Here be Dragons! (All You Ever Need To Know About Komodo National Park)


In a time when the shape of the world and its boundaries were shrouded in mystery, ancient mariners and map makers would scrawl the warning “Here be Dragons”, along the borders of their parchment charts. The indication of giant lizards and sea serpents was intended to serve as a warning for fellow explorers, suggesting that what lay in the unexplored regions of the earth was as terrifying as it was enticing. Although you might think that those superstitious times have passed, in the modern age when sailing to Komodo, that phrase, 'Here be Dragons' has never been more true.



For some maritime adventurers the presence of dragons did not serve as a deterrent, but rather as an enticement. Ancient dragon lore told of ferocious and fanciful beasts that had a taste for treasure. Many early explorers shared the dragon’s hunger for riches, and were eager to discover what valuables these dragons might be protecting in the world that laid beyond all known boundaries.



But as time went by and the strange became familiar, references to these fantastical creatures disappeared from nautical charts. That said, however hard they have tried, the rational minds of science and enlightened thinking haven't stopped people wanting to cruise to faraway places to see for themselves if the legends are true. In a little known spot tucked away along a swath of Indonesian islands to the east of Bali lie the Komodo Dragon, the world’s largest living lizards. Here in the Komodo National Park is the only place where Komodo Dragons exist in the wild, and their primitive ways and dinosaur-like appearance hold the visitor's imagination as much as the superstitions of the ancients ever did.



The Komodo dragon’s domain is a beautiful and bountiful landscape, home to terrestrial and marine ecosystems of staggering wealth and biodiversity, crowned by the dazzling jewels of its colourful coral reefs. Perhaps we should pay homage to this lizard king, for without him, the natural riches of the unique ecosystem he inhabits might have gone the way of the dinosaur. Discovery and protection of this unique creature has mushroomed into a recognised need to protect the area and its inhabitants. Despite the seemingly sparse exterior of Komodo National Park, a wealth of interesting flora and fauna inhabit both its land and waters. The rugged hillsides of dry savannah and pockets of thorny green vegetation and mangroves contrast starkly with pristine pink  beaches and the turquoise waters surging over coral. Anyone who makes a visit to this wonderland of nature will find that there is nothing about Komodo that isn’t extraordinary.




Komodo National Park is located between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores in Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands region. The park comprises of a coastal section of western Flores, the three larger islands of Komodo, Padar, Rinca (where Komodo Dragons can be found), and 26 smaller islands. The park protects both land (603 km²) and marine (1214 km²) environments, protecting  a total area of 1,817 km².




Althought the park was originally created to protect the Komodo Dragons, it now protects a variety of terrestrial and marine inhabitants. Below is the timeline that shows the pathway of the Komodo islands on their way from the Dragons first being protected more than a century ago, right up to the UNESCO recognition and its nomination as one of the Seven Wonders of Nature.

1915 Dragons first formally protected

1938 Nature reserves established on Padar and Rinca Islands

1965 Nature reserve extended to Komodo Island

1977 UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve

1980 National Park established

1991 UNESCO World Heritage Site

2005 ASEAN Heritage Park

2011 New Seven Wonders of Nature




Komodo’s climate can be divided into two seasons: “wet” and “dry.” The dry season lasts from April to October, when the mean daily temperature hovers around 40°C and dry southeast trade winds from Australia bring very little moisture to the area. November to March is the “wet season” where the northwest monsoon blows in from Asia. Even in the wet season, most of the rain will drop over western Indonesia before it reaches the park, which only receives between 800mm and 1000mm of rain annually.




Not a lot, for the Komodo region is one of the driest areas of Indonesia. A lack of rainfall means there are precious few water sources that can provide fresh water to the park’s inhabitants. Different temperatures and humidity during the year greatly influence the means of survival for villagers, as well as the Komodo dragon’s choice of habitat and range throughout the seasons.




Upon first sight of the park, one would be forgiven for thinking they had arrived there in a time machine, for the rugged mountainous savanna invokes a strong image of the Jurassic Era. Komodo park’s precipitous topography is dominated by a range of rounded hills crowned by deep and rocky gullies.The generally steep and rugged terrain reflects the position of the Komodo National Park within the active volcanic ‘shatter belt’ between Australia and the Sunda Shelf. Komodo, the largest island, was probably the first to form from volcanic activity in the Jurassic Era about 130 to 134 million years ago. Komodo’s relatively young islands were formed partly by volcanic eruptions and partly by old coral reefs, which are constantly changing by rising, eroding, and subsiding into the sea. Most of western Komodo Island is made from masses of volcanic rock flanked by sandstone, and conglomerates of limestone, sandy shale, and clay. Eastern Komodo Island and neighboring Padar and Rinca Islands are mainly very steep hills of limestone formed from fossilized coral.




