Komodo. Here be dragons. Whether you are here to meet the world’s largest lizard or immerse yourself in breathtaking vistas above and below the sea, Komodo is a truly magical land guaranteed to leave a lasting impression on its visitors.
Approaching 3m in the flesh the dragons are a unique draw for many visitors to the Komodo Natonal Park. Perhaps unsuprisingly, dragons are inherently lazy creatures and it’s unusual to encounter one moving, let alone swimming as pictured above.
In my opinion, the real Komodo magic happens under the ocean and so that’s what I plan to share here: the magic of Manta Rays dancing in formation; vibrant coral reefs full of aquatic life; cryptic critters; and raging currents that get the adrenalin pumping.
What exactly makes Komodo so magical? Geographically, it’s situated in the lesser Sunda islands archipelago, an area of Indonesia that is sandwiched between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean in the heart of the marine ecosystem known as the Coral Triangle. Just being in the Coral Triangle itself makes for a special aquatic experience – there’s more biodiversity in these waters than anywhere on the planet – but Komodo has few extra tricks up its sleeve that in my opinion make it the most spectacular destination for diving on the planet, namely it’s infamous currents.
Yes, Komodo is notorious for strong currents that for many people add a new dimension to diving. Currents that will make large powerful fish like Giant Trevally look uncomfortable, let alone scuba divers. For competent divers following an experienced guide, these currents can be leveraged for added excitement and abundant fish life. Get things wrong and you could be dragged down, spun around in a giant natural washing machine, and if you are lucky spat out hundreds of meters from the dive site. The story of lost divers drifting at sea overnight and being washed up on a dragon inhabited beach at the very southernmost part of Rinca island is considered diving folklore for the area.
The Indonesian Throughflow causes millions of tonnes of water to move through the channels around the Komodo National Park, encompassing an area around Komodo, Padar, Rinca and west Flores. This current system predominantly flows from the Pacific to the Indian ocean thanks to a 30cm difference in sea level between the two oceans. On a macro level looks like this:
(This image is from a great article about the Indonesian Throughflow here)
In a nutshell, the Komodo National Park (KNP) benefits from the currents that bring food and nutrients and abundant marine life to the area. Throw in hundreds of mangrove lined bays that act as nursery grounds for marine life (also feeding grounds for dugongs and green turtles) and you have all the ingredients for a balanced marine ecosystem.
For the majority of Komodo dive sites, the basic rule of thumb is that the rising tide flows roughly south to north and the falling tide flows north to south (disclaimer: always dive with an experienced guide and check the current first!). From May until October (dry season), cooler, more nutrient rich water tends to be drawn from the deep Indian Ocean in the south with the rising tide, whilst warmer, clearer water generally flows from the north to south with the falling tide. During the dry season the best conditions are in North and Central Komodo, with calm seas, 27 degree average temperature and stunning visibility at the right times. The South of the park is a chilly 20-25 degrees, 5-10m visibility and prone to swell in these months, however, the cooler, nutrient rich water offers up the greatest numbers of Mantas so longer liveaboard itineraries still make a trip down to Manta Alley in the South of Komodo. These conditions are reversed during the north-west monsoon months from November until April – the Northern dive sites suffer from lower visibility and swell, there are loads of Mantas turning up across Central KNP dive sites and the sites in the South have the clearest and warmest waters.
Dive sites of the Komodo National Park map courtesy of Dive Komodo
People regularly ask when is the best time to visit Komodo? That depends on what you like to see and how many people you are prepared to share the dive sites with. It’s no secret that visitor numbers to Flores and Komodo are growing rapidly and so if you can avoid the peak months of July – September you’ll have more chance of avoiding other groups in the water and potentially get better encounters with bigger fish such as Mantas and Sharks.
Komodo is an incredibly unique part of the world that will always have a special place in my heart. Beyond the spectacular diving and scenery, the local Floresian people are some of the most friendly and hospitable people I have met and they take great pride in showing the best of their country and culture. Getting to Komodo is easy enough, leaving is likely to be emotional.