Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Komodo Island

Komodo Island: Lizards, legends and natural beauty

Komodo village is located around two kilometers west of Long Liang, a local sea terminal and village. Its inhabitants live in closely built houses on stilts, some 200 meters from the sea. With wooden walls and galvanized iron roofs, the large dwellings are usually occupied by several families. Behind their homes are open fields where village youths play football. Motorboats and sampans are moored off the coast. The village also has a mosque.

The island's barren, wild and remote conditions seem to defy human habitation. But people have lived on Komodo for a long time, long before the island's conversion into a national park. Hunting and occasional fishing used to be their livelihood. After they moved, they were banned from hunting. Now they are mostly fishermen, with some working as vendors and craftsmen producing wooden komodo replicas.


The old story and the Komodo culture are only part of the charm the island has to offer. Various beautiful places can be found in Komodo National Park (TNK), including Banu Nggulung, Merah Beach, Poreng-Sabieta, Mt. Ara and Mt. Satalibo. Komodo lizards also remain a major magnet bringing tourists to the island.

Komodos are the last surviving monitor lizard species capable of reproduction. The cold-blooded reptiles were first discovered by a Dutchman, JKH Van Steyn, in 1911. They became famous in the world of science in 1912, after researcher and biologist Mayor PA Ouwens in his article ""On a Large Varanus Species from the Island of Komodo"" gave the dragons a scientific name, Varanus komodoensis.

The prehistoric lizards can reach over three meters long and weigh as much as 90 kilograms.
Banu Nggulung is the location to watch and photograph komodos with ease. Some two kilometers east of Loh Liang, it is 45 minutes' walk along village paths lined with lush vegetation that for the most part resembles the trees of Darwin, Australia.

Large, wild komodos often appear on the route to Banu Nggulung, poised to devour the unwary. Therefore, visitors are not allowed to walk alone; they must be accompanied by national park guides or forest rangers.

Pantai Merah, which means Red Beach, is among the island's most gorgeous spots. Tourists often call it Pink Beach. Its name comes from the reddish sand that covers its sloping shore. A favorite of sunbathers, the beach is also an interesting place for swimming, snorkeling, diving and fishing, since it offers a magnificent coral reefs as well as diverse commercial and ornamental fish species. Some tourists claim that its aquarium fish and coral are among the best found in Indonesia.

Komodo Island also boasts a beautiful panorama of two brownish hills, Poreng and Sabieta, with expanses of grassland and rows of palmyra trees. Wild buffaloes frequently graze there, and tourists who are lucky can see blackish adult komodos searching for their prey.

Another lovely spot is Mt. Ara, which is 510 meters above sea level and has a campground. One can get there via an 8-kilometer path from Loh Liang. Finally, Mt. Satalibo is the farthest destination from Loh Liang. With an altitude of 735 meters, it is the tallest mountain on Komodo. One can see the whole panorama of the island, including the sea and nearby islets, from its summit.

How to reach Komodo kingdom

Komodo Island draws wealthy tourists and backpackers alike. Those with money to spend often visit the island after Bali and Lombok. Spice Island Cruises and Evening Star are among the luxury ships that ply the route.

Tourists who are adventurous or short on cash go by bus, passenger ship and ferry. According to some backpackers, the ferry journey is more challenging because of the storms that frequently break out in Batu Tiga waters, between Labuanbajo and Komodo. The violent storms locals call kala-kala have swallowed a motorboat and a ferry, claiming passengers' lives.

Labuanbajo, Flores, is the gate to Komodo and the other islands within the Komodo National Park (TNK). The other entrance is Sape, on Sumbawa Island in West Nusa Tenggara. Tourists can take a ferry from Labuanbajo or Sape and disembark in Komodo Island waters before proceeding by sampan to the Loh Liang terminal. Fishermen's motorboats or speedboats can also be hired at negotiable fares. It takes 4 hours to travel from Labuanbajo to Loh Liang by motorboat. A speedboat takes only about an hour, but is more expensive. It is cheaper to visit Rinca Island due to its proximity to Labuanbajo.

You can reach Labuanbajo by any major form of transportation. It takes four days by bus or sea from Jakarta. In order to save time, visitors can fly from Jakarta to Mataram, Lombok, and then go by bus to Sape and further by speedboat to Loh Liang.

The Loh Liang tourist village is the gate and ticket counter for Komodo Island. It has complete facilities, such as a forest rangers office, a hostel that houses dozens of guests at reasonable rates, a cafeteria offering typical seafood and a cooperative selling souvenirs. For a tour of Rinca Island, tickets are available in Loh Buaya. Rinca, also providing accommodation, has a five-kilometer path through a hilly area where tourists can see long-tailed monkeys, wild horses and komodos.

Remote land

Komodo National Park feels like a remote area. That is because its natural and geographic conditions are different from most other regions in the country. Some of its islands are hilly, the results of centuries-long geological shifting. Other islets were formed by coral reaching as high as 200 to 400 meters.

The climate is relatively dry, with average rainfall of 800 to 1,000 millimeters. Its rainy season, which runs from January to April, and its longer dry spell affect the forms and types of flora and fauna. Its vegetation is dominated by grassland interspersed with tamarind, waru (hibiscus), wild cotton, kesambi (lac) and lontar (palmyra) trees.

The park has a combination of mangroves, seasonal and tropical rain forests, which are not as dense as the jungles of Java, Papua, Kalimantan and Sumatra. Its wildlife has only about 185 species, representing such Asian-Australian transition species as eagles, pigeons, cockatoos, Timorese deer, snakes, wild horses, and komodos. But its marine creatures are diverse: a survey by an international agency found that TNK waters contained around 900 marine biota species, including over 100 fish species like napoleon, groupers, red snappers and rayfish, as well as 260 species of coral, especially Acropora sp. Dolphins, sharks and blue whales are often found, too.

Covering an area of almost 220,000 hectares, the TNK mainly comprises Komodo (33,937 hectares), Rinca (19,625 hectares) and Padar (2,017 hectares), plus Gili Motang and a number of islets and their waters. Flanked by two provincial borders, it lies in the Sape Strait between the western tip of Flores and the eastern tip of Sumbawa.

Given the natural wealth, beauty and unique features of Komodo Island and its adjacent islets, the government declared the entire zone a national park on March 6, 1980, with the primary aim of protecting komodos and their habitat. UNESCO designated it as a Natural World Heritage Site in 1991. Under the Soeharto government, komodo dragons were declared the national animal in 1992. And in 1997, UNESCO declared it a Man and Biosphere Reserve.

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