Scuba Diving Komodo National Park
Experience the spectacular biodiversity of more than 50 world-class dive sites ranging from challenging blue water current dives with a chance of glimpsing large pelagic species to discovering rare invertebrates on a ‘muck’ dive closer to shore.
Komodo National Park is located between the eastern Indonesian islands of Sumbawa and Flores. The Park belongs in the Komodo Sub-District of West Manggarai District in the Province of East Nusa Tenggara.
Komodo National Park was established in March 6 1980 and designated as A Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1977, a World Heritage Site in 1991 by UNESCO, a national symbol by the President of The Republic of Indonesia in 1992, Marine Protected Area in 2000 and as one National Park Models in Indonesia in 2006.
It covers 173.300 ha includes both land and marine areas, the park itself consists of five main islands: Komodo, Rinca, Padar, Gili Motang and Nusa Kode as well as several smaller islands. The islands were declared a national park to protect the endangered Komodo dragons and their environment, as well as the biodiversity of the islands. The marine park was established to protect the high diversity of marine life in the waters surrounding the islands, some of the richest on the planet.
Komodo National Park is also renowned by experienced scuba divers as one of the top dive sites in the world.
What makes Komodo National Park so special? Strong daily tidal flows combine with nutrient-rich water upwelling from the depths of the Indian Ocean to create ideal conditions for thousands of species of corals and tropical fish to flourish. More than 1,000 species of tropical fish, 260 species of coral, and rare marine mammals such as the dugong live within Komodo National Park.
HIGHLIGHT DIVE SITES
Batu Bolong or Current City: ‘Hollow Rock’ in northern Komodo is a rock pinnacle. It is one of northern Komodo’s signature dive sites as the fish life here is always a full-on festival.
Due to the rock’s topography and exposure to strong currents the reef has not been targeted by fishermen and is in superb condition. Hard corals and sponges cover the walls and slopes, but the main beneficiary here must be the fish life. The volume of fish here is awesome, right from the deeper water areas where Napoleon wrasse and whitetip reef sharks cruise, to the shallow where thousands of smaller reef fish battle it out for territorial and feeding rights. Batu Bolong should not be dived if the currents in north Komodo are very strong since the site is small and there is no opportunity to drift. Slack tide is really the only occasion that you should dive here.
On this dive site it is very important to turn back when your dive guide does and swim relatively close to the ground. Only on very rare occasions when the slack tide is very pronounced (when the tide turns and there no appreciable tidal current flows) you can swim all the way around the rock.
Castle Rock (Batu Toko-Toko): This is an underwater mount (top 6-7m) and one of the best places is a long flat plateau on 20m which then starts to slope down. There are several large coral blocks and there you just stay (preferably with the current coming against you and with a reef hook ready) and wait for the sharks. We had at a time from 10 to 20 white tip reef sharks and a few greys cruising by, jacks, trevallies and dog tooth tuna among them, then a huge school of blue-black fusiliers – just great!! If the sharks are not here, they are also sometimes on one or the other side, but then more scattered and swimming in the blue water. You can also see Napoleon wrasses, midnight snappers and sometimes barracudas. There is a hollow at about 15m where sometimes huge schools of mackerels, doctor fishes and jacks are gathering, rising in a long band, forming whirls and walls. Just beautiful! At this place you might even see dolphins underwater, if you are very lucky. To make your safety stop you go back to the main pyramid shaped rock where depending on the direction of the current you hide in the current shadow and then surface (with enough air – 70bars – downcurrents possible!) from there.
Cristal Rock (Batu Gili Lawa Laut): This is a rock that is submerged at high tide. The trick is to stay at a place where there is some current so you can see big fish, but not so much current, that you must hold on for dear life. On one side of the rock there is a small plateau where you can easily descend and ascend with broken corals (used to be a nice area with staghorn corals and table corals), only that is not always accessible due to the currents. Further down (ca. 15 to 22m) there is a small valley with several huge coral blocks, where a large group of yellow Oriental sweetlips and a pair of barramundi cods reside. If there is a lot of current this is the place for jacks and trevallies and large schools of fusiliers and sometimes sharks!
