themselves such as water buffalo. Bite, follow for a few days, wait and then attack them when they are too weak to put up a fight. It’s like something out of a horror movie!
Post trip I had planned to spend a couple of nights at the dive shop in Labuan Bajo, but as this wasn’t ready for guests yet Kim arranged for me to stay in French resort called Waecicu Eden Beach. This is about a quarter of the way around Flores Island and only accessible to Labuan Bajo via boat. The resort and rooms are spectacular with the most amazing views across the islands. The restaurant and bar are right down on the beach and the rooms are scattered up a very steep hill behind. The hike requires a few breathers along the way but it’s worth every breathless moment. They also kindly arranged a boat and driver to take me into LB to catch up with my new friends for some farewell drinks at the aptly named paradise bar.
I also had the opportunity to spend one day diving with Moritz from Komodo Dive Center. This is yet another new venture for the islands’ and specialises in courses and day boat diving. The resort was in its initial building stage when I had a look around, but it looked like every detail was being built to western standards. All their gear and tanks were brand new and their villas looks like they had the potential to be amazing.
This trip was one of my most memorable. Mainly because of the people I met, whom I am still in regular contact with and have been diving with since in North Sulawesi. I aim to get back to Komodo sometime soon, to finally experience the famous Ikan Biru!