The thought of a 4 day trip island hopping in Indonesia filled us with excitement and a sense of adventure. Also we could secretly pretend to be pirates.
We’d been recommended the trip by quite a few backpackers we’d met over the last few months, and the TripAdvisor reviews leaned towards the positive end of the spectrum. Sure, there were a few 1 star ‘avoid at all costs’ rants, but plenty more along the lines of ‘highlight of my year backpacking’.
The whole point of the trip was to get us to Komodo to see the famous Komodo dragons. We would board the boat on the east side of Lombok island on day 1 and set sail, stopping for a sunset over the Indonesian archipelago. Day 2 would involve stops for waterfalls and snorkelling alongside pristine beaches on uninhabited islands. Day 3 would be the highlight of the trip – Komodo Island to see the dragons – then more snorkelling and sailing. On day 4 we’d be up before dawn for sunrise on Padar Island, before hiking on Rinca Island for more dragons, then a snorkel stop before arriving at our destination – the port town of Labuan Bajo on Flores Island.
Sleeping on the boat
There was a choice of cabin-class or deck-class tickets, and we unanimously decided that deck-class was the one for us. I get seasick when below deck, so the thought of sleeping in an airless, windowless cabin really did not sound fun. Rebecca loves boats, so sleeping on deck appealed to her, and Blakey was happy to go along with whatever we decided. Besides, it was the cheaper option.
We knew we were on a budget-friendly trip so we tried to keep our expectations low for the boat. However, I’m not sure we were quite prepared for just how basic our new floating home would be.
We piled onto the boat with 30 other backpackers and took some time to explore. It didn’t take long. There was a few cramped cabins, a covered eating area, tiny kitchen and toilet on the lower deck, and the upper deck had an exposed sunbathing area, the captain’s cabin and the sleeping deck.
The sleeping deck was a covered area at the back of the boat with a ceiling low enough that we were bent double when shuffling along under the canvas roof. The sleeping area itself consisted of two rows of thin faux leathers mattresses with a gap a handspan wide down the middle for access, and no gap at all between each mattress.
Well… it was an adventure, right? We snagged ourselves prime spots right at the front of the sleeping deck where we’d have a good breeze and wouldn’t have to crawl over a load of other people to get in and out of our beds. Of course, that meant they’d have to crawl over us instead…
To be honest, the sleep situation wasn’t so bad. Although it was difficult to have a full night’s sleep due to the boat’s engine starting and stopping, and the rising sun waking us up at 5.30am each day, sleeping on a boat wasn’t the vomit-inducing experience I’d been afraid of. We’d been lucky enough to have quite calm seas, and the rocking of the boat was fairly soothing.
I think the worst of it was that nothing on that deck was ever truly dry. Our blankets would always be slightly damp, the plastic mattress sticky, occasional spray from big waves splashing us, and everything developed that musty smell you get when your clothes haven’t fully dried before being put away.
Food & Booze
We’d been advised to buy booze before getting on the boat as it would be much cheaper than buying from the captain, although he did have emergency supplies if people ran out. We grabbed a case of Bintang and put them in the ice box on the boat. The problem with a communal booze box is that inevitably some bottles went missing. It wasn’t just ours either. It was quite frustrating – we didn’t know if someone had mistakenly taken the bottles with our name on them or whether they’d done so knowingly. It made Blakey really mad, and Rebecca and I had to listen to quite a few rants on the subject.
The food on the boat was pretty basic. The first meal was surprisingly tasty and we had high hopes, but by day 3 it was pretty much cabbage and super noodles. The crew did unearth some grey chicken from somewhere, but it looked questionable. We avoided it.
Snorkelling and Swimming Trips
As you can imagine, we all spent a lot of time in the water. Most people used the sea as their makeshift shower for the trip, although there was a freshwater hose hooked up in the toilet cubicle too.
