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Location: Indonesia - Komodo National Park including waters around Komodo and Rinca Islands, plus Sangeang Islands.
All located in a dry region called Nusa Tenggara, east of Bali, west of New Guinea.
By: Lee / Phyllis Thé

Dive Operation:
Grand Komodo Tours & Dives (http://www.komodoalordive.com)
American Agent: AquaLine, LLC
(http://www.dive-aquasports.com)
(303-641-3953/Toll Free: 888-996-2782)

October 6-21, 2004
Other sites we've dived: Land-based: Bali (Tulamben, Padang Bai), Philippines (Puerto Galera twice), Hawaii (Maui, Big Island), Canada (Campbell River B.C.), California (Monterey Bay, Catalina), Florida (West Palm Beach), Mexico (Cozumel, Cabo San Lucas), Cayman Islands (C. Brac, Little C.); Liveaboards: Bahamas (Exumas, Providence), Mexico (La Paz), British Virgin Islands.
Total # of dives: 228 (28 on this trip)

Weather
Sunny, dry.
Water conditions: Calm & fairly flat but multidirectional currents up to 10kt in places.
Water temperature: 74-81°F.
Viz: 40-80 feet or so. Plankton-rich waters & upwellings support the fabulous ecosystem at some cost in visibility. Still enough for fun wall diving, for example.
Depths: everything from 5 feet to 120 feet (though my wife and I stayed shallower and still saw mucho).
Wetsuit: 6/5/4mm full suit, hood, gloves (him); 5mm Hyperstretch full suit, beanie, gloves (her). We could dive our own profile.
Restrictions: Don't empty the tank!

Sea life
Sharks: a few (mainly gray and white tip reef sharks)
Mantas: a squadron on one dive
Dolphins: seen from bow of boat but not UW
Whale sharks: none
Turtles: 3-4 (loggerheads I think)
Whales: none.

Ratings (1 to 5 scale)
Corals: 4
Including both soft & hard corals, except for one dive on a bombed reef. Flower soft coral was beguiling˜masses of corals that look like flowers that are constantly opening/closing.

Tropical fish: 4
Hugely diverse and abundant; clouds of anthias in many sites, many rarities, including pygmy seahorses, stargazers, ribbon eels, fire dartfish, foxface, smallscale scorpionfish, red firefish, leaf scorpionfish, coral cod, barramundi cod, unicornfish.

Small critters: 4
Nudibranch-o-rama! Some types of creatures I‚d never seen before (pleurobranchs and a coriocella), sea pens, sea cucumbers, hordes of crinoids, spaghetti worms, shrimp, lobsters, box crabs, reef cuttlefish, octopus, bobtail squid, giant clams (not exactly small critters but I didn't see a better category), banded sea snakes (ditto).

Large pelagics: 3
Worth it just for the squadron of manta rays on one dive. Not a lot else large pelagicwise.

Large fish: 3
Not a lot, but we did see giant trevally, sharks, morays, some huge puffers, teira batfish, emperor angelfish, orange-lined triggerfish, clown triggerfish, redtooth triggerfish, titan triggerfish, blue-spotted stingray,

Condition of accommodations 3
Level of Service 4
Quality of food 3
Dive operations 4
Shore diving NA
Overall diving for beginners 0
Overall diving for experienced 5

Accommodations for underwater photographers (UWP)
Subject matter 4 1/2
Boat facilities 4
Shore facilities NA
Overall rating for UWPs 4 1/2
General comments about setup for UWPs:
Two freshwater tanks used for cameras, masks, lights. Convenient, dry platform for cameras. No development facilities onboard, but you should be shooting digital by now anyway. Good handling for cameras. Plus I lost my UW camera getting into the dinghy, didn‚t realize it until we'd returned to the boat, and yet one of the divemasters was able to retrace our steps, take the current into account, drop down and find it! Plus the captain & divemasters were locals who excelled at finding the special stuff to shoot, and the crew were good at handling camera gear carefully. Plus the dual divemasters and dive your own profile situation gave photographers the freedom they need to get the good shots.

Overall, as long as you can deal with the frequent current conditions and plankton-rich water, this is one of the best UW photo trips you can make for both macro and normal lens shooting. I should add that I found it excellent for available light digital photography, which is my specialty.

Overall Comments
This region (Philippines/Indonesia/New Guinea triangle) provides the greatest species diversity in the world--at least 3X that of the Caribbrean. Nowadays we come back from Caribbean dives saying „Nice dive. Saw the usual." We come back from Komodo dives going „Holy cow˜did you see THAT???" On the other hand, bomb fishing, cyanide fishing and just plain overfishing limit just where you can go and still enjoy this diversity. Komodo is one of them. Indonesia established a national park there and actually enforces the fishing ban in its waters. So Komodo joins legendary locales like Papua New Guinea and the Coral Sea, with one big difference: it costs about half as much--under $3K/person for us including airfares to Bali and then to Sumbawa, transfers, hotels, all meals, the liveaboard, stopovers in Bali and Hong Kong, everything. And this wasn't roughing it, we had good AC and western-style toilets everywhere we stayed, and four-star hotels in Bali.

