Local name: Komodo Nasional Park

The island of Komodo is located between the islands of Flores and Sumbawa in Indonesia, which are all part of the Lesser Sunda chain of islands. These islands have a famous resident: the Komodo dragon, or Komodo monitor. This is the large lizard on earth and kills its prey in a special way: with poison. This poison can also be lethal to humans. But there is more to the Komodo islands than just these animals.

The islands are famous and notorious. This group of islands is known as the ‘dragon islands’ – because the dangerous Komodo dragon had a bit of a bad image here in the past. But more and more people appreciate these unique animals, and aim to protect them. The same goes for the volcanic landscape on the islands, known as some of the wildest areas in the world. The islands can only be reached by boat, which adds to their charm.

This is the view as you sail to the islands.
This is the view as you sail to the islands. Corno van den Berg
The locals have known about the Komodo dragon for centuries, but scientists only learnt about them in the last century. It wasn’t until 1911 that this cold-blooded animal was first officially recorded. Dutchman Van Hensbrack, lieutenant of the Royal Dutch-Indian Army (KNIL), visited the islands and was informed by the locals about ‘giant lizards’.
Walking on Komodo Island.
Walking on Komodo Island. Corno van den Berg

To prove their existence, he brought home a dead Komodo dragon. He thought they walked on their hind legs most of the time, that they had excellent vision and were deaf. But later research shows the opposite is true, and they spend most time walking on four legs. Van Hensbrack sent the animal to PA Ouwens, the curator of the Zoological Museum in Bogor, on the island of Java. Ouwens gave this animal its official Latin name: Varanus komodoensis.

All the islands in this region were created by volcanic activity, which also created the islands of Java, Bali and Sumatra. It was a collision between two continental plates, the Sahul shelf and Sunda shelf. The island of Komodo is right in the middle of this area. Friction between the shelves caused the earth’s crust to push up out of the water.

There are no more active volcanoes in the area, but earth tremors are common. Scientists believe the west of Komodo rose out of the sea first, about 130 million years ago. The eastern part and the islands of Rinca and Padar ‘only’ came up 49 million years ago, which is relatively young in the earth’s history. After the eruptions, the land settled with landscapes of savannahs, forests and grasslands. A rugged area, where nature crafted her own path.

The Komodo dragons are some of the oldest kinds of lizards on earth, and resemble dinosaurs. They could be descendants of large ancestors from Java, or they could have ancestors from Australia, that walked around there 30.000 years ago. Whichever it is, they still are one of the very few surviving species with such an ancient past. And they live in a strange symbiosis with a bird, the orange-footed scrubfowl, also known as the bush turkey.

After the Dutch first arrived here, there have been more and more visitors to this part of the world. Most people are very impressed by its natural beauty, and in 1926 the American scientist Douglas Burden wrote in his diary: ‘With its fantastic sky line, its sentinel palms, its volcanic chimneys bared to the stars, it was a fitting abode for the great saurians we had come so far to seek.’

Komodo and the surrounding islands have become more known. Though the extremely rich underwater world around Komodo and the other islands is still largely unknown to many tourists, but divers (and snorkelers) appreciate the area’s extremely rich marine life. It’s not a great place for unexperienced divers, since most dives here are quite challenging, but snorkelers can explore the many reefs in the shallower areas along the coastlines.

The coral reefs along the coast are home to more than 1000 fish, 260 kinds of coral and 70 sponges. The diversity underwater is great because the island is located on the ridge where the tropical water meets the cooler water from the south, so the different kinds of animals like to call it home.

A ranger and a Komodo dragon.
A ranger and a Komodo dragon. Corno van den Berg

This wealth of underwater life has also attracted other animals. And because you have to spend several hours on a boat to get to these islands, you’re likely to see other marine creatures such as dolphins, sea turtles and whales. This adds to Komodo National Park’s charm.

Best times:

  • Wet season. The wet season lasts from November to late March. These are the only months when there will be substantial rainfall on the islands. They are incredibly green and lush at this time of year, especially from January onwards. The average temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius, but it will be very humid. This is the time that the islands are wild and rugged. If that’s what you love, go in the wet season. Make sure you spend ample time here, because it’s possible that it will rain all day, though generally the showers last for about two hours.
  • Dry season. The best time to visit the islands is between April and November, though the landscape is quite dry and the temperature can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius. Due to these conditions, many animals go looking for water so they’re easier to spot.

Divers have to keep in mind that there are varying tides all year round, so check locally when the best time to hit the water is. Of course you can also book a dive with an organision who know the best spots and times to go out.

Please Note:

The Komodo dragon is a wild and dangerous animal. Tourists often misjudge the animals’ speed and agility. Especially when tourists are taking photos, they are often unaware of how close the animal has gotten. They are predators, and won’t be intimidated by you. The ranger will give you strict instructions, please pay close attention.

The only way to get to these islands is by boat. Make sure you are well prepared, and ensure you’ve got medication if you’re likely to experience seasickness. The water can be quite rough.

On Komodo and neighbouring islands there are numerous other dangerous animals, including centipedes that like to bite, and also poisenous snakes. They’ve got about 12 of these, such as  spitting cobra’s, Russell’s viper, and the white-lipped pit viper.

More information: www.komodonationalpark.org