Lighthouse: On the northeastern point of Gili Lawa Laut, just below the lighthouse lies a nice protected area for diving, a gentle slope covered with beautiful blocks of table corals and other hard corals mixed with black coral bushes and soft coral and white sand. Here on the sand or under the large table corals there are several sharks sleeping, approach them slowly and they will stay put for a good look. A great dive site for a third, shallower dive.
Cauldron Passage (Gili Lawa Laut Passage) or Shot Gun: There are two narrow passages cut through the Lawa Laut islands and especially the Cauldron Passage in the north should only be dived by divers who know how to manage currents, because they sweep you through at a very fast pace and once you have started the dive you can’t stop! There is a part where you have to go from about 25 meters up to 14 meters with your dive computer going crazy and then down again to about 22 meters into a large sand bowl – the cauldron. Most times you can then go along the right edge where there are some nice coral formations, but sometimes you have to cross the sand depression and go to the left. This can be very difficult because on some stretches you might be swimming against the current and there is nothing you can hold on to in the sand. On left side there are some canyons and you finish the dive on a nice coral reef. This dive site can also be dived during slack tide and in reverse direction and then is not such a wild ride.
Golden Passage (Gili Lawa Darat Passage): Diving through this passage is a bit less wild, more like a fast drift dive but you have to be careful not to get too close to the southern edge where the currents can sweep you down and out. The ground here is covered with gravel and small reef patches. A good place for barracudas, also sometimes mantas and eagle rays. If you dive west to east you end up in a very nice coral area with schools of fish, jacks and trevallies and coral boulders covered with glass fish.
Karang Makassar (Manta Point): Karang means “reef” in Bahasa Indonesia, but actually this is more like a long area of gravel and broken coral pieces with small coral blocks. You dive with the current, preferably from north to south, so you end up in the nice coral reef lying in the south. This is not a deep dive, just about 15 to 17m, but the loose gravel makes it difficult to stop anywhere for longer. So basically you just go with the current and look out for manta rays, either close to some of the coral blocks (getting cleaned) or up at the surface (feeding).Of course there are also other animals living here – sharks, eagle rays, large thorny ray (Urogymnus asperrimus), but also small fish like special dartfishes, gobies, flasher wrasses and morey eels.
Siaba Kecil: This dive sites usually has a lot of strong current, since it lies in a channel between two islands. You best dive north to south in a fast drift dive, starting on a steep slope with ridges, funnels and channels. Everything seems to be smoothed down by the currents, coral cover is low and gravel shows between. To slow down you shelter in the overhangs and behind the outcrops – look out, sometimes there are also sharks hiding here. Beautiful sea fans grow under the overhangs, but usually you don’t have time to linger, because the current sweeps you on. Once you reach the corner where there is a field with gravel and sand the coral cover changes, there are larger blocks and sponges. You finish the dive on a huge field of staghorn corals.
Siaba Besar: You start the dive in the north and drift along beautiful corals, gorgonian sea fans, black coral bushes and sponges. The dive ends in a coral garden where you can also find Mandarin fishes (Synchiropus splendidus). They live under and in between the branches of staghorn corals and during the day they are very well hidden. But around 5 o’clock (dusk) they start to forage among the corals and it is more easy to find them. When it gets darker you might also see their courtship dance where the male (larger) displays his dorsal fins to attract the female. Then they rise together from their lair, side by side, and head for open water to release spawn and eggs.
GPS Point: Located off the north east point of Gili Banta Island, 10 km north east of Komodo, the famous GPS Point is a must on any liveaboard cruise here and is often considered the best northern dive site in Komodo. It attracts lots and lots of fish and is often swarming with dogtooth tuna, and big schools of barracudas and surgeonfish.
Pantai Merah: “Pink Beach” is located just in front of the old dragon feeding station in the eastern part of Komodo Island, directly across the bay from Komodo Village. Many boats come here for snorkelling because the beach has a special pink color from red coral fragments mixed with white sand. It is a slope with a sandy bottom. The water temperature is already lower, sometimes down to 25 degrees and you also find some of the animals which normally live in the south like the small yellow sea cucumbers and lots of feather stars. Look around the rocks and under the corals, there are frogfishes and leaffishes and several cleaning stations. A nice dive to do after you have visited the dragons or for a night dive, especially since you can find Mandarin fishes in the shallow part..
