Just hop a 1 hour flight on a small aircraft from tropical vacation hotspot Bali and you’ll find yourself on Labuan Bajo. This is exactly what I did in June this year. In the Flores region of Indonesia this is the town where excursions to encounter the largest lizard in the world, the Komodo Dragon, begin. Found on just 5 islands in the region these living dinosaurs are protected, yet still listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).
But there is a lot more to this region than the dragons, although they are reason enough to visit. In addition to the famous lizards, the islands and surrounding sea offer up some spectacular sights & experiences. We stayed on a boat for a 1 night/2 day sailing. This is a great way to really enjoy the variety of islands in this part of the world.
One of the most memorable destinations for me was Padar Island. It was gorgeous! We did a 30 minute hike to a point to see the sunset. We made it just in time. I miss this place. Another nearby point of interest is Pink Beach. It’s named that because it is literally pink! I couldn’t resist running up a nearby hill to take in as much of the view of the pink beach and its surroundings as possible. The view was worth the effort but it did cut into my snorkeling time in the warm, crystal clear waters. Like many other parts of Indonesia the snorkeling and scuba diving around Komodo is phenomenal. While I didn’t get the chance to see any this time, apparently it is an excellent area to encounter manta rays!
I managed to convince our captain and crew to stop at an unknown sandbar in the middle of the sea. It was a pristine moment in a pristine place. It felt truly out of this world, removed from everything. A truly perfect moment of adventure.
Of course, the real highlight of this trip was a visit to the dragons. Like I mentioned earlier, they’re found on 5 islands in the archipelago. I visited 2: Rinca & Komodo. I won’t lie: I was more than a little nervous to get up close and personal with these massive reptiles. I was using my Tamron 150-600mm on Canon body 7D. With a telephoto zoom lens of this range I could easily get face shots and was thrilled to have the chance to get photos of these legendary creatures… But every time a dragon would move an inch or hiss it would scare me off because through the lens it appeared to be right there in front of me. It took a long time to steel my nerves.
During my visit to the islands I got to go on a hike with two rangers. This was a cool opportunity because they knew the area and animals well. A couple things stood out. First of all, one of the rangers told me that the male dragons have 2 penises. I’m not entirely sure if that’s true, but he did show me a photo he had on his cell phone, so… I guess he wasn’t lying. Secondly, they were helpful with getting trick shots for tourists. A tourist would go behind the dragon, maybe 8-10 feet (about 3 metres) behind its tail and hold their arm and hand out so that in the photo it appears that one is touching or petting the dragon. It seems a little silly and I generally prefer to stay behind the lens, but I did do it on the second day. It’s popular for a reason. One day I can show my kids a photo of me “touching” a Komodo Dragon. There’s nothing wrong with embracing these seemingly touristy moments when they’re this rare and special.