The coral we saw was beautiful – so many untouched, pristine reefs, with heaps of fish and the odd turtle. The beaches we went to were usually on uninhabited islands, meaning we had the huge stretches of sand to ourselves. The boat would usually stop within swimming distance to the shore and we’d all jump off the boat and snorkel to the beach.
On the first day we stopped at a tiny island to scale a small hill and watch the sun set over the ocean. It was beautiful and peaceful… until the two Wanua boats arrived and another 60 people walked up the same small hill to join us.
That is the big problem – the trips are now so popular, and all follow the same schedule. On our departure date, there were three Wanua boats all setting sail at the same time. That meant at least 90 people… all expecting secluded beaches, small groups and no crowds. At one stop to go swim in a waterfall, there was an actual queue to get in the water, people lining up in an orderly fashion to take that insta picture which makes it look like they’re alone. We took one look at the ridiculous crowds and turned around. The whole point of the long boat trip was to explore uninhabited islands in a small group, not turn them into tourist hotspots.
On day 3 we finally made it to Komodo National Park. We hopped off the boat, met our guides, and set off to find us some dragons.
There’s a waterhole right on the main trail where loads of wildlife hang out, and we were lucky enough to find 7 Komodo dragons just chilling out. There were some cute little baby dragons – they live up in the trees until they’re big enough to come down and not get eaten.
Then there were some huuuge old boys, around 30 years old. They just chilled out in the shade of the trees, keeping still and pretending to be a log until they lure a wild pig or deer (or human) close enough to eat.
We were only on the island for an hour but we saw a lot of dragons and learned a lot from the guides. It felt really special to be there, especially with all the uncertainty recently about closing the island to tourists next year or charging huge fees to set foot on it.
We were up at 4.30am on the final day of the trip, well before dawn. Why? To climb up to a good vantage point on Padar Island for sunrise. We anchored in the bay along with about ten other boats, but ours was the first to get their speedboat in the water and start ferrying passengers across to the island.
Blakey, Rebecca and I were lucky enough to be in the first boat to the island, meaning that we started the climb nice and early and made it to the top while it was still dark. My fear of heights kicked in on the narrow stone steps near the top of the hill and the other two went on without me (traitors) while I found a secluded rock to perch on for my solitary sunrise.
It was one of the most beautiful sunrises we’ve experienced this year… volcanic islands stretching out of the water all around, the sky went orange and the sun reflected in the calm seas. It was stunning.
Was the four-day trip worth it?
We all agreed that we’d had a reasonably good time on the trip but we also agreed that we wouldn’t do it again. Rebecca now says she’d recommend it for the novelty value of sleeping on a boat for three nights, although she wasn’t quite so keen when she was vomming over the side…
Day 1 and 2 are mostly just constant sailing with the odd stop for swimming or crowded tours. It wasn’t amazing. Days 3 and 4 were brilliant… but can easily be done on day trips or overnight trips from Flores, which is what I’d recommend. Flores is a one hour flight from Bali and costs about £30, bargain.
Scuba Diving in Komodo National Park
On the plus side, once we docked in Flores we found an amazing hostel with a gorgeous rooftop pool and delicious food. We stayed for a few days to recover from the boat trip – Rebecca chilled by the pool while Blakey & I went and found ourselves a dive shop.
We headed out to North Komodo and were lucky enough to dive at some of the world’s top dive spots. We dived the Cauldron, which is an underwater crater with a strong current which shoots you out the other side, after which you hang on to the seabed for dear life and watch the sharks and fish play about in the current above you.
We also dived two pinnacle sites – Castle Rock and Crystal Rock. Both had amazing coral and huge fish, not to mention sharks, turtles and the biggest eel I’ve ever seen.
Komodo is definitely the best diving we’ve ever done, and I would thoroughly recommend it if you happen to be over this way.
Our next stop is Sumatra, where tomorrow we will trek into the jungle for three days in the hopes of finding orangutans. Absolutely can’t wait!