Pillarsteen: ‘Pillar Rock’ lies a couple of kilometres to the south east of Padar Island, between Komodo and Rinca. The best plan at this top notch dive site is to drop at a pinnacle at the southern-most point and let the strong current and surge take you west. To the south lies deeper water and a series of caves, chimneys and rocky outcrops. Here you’ll find large mid night snappers, huge boxfish, and 6-banded angelfish.
To the west Pillarsteen’s walls are painted yellow, green and orange by the dense colonies of soft corals. Yellow and white sea squirts are found here in their thousands. With funnel-shaped bodies and spout-shaped open mouths, these colourful creatures can easily be mistaken for aqautic versions of pitcher plants.
Cannibal Rock: It is a truly world-class dive site and one of the top ones in Komodo. A signature dive site for the South. Descend to the south to find the deepest diving section and where you’ll find enormous green and blue magnificent anemones swaying back and forth. Sea apples (Pseudocolchirus Violaceus) are abundant, their bodies decorated in amazing maroon, studded with golden beads with bright yellow or cream tentacles that they use to filter feed on plankton. Making your way east and north you’ll be astounded by the sizes of the purple gorgonian fans, some over 2 metres tall. These fans are home to the pygmy seahorse, always a thrill to spot. Dense thickets of lime green whip coral ferns and yellow and white spiral corals mark your trail. Be on the look-out for yellow-ribbon sweetlips – endemic to Komodo – and sweeps of gold-striped fusiliers. Green turtles are also frequent visitors to this dive site to feed on the soft corals.
End of the World: It is one of the most southerly Komodo islands. There are white-tip sharks, rays, morays and rich coral growth in the cuts and shelves. The flat areas of the wall are covered with extensive fields of marigold cup corals, a beautiful and vivid effect against the dark rock.
Manta Alley: A bit of a giveaway from the name of the site, but this signature dive is the main location in Komodo to find manta rays – often as many as 10 or 20. It’s a rock islet that just punctures the sea’s surface in a small craggy chain, inside the bay along the south coast of Komodo Island. Manta Alley is always one of the most frequently requested dives on any Komodo liveaboard, provided that you can handle the chill of these southern waters.
Out side of Komodo National Park is Sangeang Island which is formed by the volcano Gunung Api (fire mountain) formed by two peaks Doro Api (1949m) and Doro Mantoi (1795m). This volcano, one of the most active in the Lesser Sunda Islands with the last eruption in 2012. The island is about 13 km wide and lies to the northeast of Sumbawa Island. The volcano is large and if the weather is fine it can even be seen from Labuan Bajo, lying to the east towards the sunset.
Black Forest (Hot rocks): This dive site on the north east of the island really makes you realize what it means to dive at an active volcano! There is an area with bubbles rising from warm black sand, the water at some places is really hot (see alsoSiau dive site). Further down you have a really nice dive area with black coral bushes, gorgonians with hawkfishes and pygmy seahorses living in them. Currents can be a bit tricky.
Tanjung Menjangan (Lighthouse Bay):A sheltered dive site with black sand and a colorful coral garden. A great place for small critters like nudibranchs, shrimps and crabs (even boxercrabs), frogfishes and pipefishes and a place to see the flame file shell which seems to show electric flashes (actually it is light reflecting on thin bands on the mantle of the shell). Really good muck diving!
Bantoh: A small fishing village on the west side of Sangeang. A good place for a night dive.
DIVE SEASON: Diving is good year-round. Because of strong currents and upwelling the water can be cold. We suggest a 5mm suit and hood.
Diving in the NORTH: Best period is during the southeast monsoon, from late March to early May and late September to early November. Currents are often encountered during this time. Water temperature: 24 – 29 C. Visibility: 20 – 25 m.
Diving in the SOUTH: Best period is during the northwest monsoon, mid November to early March. Water temperature: 21 – 27 C. Visibility: 10 – 15 m.
VISIBILITY: Can be 5m/16ft – 30m/98ft
WEATHER: The temperature varies from 20°C/68F to 40°C/104F. The dry season is from April to November and the wet season from November to March with more rain in the months of January and February. Komodo does not have torrential rain as in the rest of Indonesia, and is relatively dry and sunny all year round.
