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Komodo trip report (June 2014)

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Steppenwolf, Jul 12, 2014.

  1. Steppenwolf

    Steppenwolf Well-Known Member

    Jan 20, 2008
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    After the land-based dives in Bali proper, I was to join the Mermaid I liveaboard boat for a 9-day cruise towards Komodo island and back. 28 further dives were planned for this trip but due to the volcanic eruption, it was likely that one dive near Sangeang would be missed.

    From Sanur I was taken to Benoa harbour and we arrived early in the afternoon and were allowed to board and settle down right away. The boat was fairly upmarket as liveaboards went with large en suite cabins and plenty of lounging space. There were only 8 guests including a non-diver and so I got a cabin all for myself. The facilities were excellent, the dive deck well designed and spacious and the crew exceptionally efficient and helpful. The senior divemaster / dive director was a Finn named Harri and was extremely well organised. There were 2 other divemasters – a Frenchman named Nico (he was half-Italian) and an Indonesian they called Dolphin (I never found out his real name). The rest of the crew, including the Captain, were Indonesians.

    Almost as soon as we boarded the boat, it left harbour and started on its way to Moyo Island, the site of our first dive the following morning. It was to be a long all-evening and overnight journey and we had plenty of time to settle down, set-up gear and get to know the boat and each other. The divers were a mixed group. There was a Swiss banker, a Chinese couple from Hong Kong, a Finnish musician, a German businessman with his non-diving Thai wife, a Japanese barmaid and an over-the-hill GP from England :). The German, the Jap girl and I were put in the “experienced” group with Nico while Harri and Dolphin took charge of the other four. All dives were via dinghies but thankfully these had retractable ladders.

    Day 1: The following morning we anchored at Moyo and got ready for the first dive over Angel Reef by 11 am. It was warm and sunny with calm, flat seas. As we jumped off the dinghy, the water temperature was 29*C and so 3mm full suits were more than adequate. The reef – more of a wall actually - was very colourful with healthy hard and soft coral and loads of reef fish. We saw a superb eagle ray almost right away (my first photo here) and later a black-tip reef shark. As elsewhere in this region, there were plenty of nudibranchs, some of the type that I had never seen before.
    Later in the afternoon we went to Satonda Reef, site of a spectacular volcanic eruption 200 years before. 2 dives were scheduled here, one of the objects being to spot pygmy seahorses. We found a couple of those, as well as lobsters, stingrays and a couple of sharks up to some hanky-panky under a rocky overhang. We then moved to the ‘protected’ side of the reef for the night dive, where it was called Satonda Bay. Although there was lots of coral here as well, we found the more interesting stuff in the sandy muck – hunting miniature lionfish, stargazers, crocodile fish etc. The lionfish apparently used divers’ lights to spot their prey!

    Day 2: After another overnight journey, we arrived at the site of Sangeang volcano, the same one that had erupted 2 weeks earlier making news around the world. By the time we arrived it had quietened down enough to allow the planned dive at Lighthouse Reef (rather fittingly, it was Friday the 13th) on the sheltered side. The reef consisted of a shallow ‘valley’ with coral slopes on either side and among other things we saw cuttlefish, moray eels and a superb mantis shrimp. The volcanic eruption had not affected visibility, which was excellent.
    The planned second dive at Sangeang was postponed due to rough sea conditions and we went to Gili Banta isle instead and dived over a reef called Tanduk Rusa. The conditions were excellent and the reef covered in lush healthy coral and teeming with fish life. Crustaceans were particularly plentiful and we saw banded shrimps, decorated crabs and other species I could not identify. There were plenty of moray eels and nudibranchs as well. I got a lot of good photos here.
    The next dive site, known as The Ridge, was a rocky promontory sloping down into the depths. It was also rich in coral and fish life and here we saw a pygmy seahorse and 3 superb leaf fish. There was mild current but it did not bother us. We also saw a very large ornate lobster peering out of its cavity under a rocky overhang.
    We went to Gili Banta Bay for the night dive on the eastern side of the island. A special task was to find the rare cat reef shark endemic to this area. Although the dive was very good with a lot of critters, it was only in the last 5 minutes that I spotted the cat reef shark. It was small (about the size of a large barracuda), sleek and beautiful but way too fast to be photographed at night. Nevertheless, we had fun following it around the reef before finishing the dive.