Komodo Park’s rough and irregular coastline is characterized by numerous bays, beaches, and inlets separated by headlands which are often sculpted with dramatic sheer cliffs falling vertically into the sea. Amongst this rugged landscape, soft, sandy beaches are found in sheltered bays, such as the famous Pantai Merah, or “Pink Beach,” a popular spot favoured by boats that bring tourists to cruise and sail in Komodo National Park.




The deserted, dry islands of Komodo stand in stark contrast with the waters that surround them, which are vibrant with exotic marine life. Komodo National Park is known for its ferocious Dragons, but amongst scuba divers the park is more famous for its currents, riptides and whirlpools. These strong, coursing currents bring in rich nutrients from the deep seas to support the diverse marine life of the reefs, which offer some of the best diving and snorkelling in the tropical regions. With the knowledgable guides on boats like those of SeaTrek Sailing Adventures, snorkellers of all levels can enjoy Komodo’s extensive reefs and immerse themselves in the rich and beautiful marine diversity that the Coral Triangle has to offer.




Manta Rays and turtles abound in the park, and are a highlight of any cruise through Komodo. Both species of Mantas, pelagic and Reef mantas, can be found feeding on the current in various places in Komodo Park, while turtles are a mainstay of the very rich reefs throughout. When sailing in Komodo, visitors have the opportunity to snorkel with both mantas and turtles, and occasionally they will be lucky enough to see the elusive dugong, which still inhabit the park in small numbers. 




There are over 254 plant species of Asian and Australian origin in Komodo National Park. The dominant trees in the savanna are  useful, multi-purpose lontar palms and jujubi trees, both important shade producers and hiding places for young Komodo Dragons, who must take refuge in the branches to avoid the predatory ways of the adult Dragons. Komodo dragons, which are strictly carnivorous, do not eat any of the vegetation. However, the main prey of the Komodo dragon, such as deer and wild boar, feed on the various leaves, fruit, flowers, roots and grasses found within the park, so the forest forms an essential park of the food chain.




More than 70% of the park is open grass-woodland savanna, made up of scattered trees and drought-resistant grasses that are formed and maintained by fires and extreme drought. The tall savanna grasses also provide a perfect hiding place for the crouching Komodo to ambush their unsuspecting prey. Under the close watch of the National Park's guides, visitors can explore the islands on foot with treks of varying lengths from just 30 minutes up to a couple of hours in their quest to see Dragons in the wild.




Coastal vegetation includes mangrove forests, which generally appear in the sheltered bays of the larger islands. Mangroves act as a nursery and feeding ground for juvenile fish and shrimp and provide habitat for crustaceans, mollusks, and snakes. Seabirds and flying foxes (a very large fruit bat, which can be seen in various places in the park each evening flying out from their roosting trees in the tens of thousands) use mangroves for resting and breeding grounds and sometimes long-tailed macaques find food and shelter in mangrove trees. People also benefit from mangroves by having clean seawater, a source of seafood, building material, food, fuel and medicine.




In Komodo Park, there are four small villages with about 5,000 inhabitants, which SeaTrek Sailing Adventures will visit from time to time. With its lack of fresh water, rough terrain, unforgiving currents, and those pesky Dragons, it’s a wonder anyone would ever settle in such harsh conditions. However, there is evidence that Komodo Island current residents are descendants of exiles from Bima in Sumbawa, who migrated more than a hundred years ago. About  97% of the income in the villages comes from fishing. However, some villagers are able to make a living harvesting seaweed, carving wood and trading pearls to visitors in the park. Other local inhabitants of the Komodo National Park include the Bugis, a sea-faring people who have been living on and in the sea for centuries. 




If you would like to cruise to Komodo National Park with SeaTrek Sailing Adventures to see Komodo Dragons, to snorkel with manta rays, to explore the pink beaches and beautiful coral reefs, swim with turtles, meet local people, and simply sail on a traditional Indonesian wooden sailing ship through the Komodo National Park, then click on the link below to see which cruise might be best for you.


Try our Eight-Day Dances, Dragons and Magical Lakes cruise sailing from Bali to Komodo.

Or add an Orangutan adventure with our Twelve-Day Orangutans and Dragons cruise from Bali to Borneo to Komodo.




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