SKILL LEVEL: Intermediate – advanced. There are often very strong and unpredictable currents and undertows, sometimes waves and surge and cold water often wells up to the shallow areas, resulting in low water temperatures (often 28 to 29, but sometimes 23 degrees or less, especially in the south). The visibility is quite good. The daily conditions such as tides and currents have to be taken in consideration when planning a dive and sometimes a change of plan might be required. On those occasions don’t dispute the opinion of your dive guide or your skipper, they know this place better than you do! Follow your guide underwater, he knows best where to turn back from the fierce currents and take shelter and never dive without a local guide! If everything works out, this is diving of all the superlatives, but the dive can be a wild ride! Dive computer and safety sausage are a MUST!
MARINE LIFE: From sunfish, mantas, dolphins and eagle rays to pygmy seahorses, ornate ghost pipefish, clown frogfish, nudibranchs and blue-ringed octopus, all are at home amongst a spectacular range of colourful sponges, sea squirts, tunicates, sea cucumbers called sea apples. Komodo is a macro enthusiast’s heaven.
The Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is an endangered species which can only be found in the Komodo National Park (KNP) These komodos, the real life dragons, are a sight indeed. Gigantic, the lizard-like creatures are about two or three meters in length. They can easily weigh about 165 kilograms. Despite of their sheer size and appearance, they are not active hunters. What makes them intimidating is the fact that they are a patient predator. In the wild, they stalk a victim, usually a weak or injured one. One bite and that’s what it usually takes. After following the victim for a while, sometimes up to several days’ time, the komodos will devour the dying prey.
The most popular land-based activity in the park is of course completing a walking trail to see the Komodo dragons. Here is few TIPS.
- Don’t walk alone. It is best to walk around with a ranger or guide.
- Don’t disturb or feed komodos. Despite slow and lazy movement, this animal can suddenly turn aggresive and move fast.
- When trekking, please take a stick with you. Komodos are usually afraid when threatened with a stick.
- Please wear shoes. Komodo, Rinca, and Padar islands have 12 types of snakes and three of them are poisonous, namely green snakes living on trees, cobras and russel’s viper who live on the ground in holes on the savannas.
CLIMATE: Komodo does not have torrential rain as in the rest of Indonesia, and is relatively dry and sunny all year round.
LANGUAGE: Bahasa Indonesia is the national and official language in the entire country.
ELECTRICITY: Electric power supply is 220 volts in all regions. So be careful with your 110-volt electronic equipment. The sockets will only fit with with two pins rounded-tip plugs (technically known as Type C, E, and F) or use adaptors.
CURRENCY & CREDIT CARDS: The Indonesia Rupiah (Rp) is also called IDR. IDR and US$ are the most acceptable currencies. Most tourism resorts have money changer facilities. When you are traveling to remote areas it is advisable to exchange your money and clear your check. Credit cards are only acceptable in big hotels, restaurants, shops and traveling agencies.
GRATUITIES: Most hotels add a 10% service charge to the bill on top of the 10% tax. In restaurants where service charge is not added, a tip of 5 to 10% on the bill will be appropriate depending on the service and type of establishment.
PHONE & INTERNET SERVICE: Country code +62. Most hotels and many restaurants in large cities provide internet connections or free WiFi.
VISA & PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS: All travelers to Indonesia must be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of arrival, and have proof (tickets) of onward or return passage. Visa upon arrival is $35 Payable by USD cash only. Please check with your country if you are eligible for visa upon arrival. Visa-on-Arrival are valid for 30 days and are extendable with another 30 days to be applied at Immigration offices in Indonesia.
CUSTOMS: Maximum items allowed by customs when you visit Indonesia, 1 liter of alcoholic beverages, 200 cigarettes OR 50 cigars OR 100 grams of tobacco, Reasonable amount of perfume per adult, meaning if you arrive drenched in perfume the customs probably will not mind you carrying loads of bottles, Cameras, video cameras, portable radios, cassette recorders, binoculars and sport equipments are admitted provided they are taken out on departure. They must be declared to Customs.
DEPARTURE TAX: An airport tax of IDR150,000 – IDR200,000 is levied by airports on departing passengers on international flights and IDR30,000-IDR75,000 for those on domestic routes. Airport tax must be paid in Rupiah cash.
GETTING THERE: Labuan Bajo airport will be the closet airport for Komodo National Park. Many live-aboard start and end cruise in Bali. Another city that some live aboard might use for embarkation and disembarkation is Bima.
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