    Day 3: After yet another overnight journey, we arrived at Komodo Island proper. We were warned of two things: to expect progressively cooler water, particularly as we moved south and currents. The sea temperature at Castle Rock, where we did the first dive of the day, was not noticeably colder but the current! We did a ‘negative entry’ with empty BCDs but Nico had miscalculated and we had to swim against a strong current to reach the reef. We managed somehow and hung-on but it was very difficult to control the camera kit in the cureent and so I could not take many photos. Nevertheless, the dive was good and we saw a lot of trevallis, jacks and several white-tip sharks.
    For the next dive we moved to the sheltered side of the reef to a site called Crystal Rock. Here the conditions were more diver-friendly and the reef was overflowing with colourful coral and fish life. We saw another white-tip, a few reef sharks, a napoleon wrasse, a turtle, a couple of clown triggerfish etc. It was a very enjoyable dive.
    The third dive of the day was another reef called Golden Passage, a valley between two coral-filled promontories. It was meant to be a part drift dive but the current was stronger than expected and so it turned out to be a full-fledged high-speed drift. We raced past (and through) a school of trevallis, started a turtle and almost bumped some bumphead parrotfish. After about 25 minutes of drifting, we were ‘dropped off’ at a quite area and from then on the dive was more conventional.
    The night dive at Darat Reef was significant because it was my 60th night dive and 400th overall. I missed my wife, who was with me for my 100th dive in Gozo, 200th in the Philippines and 300th in Sipadan. A special task of this night dive was to find some Spanish Dancers known to be in the area. For the first 35 minutes of the dive we could not find them (but there was plenty of other stuff) but in the last 15 to 20 minutes we saw 2 large Spanish Dancers and topped off with a large octopus.

    Day 4: The early morning dive on the fourth day was at Tatawa Besar, a true drift dive in a rapid current. I therefore decided to leave my camera behind. There was not much of a current when we dropped off but we felt it at 15m and at 22m it turned into a rapid down-current that pushed us to 31m. We struggled up at levelled off at 18m at which depth the current stabilised into a steady drift. We went past a school of fusiliers and saw scorpionfish, sweetlips, queen angelfish etc. Later on the dive were 3 turtles and a superb mantis shrimp. The ascent and safety stop posed no problems.
    The second dive was over Batu Balong; this was a lush, coral rich reef like crystal rock with plenty of hard coral, soft coral and sponges about. There were lots of reef fish as well as the big stuff; we saw a couple of white-tip sharks and several turtles. On the macro side, there were colourful flatworms and nudibranches. We finished this very rewarding dive among a school of unicorn fish.
    The third dive of the day, at Takat Makassar, was a polar opposite to the second; this was a featureless, rubble strewn reef with a strong current. But of course, there was a very good reason why we were diving this site ---manta rays! There was a cleaning station nearby and after we anchored ourselves with reef hooks, at least a dozen mantas arrived and departed! We stayed in place for around 20 minutes and I got several good photos. Afterwards we went on a fast drift with the current, staying less than a metre above the seabed and going past more mantas, an eagle ray and a large green moray eel among other things. This but was like an amusement park ride and great fun.
    We went to Pink Beach – so called because of the pinkish colour of the local sand – for the night dive. Conditions were not ideal for night diving because of a mild but haphazard current but we saw a lot of interesting critters. Slipper crabs, nudibranchs, arrowhead crabs, a sea snake, a small Spanish dancer and a resting nurse shark were all present. The current made the night dive a bit chaotic bit it was great nevertheless.

    Day 5: There was no morning dive on this fifth day because we were went by dinghies to the Komodo National Park to meet the local residents – Komodo Dragons. The place is a National Park complete with rangers; during the hour-long scenic walk we did not see any dragons but after returning to the ranger station, we came across 3 of them. We were only allowed to get within 5 metres of them but even so, the effect of watching these reptiles was like going back in time. The really looked like dinosaurs. The ancient reptilian faces, the shambling gait and their cold stare was unnerving at times. I got a few good photos through my Olympus OM D5.
    Then we went for the midmorning dive, the first of the day to a superb reef called Cannibal Rock. The diving conditions were not ideal with choppy seas, colder water and moderate visibility. The coral was extremely colourful and varied and there were plenty of reef fish but we failed to find a single giant frogfish, the most important resident of this reef. We therefore had another go at Cannibal Rock after lunch and this time conditions had improved. We saw a large black giant frogfish early into the dive, followed by a couple of clown triggerfish, several colourful nudibranchs, a zebra crab, flatworms, a blue-spotted stingray and finally another giant frogfish. It turned out to be a very rewarding dive.
    The night dive turned out to be really eventful. It was a part muck-dive over a sandy area named Torpedo Alley, so called because of a miniature stingray – or an electric ray to be exact – called torpedo ray that was found here. I saw one almost right away and a few more during the dive. The water temperature was 22*C and I wore a 3mm shorty over my 5mm long suit. We saw a plethora of night creatures like octopi, Indian Walkman, flamboyant cuttlefish, several types of crabs and shrimps etc. But the most fascinating critter was the bobbit worm, which looked like something right out of Star Wars.

