W1702 – Here really be dragons!

In my last post, W1702 – Darwin delight, I described our final day in the vast and fascinating country of Australia, where in Darwin at last Carol and I felt well enough again to go exploring the port on foot.

We then had two days at sea to complete our recovery, just in time for one of the highlights of the whole cruise, a day visiting the iconic Komodo Island – indeed this was Carol’s most anticipated port of call of the entire cruise.

Komodo is one of the 17,508 islands that make up the Republic of Indonesia, and has a surface area of 390 square kilometres. Only around two thousand people live there, many of which are descendants of convicts who were exiled to the island. Komodo is part of the Lesser Sunda chain of islands, and forms part of the Komodo National Park.

Komodo is most famous as being one of only five islands where the Komodo dragon, the largest living species of lizard can be found. It is thought that similar large lizards once roamed all of Indonesia and Australia, and in Australia fossils dating to more than 3.8 million years ago have been found. Komodo dragons can grow up to 3 metres in length and can weigh up to around 70 kilograms. Their large size makes them the top predator on the islands, and they hunt and ambush prey such as deer, often waiting near a waterhole.

Once again I was up on deck just before dawn to hopefully watch the sun rise as we sailed towards our destination, but alas although the sky ahead of us was fairly clear, a big bank of clouds was moving in with us and obscuring the sunrise:

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To the other side of the ship I could see a rainbow against the land as we slipped by one of the many tiny islands, and there were lots more ahead of us:

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As we approached the main island the scenery all around had a real primeval feel to it, and several other passengers who were also up on deck watching our approach commented that it reminded them of Jurassic Park, perhaps rather appropriate given that we were there to see the ancient dragons:

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We dropped anchor in a sheltered bay, where there were two landing stages on a beach – this was an anchor port where we would be taken ashore using the ship’s tenders:

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There were just two shore tours offered on Komodo Island, and because of the danger of the dragons, you were not allowed to go ashore other than as part of one of those tours. One was to a beach with pink coral sand, but the one almost everyone was booked on was a walking tour to go and see the dragons. There were so many people on this tour that it was run several times during the morning, and our departure time was not until 10am, so there was plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast poolside and to get ready for the tour.

It was quite a short voyage by tender to the smaller of the landing stages, but it was quite a clamber to get off the tender and onto the landing stage due to a low beam in the way. Once ashore a banner welcomed us to the island, as did the local guides who would escort us on our walk. We were in a group of around 20 passengers, guided by three local guides, two of which were ‘armed’ to protect us from the potentially life-threatening dragons – with long forked sticks! They told us that if they put the fork of the stick around the dragon’s neck it will move away – but I am glad we didn’t need to see this proved to us. The other disconcerting thing we were told that as their bite is venomous we should report it straight away, but that there was no anti-venom kept on the island. Hmm!

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We had been to a talk about the island and the dragons on board ship, and we were told that one of the dragons can often be seen very close to the beach where we go ashore. Sure enough, we had just gone a few paces up the path from the beach when we saw our first dragon, lying close to the path:

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Carol pointed out to me how well we could see it’s paw with it’s fierce-looking claws:

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After a few minutes looking at and photographing the dragon, we set off down the path to try and see more of them, soon crossing a slightly rickety wooden bridge over the dry bed of a stream:

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As we made our way along the paths, which were quite well made gravel tracks, we were surprised and a bit disappointed how little other wildlife we saw or heard – just a few very small white butterflies and this bird – although talking to someone who was on the very first tour of the morning, they said they saw and photographed a lot more – moral of the story is to try and get on the early tour!

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After walking for around half an hour we came to a waterhole where the dragons were thought to be. Sure enough there were five of them close to the waterhole, and another a short distance away. Here we had caught up with several other groups, and we all slowly made our way around the waterhole keeping the recommended distance from the dragons, and keeping as quiet and still as possible. All of the dragons remained lying flat on the ground, but you could see they were keeping a very watchful eye on us, turning their heads if something or someone caught their eye:

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We were then led back along different paths back to the original beach, but these route took us to a large number of stalls selling t-shirts, model dragons and other souvenirs. While I might have been tempted to look and even buy something, the very incessant and almost aggressive badgering from dozens and dozens of stall holders as we walked the gauntlet between the stalls was so off-putting that all we wanted to do was put our heads down and get through all the stalls as quickly as possible.

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Once back on the beach, I took some photographs of the attractive local boats as well as our ship in the background:

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I also took a picture of a very happy and content Carol next to the sign for the Komodo National Park, after she had successfully seen the dragons she had so wanted to see:

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We then took the tender back to our ship, where we couldn’t wait to return to our cabins for a long cool shower to refresh ourselves after the heat and humidity of the island. After lunch we spent a while resting in the cool of the ship, before watching us set sail for our next port of call mid-afternoon.

In what seems a long time ago now, in my 5th post on my blog, L1602 – Here be dragons, I wrote about seeing the dragon trees on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Now finally I got to document a tour in which we saw real living dragons!

We were sailing towards Benoa on the island of Bali, which we would reach around lunchtime the next day. My adventures in Bali will be the subject of my next post.

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