Ocean First in Komodo 2015

By OceanFirst on 10/15/15

Komodo, Indonesia: September 17 – 30, 2015

Anticipation is a powerful emotion. You can’t help but to set expectations when you really aren’t sure what you’ve gotten yourself into. The Komodo region of Indonesia has that effect on divers, regardless of their experience and skill level. Untamed country, wild currents, and incredibly vibrant, healthy reefs only begin to describe this place in the back of beyond.

Now, most epic destinations like Indonesia require some effort to get to. This is no 4 hour flight to Cozumel. Indonesia takes work. It can take 30 hours and several flights just to get to the country. After that there is at least one domestic flight to really get out there. But trust me when I say that the effort, the subpar airplane meals, and the long layovers are all worth it to dive in what is arguably the best dive destination in the world.

Our journey began in Bali with a quick stay before boarding a 1 hour flight to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. Flores is in south/central Indonesia, in between the Flores Sea and the Indian Ocean. The close proximity of numerous islands and narrow channels result in swift currents with every tidal shift. All of this water exchange means heaps of food for marine life and wild rides for adventurous divers! Upon our arrival in Labuan Bajo we were greeted by the friendly staff of the Aurora Liveaboard, our home for the next 10 days. After a short ride to the marina we boarded the traditional phinisi style vessel and we were off!

Upon completing the standard check out dive to sort out weights and get acclimated, we were ready for the real deal. The check out dive was nowhere near boring, quite the opposite. If I had to describe Komodo diving in a nutshell I would say it is mind-blowing. The reefs are healthy and robust with a tremendous variety of coral species, fish, turtles, and other marine creatures. We settled into our groove, got the entry and exit procedures ironed out, and the crew felt we were ready for a little high energy action!

Komodo is known for having some of the most challenging dive sites in the world. This reputation stems from the wild currents that are evident above and below the surface. As we were traveling from site to site you could see the churning water revealing a up or down-welling on the sides of small islands in the middle of the channels. Our superb dive guides gave very thorough briefings reinforcing the importance of following the guide to avoid these areas. There were some occasions where we did ride the currents, however. Those were some swift drift dives and not for the feint of heart!

One of our favorite sites was Crystal Mountain. This submerged pinnacle was teeming with life. There was action everywhere, from small crustaceans on whip corals to the large school of big-eyed jacks that were gracefully hanging out at the tip of the sea mount. Various species of sweetlips stayed in perfect formation, making for great video and still images!

Then there was another crowd favorite: Shotgun. As I mentioned earlier, you never know what to expect when you dive Komodo. Our briefings were really good, but even a thorough description could not prepare us for the wild ride known as Shotgun. We were instructed to enjoy checking out the mellow part of the site, staying together in an area that resembled an amphitheater. Once everyone was ready, the dive guide would give the signal to pop over the ledge and we would be in for the ride of our lives. Sweet, we can handle that, sounds fun. Well, they were not exaggerating. Once we went over the ledge we were truly motoring, literally being shot out of the channel. It was crazy and seriously awesome! This is Komodo diving and everyone loved it! I think we may have seen some animals, but who knows?

Part way through our journey we spent some time on a beautiful beach; it was nice to walk around after being on a boat for several days. We also stopped at the ranger station on Komodo Island to learn more about the famous residents, the Komodo dragons. These huge monitor lizards inhabit Komodo, Rinca and a couple of other, smaller islands in the area. They are amazing to see and deceptively quick. Pay attention when there is a dragon around! Later in the trip we had a really unique encounter with several dragons on a beach. We had to stay in the dingies for this excursion as dragons can swim very well and are not afraid. We had two dragons swim out to greet us; it is a little unnerving to have a 5 foot meat-eating lizard approach you without any hesitation!

As we headed to the southernmost part of our expedition the water temperature started to drop. The constant exchange of water between Flores Sea and the Indian Ocean results in strong currents bringing nutrients and colder water up to the surface. We started off in 79-80F temperatures up north; our dive at Manta Alley was 70F. Fortunately we were prepared and everyone bundled up. The visibility was also a bit compromised with all of the plankton in the water. Although we would have preferred clearer water, plankton means manta rays. Good trade!

Manta Alley is a really cool site. This pinnacle has wild currents and open ocean travelers like mantas love stopping by to get cleaned. We had to really pay attention since the visibility wasn’t the greatest. Suddenly a shape appears & you recognize the white belly of a majestic manta cruising by. There are known cleaning stations on this pinnacle and, if divers stay on the periphery, they will be rewarded with close flybys from these incredible creatures. Everyone had really amazing encounters as we drifted along; we even had an uncommon black manta visit!

There were more stunning reef dives with mantis shrimp, shortfin lionfish, awkward frogfish (a small yellow one and a huge lavender one!), crocodilefish, nudibranchs, anemonefish, octopus, cuttlefish, white-tip reef sharks, turtles, and so many schools of plankton-feeding reef fish it was difficult to see through! There is so much life here it is hard to describe eloquently. All of the sites are very different from each other, providing incredible diving every day.

Perhaps the highlight of the entire trip was our gamble at Manta Point. This site is right in the middle of the main channel between Komodo and Rinca. The water smokes through here and, if luck holds, there should be mantas getting cleaned at Manta Point. Our first dive was average, no mantas. The snorkelers in our group had about 5-6 of them cruising the surface, however. Irony has a sense of humor it seems!

Our dive guide, Diego, gave us the choice of moving on to another site or taking a gamble and diving Manta Point again.. maybe we’ll have better luck? It was unanimous; let’s give it another shot. Well.. thank goodness we did. Holy manta ray convention! They were everywhere, giving each and every diver their own personal encounter. Of all the experiences we had on this epic trip nothing comes close to how awesome it is to be buzzed by a 15 foot manta and have it come around again for a second go. Although our dive plan was to end the dive after 70 minutes, most divers came up at around 80 minutes. This was only after the dive guides signaled “No, really. We need to come up now”. It was easily the best dive of the whole trip and that is saying a lot!

After 10 magical days in one of Indonesia’s most remote dive destinations, it was time to return to Bali. This group jelled immediately and life-long friendships have been made. There were a variety of backgrounds, professions, and life stories represented in this group. As with every dive group, there is always that one common thread: the love of our oceans and sense of adventure. Even if we don’t speak the same language, this passion transcends our differences. We explore the world seeking extraordinary adventures and new friends. Ocean First’s Komodo 2015 trip certainly delivered.

Until the next time….

Terima kasih!


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