    Day 6: We had moved south during the night and for the early morning dive went to a partially protected reef called Manta Alley. Contrary to most manta destinations, there was quite a lot of coral here and we saw several schools of fish including oriental sweetlips. But our destination was the local manta cleaning station. The current was strong and we had a job finding firm spots to anchor ourselves with reef hooks. We managed and during the 35-minute vigil, saw some dozen manta rays as they came for cleaning. One large one was almost completely black while the rest were standard grey. Afterwards we did a bit of playful drifting in the current before surfacing.
    We returned to Pink Beach for the next dive but this being a day dive, we went to a different spot from the night dive a couple of days earlier. The visibility was not great due to plankton bloom but once we got within 20m, everything was clear. There were several large moray eels, a couple of jawfish, a few stingrays trying to hide in the sand and yet another frogfish. This one was actually ‘walking’ along the seabed!
    Having dived the north-western part of Takat Makassar two days earlier, we now went to the eastern side of the same reef. Although the topography was similar here – mostly featureless – there were several coral filled bommies. There were a couple of large black-tip reef sharks that were patrolling this site and seemed to resent our intrusion. We also saw a few white-tips, a couple of manta rays, a large octopus and a huge pufferfish getting its gills cleaned. Once again, we finished the dive with a fast 10-minute drift past the bommies with sea anemones and attendant clownfish, unicorn fish, queen angelfish etc.
    The night dive turned out to be another fascinating muck dive at a place called Wainilu. Once again, we saw a profusion of nocturnal weirdos like Indian Walkman, miniature moray eels, leaf fish, cowfish, filefish and several types of crustaceans, some of which even the guides could not identify. By now I was used to coping with current during night dives, something that one does not experience in a lot of places.

    Day 7: The early morning dive was over Siaba Kecil, a channel between two small coral filled islands. The initial part was a fact drift dive over a rocky topography interspersed with hard and soft coral. We were eventually deposited at the ‘plateau’ where conditions were calm and there were intricate hard coral formations. A black-tip shark had kept us company during the drift and on the plateau we saw several turtles. This area was very rich if fish life and among other things we saw a superb blue flatworm (img 2473), yellow-mask angelfish and several nudibranchs.
    We returned to Crystal Rock for the next dive but while we had dived the colourful northern promontory a four days earlier, this time we went to the southern side. This side was not as lush with coral as the northern part but this was compensated by a greater profusion of fish. We literally swam through a huge school of blue fusiliers and then encountered a school of sturgeonfish. Several white-tip sharks were looking for lunch among the smaller fish while a larger grey reef also hung around. Also present were turtles, clown triggerfish, titan triggerfish and a huge Napoleon wrasse. Conditions were quite calm and we had a relaxing dive.
    The third dive was supposed to be a reef attached to the Sangeang Island but because of the recent volcanic eruption, the afternoon dive was cancelled. Instead, we got a superb view of the still-smoking volcano as we went past. Although the island has no permanent human habitation, flocks of cattle and goats are farmed here. Also, the fertile land around the base of the volcano is extensively cultivated. It was a bit odd seeing well demarcated farmland at the base of a huge, active volcano but I understand that this is quite common in Indonesia.
    We arrived at the northern coast of Sumbawa island and anchored for a night dive at Bima Bay. This was a full-fledged muck dive because of the debris dumped by the residents of Bima city. The water was once again a pleasant 28*C and as we explored the silty bottom, we saw loads of macro life. Nudibranchs, squids, mini-cuttlefish, lionfish, moray eels, filefish, shrimps, crabs, lobsters etc. Among unusual things, we saw a large crocodile-fish and a rare waspfish. We spent over an hour exploring the muck and it turned out to be one of the best dives of the trip.

    Day 8: This was the penultimate day of the trip and by now we were well on our way of the return leg and stopped at Satonda Tihur for the morning dive. This was a ‘traditional’ tropical dive with lots of colourful coral and small and medium sized reef fish. The conditions were perfect for a pleasant, relaxing dive and apart from the usual suspects we saw several fancy-tailed trumpetfish. A school of yellow-tail barracuda had claimed this reef as their hunting ground. Another interesting sight was several bright yellow ‘sea gherkins’ decorating the sponges.
    The next dive, which was the final dive of the trip was a reef called Little Angel back in Moyo Island. This was another extremely colourful dive with lots of coral and fish under superb conditions. A large school of batfish dominated the divesite; I also saw what I thought was a mandarin fish hiding under a hard coral formation but it disappeared before I could get a photo.. As this was a shallow reef, we could do the safety stop while still among the coral and I was playing with a small flabelina as I finished the dive.
    Afterwards, the crew took charge of washing all the dive gear and keeping them out to dry. We were therefore able to relax and out our feet up after lunch and through the evening. As we were at sea and would be until the morning arrival at the harbour, there was no social event in the evening. I used the time to catch-up on me sleep.

    Days 10 to 12: We arrived and disembarked at Benoa Harbour in the morning. I had booked into a small hotel in Nusa Dua and they were kind enough to allow me to occupy the room by 10am. The next couple of days I did some shopping, went to the Devdan Show (pretty good if rather chaotic) and went out for a meal.

    The return trip to the UK was tiring but uneventful. Next stop Raja Ampat in November!

    Here are the pictures from the Komodo liveaboard leg of the trip.
    PeterT likes this.
  2. PeterT

    PeterT .

    Jan 15, 2008
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  3. Iain Denham

    Iain Denham Active Member

    Sep 11, 2012
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    Wonderful pictures.
  4. hawk

    hawk Doing It Rong
    UKD Supporter

    Mar 29, 2012
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