However, this isn't for newbie divers. You only get those amazing soft corals and hugely abundant/diverse life in general at the price of sometimes fierce, sometimes unpredictable currents and cold water upwellings, and you're a long, long ways from the nearest compression chamber. You don't have to be a jock (several of our group had physical limitations, in fact), but you do have to be experienced and know what to do in sometimes powerful multidirectional currents, and be prepared for waters sometimes as cold as
71°F below the thermocline. And you should go with locals, as we did.

Our boat, crew, dive operator, and divemasters were all locals who know the are intimately. Only the divemasters spoke English, most of the meals were Indonesian, and the boat certainly wasn't luxurious. But neither was it Spartan. We had ensuite bathrooms and tepid water showers (though you must brush your teeth with bottled water), room for luggage, 220V outlet. Amenities included a saltwater bidet, and non-fussy toilets, unlike some we've encountered elsewhere. And the bed was comfortable and queen-sized. Cabins for singles had bunkbeds. Best of all, the boat was purpose-built for scuba diving, with the best water entry from a mother ship that I've encountered, and clean fills, and a big oxygen tank no one had to use, thank heavens. We did some dives from the boat‚s dinghy, which was fiberglass and had a decent ladder and a great dinghyman. The AC went out in one cabin during the trip, but the owners ferried out a replacement unit a day or two later. The dinghy motor nearly stopped coming back from one night dive, but managed to get us back. I think it was just dirty fuel, because it worked fine afterwards. We brought a group of eight, with two more joining us on the boat, which has a capacity of 12 divers. Note that several in our group had been to PNG recently and said this was just as good, and in some areas quite different as well.

Another nice touch: the boat has a two-volume set of books on Indonesian fish that we found very useful, supplementing the invertebrate book we brought ourselves. There's also a smallish color TV set into the wall of the lounge/dining room.

The crew were attentive during dive operations but not fanatical. Usually we 'd go sit on one of the two giant stride entry areas near the bow; crewmen would put our rigs on our back, and off we‚d go. We had two divemasters (Weka and Gusti ask for them) with us on most dives, which added to the comfort factor. My wife and I went rather shallow on many dives while keeping a divemaster in sight downslope, and they were comfortable with that.

On a 10-day trip 28 dives were possible (one night dive was canceled due to excessive current that would have made 29), and I did all of them. The schedule was four dives a day: dive first thing in the morning, eat breakfast, dive midmorning, eat lunch, dive midafternoon, have a snack, do a night dive as soon as it‚s dark, eat dinner. This is a schedule for serious divers but not fanatics, with considerable surface intervals a good idea in remote areas like this. The itinerary included a morning visit to Komodo Island to see the Komodo dragons, which we did see, up close and personal. A mandatory park ranger comes along to help find the dragons. He's armed with a forked stick, which ours said usually works. We also saw the deer and peccaries the dragons feed on, as well as various birds and orchids. This is dry country and we were there at the end of the dry season, and my wife & I encountered no mosquitoes˜none˜anywhere on the trip. Another of our group encountered a couple in Bali on the way back, but not in an area with malaria danger. So we didn't take any antimalarial drugs, nor did we need to.

We did the 10 day trip (a 7 day is also possible), which adds a jaunt to Sangeang, a mile-high volcanic cone northwest of the park waters. Well worth it! Dove on bubbling sands, and the volcanic ash-colored substrate made a great backdrop for photography. Moroever, it takes so long to get here from the States the longer trip really helps amortize all that travel time. Most dive operators run their boats out of Bali, which necessitates a looong run to Komodo. Komodo Grand Tours has you fly from Denpasar to Bima, using domestic carrier Merpati Air, flying a modern Fokker jetliner reminiscent of a McDonnell-Douglas MD80.

We strongly recommend Komodo Grand Tours. They picked us up at the airport in Bali and skillfully shepherded us every step of the way to/from our destination. Most importantly, they were able to bring remote, challenging dive adventuring within the grasp of intermediate divers such as my wife and me. We picked KGT originally thanks to Undercurrents‚ annual Travelin' Divers Chapbook, BTW. Thanks, Undercurrents!

for more information please contact the author:
Lee / Phyllis Thé
777 San Antonio Rd. #83
Palo Alto, CA 94303-4848
USA
(650) 493-1504
plthe@att.net [Undercurrent subscribers may contact us via email]

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