My Komodo liveaboard trip on Moana started with a short taxi ride from my hotel to Bali's airport in Denpasar, Ngurah Rai International, which is located just south of Kuta, where I stayed overnight. As I went to bed I was looking forward to a few days diving in Komodo on a small but comfortable looking schooner. As I drifted off to sleep I imagined what sights and experiences awaited me in the few days ahead.
The next morning as I arrived at the domestic departure hall, I spotted the lovely Susanne Moana's operator (at the time). I had met her the day before when she gave me the tickets for my return flight from Bali to Flores. She was full of enthusiasm for the dive cruise and made me think I would be in good company if the rest of the staff were like her.
The flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo on Flores, where the boat was waiting, was just 90 minutes in length. The airport in Labuan Bajo is very small so I couldn't miss the staff of Moana, who were already there waiting for me with a warm welcome.
As soon as all customers had their bags, we were transferred in small minibuses to the harbour. The buses stopped right on the pier, and we jumped into a small tender boat which took us out to the Moana liveaboard. Within a few short minutes of the plane landing, we were already onboard the Moana and settling in to our cabins. All in all it was a very good journey from Bali to the boat in Labuan Bajo.
After a refreshing welcome drink, we set sail heading towards our first dive site, 90 minutes away. Now it was time for a short introduction to the facilities of our vessel and the tour programme. After unpacking our gear there was only one thing left to do: relax and enjoy great views. I was really impressed by the boat and the staff and knew I would have a great time on this boat, since everything looked very clean and well organised. Often the first impression of the staff is accurate and I immediately thought to myself that this was a very friendly and helpful crew.
While sailing to the first dive site of the cruise, the guests used the time to set up equipment on the dive deck. The crew and local divemaster were very helpful with sorting out weights and making sure everyone had everything they needed.
Having moored upon on a buoy, the divemaster gave a general dive briefing about what we could expect during our next few days and of course our next dive, which was on Sabayur. Excitedly we jumped off the back of the boat and started our first descent into the waters of the Komodo National Park. Sabayur has a sloping reef with lots of corals and an impressive variety of tropical fish with a max depth of around 20 metres, perfect for a warm up dive. Afterwards, a nice snack was already waiting on the main deck. The boat routine had started. Dive, eat and sleep - just the way I like it!
Many of the guests had a nice afternoon nap in the air-conditioned cabin or in one of the hammocks at the bow of the boat as the sun went down. I spent some time chatting to the staff who were very entertaining and happy to mix with the guests.
As evening drew in we knew we would need to start preparing for our night dive. There are many sites in the park which are considered excellent night dives and I really enjoyed this one since there was an abundance of small critters and crustaceans everywhere that I shone my torch. However the highlight for me was watching the grace and beauty of a Spanish dancer swimming through the water.
Dinner by starlight! All meals including dinner are served on the main deck during the cruise, which is covered at daytime with a big sail, but in the evening you can sit under the stars enjoying the gentle breezes which float over the sea. Meals are all served buffet style and there was plenty of it to satisfy our hungry diver stomachs.
You can expect mainly traditional Indonesian dishes, but there are also plenty of western alternatives. I personally was really impressed by the food since I am not normally a big fan of Indonesian cuisine, but the cook and his helper changed my mind. The cook is also always happy to try his hand at alternatives, like vegetarian or 'Steak and French fries'.
The next day brought us to one of the scuba highlights of Komodo National Park, which is Castle Rock. We arrived at Castle Rock at slack tide. As soon as I deflated my BCD and my head went under the surface, it was clear that this would be a fantastic dive. There were huge schools of fish, one next to the other hovering motionless in the blue including what seemed like hundreds of sweetlips, among others. There were also plenty of white tip reef sharks slowly cruising along the reef.
After all the happy divers were back on board, breakfast was served consisting of cereal, toast, butter jam and fresh fruits. The second dive of the day brought us to Crystal Rock, another highlight of the Komodo National Park. Our afternoon dive was at Lighthouse Reef and that too brought a lot of excitement - Dolphins! A group of 10 dolphins slowly passed our group during the end of the dive - Fantastic!
Next morning started at Batu Bulong, for many, one of the best dive sites of Komodo. Here we enjoyed great visibility and plenty of fish and sharks, but nearly always quite a strong current. This makes it important to dive the spot at the right time. Thankfully the divemaster on board and the liveaboard crew are very experienced in these waters and we did it at just the right moment and so we had a wonderful dive.
3 more great dives followed, including a day and a night dive at Pink Beach. Pink Beach is not only fun for divers. The snorkellers in our group also enjoyed it and were delighted to visit this famous beach where you really do walk on pink sand.
Next morning was time for a visit to the Komodo dragons on Komodo Island. With a tender boat we made our way to the pier at the National Park Headquarters.
After a short walk you reach the ranger station. First we got a short introduction to the park and what we could expect during our walk through the hills to see the Komodo dragons. We were informed that the chance to see one was quite small as June to August is mating season, a period when they prefer their privacy and hide themselves in the woods. And it happened! Not a single Komodo dragon during our walk, but the cruise director promised us we would also visit Rinca Island later that day, where we might have a better chance to see them.
After everyone was back on the boat we sailed for our first dive of the day, Manta Point. All divers were looking forward to see a manta ray, but unfortunately our luck with manta rays wasn't that good either. The snorkellers had more luck and spent a couple of minutes snorkeling with 2 of them. So for me no mantas and no Komodo dragons - sometimes nature can give no guarantees.
After the dive we headed down south towards Rinca. To arrive early enough at the island to see the dragons, we had to skip the second dive at Batu Bulong. Instead we visited another dive spot close to Rinca - Dead Men's Corner - which was one of my personal favorites on this Komodo diving cruise.
From there we left for Rinca and after about 45 minutes our liveaboard dropped anchor and we made our way to the pier. And what a surprise! Next to the small pier, a Komodo dragon was laying motionless in the late afternoon sun. After a few minutes taking pictures we continued our way to the ranger station. And even before we reached it we found another one, much bigger than the first one. Last but not least we saw another 5 at the ranger station. Hooray. Here, at last, there be dragons!
That evening was our last onboard the Moana. Yet again the cook made a really nice dinner, which we enjoyed under the stars, the perfect ending to an excellent trip. The crew, the crew and cruise director, and the dive guides all did their best during the last few days to make all guests happy. And all the guests were! Everyone agreed they would come back onboard for another great diving cruise in Indonesia's Komodo or Raja Ampat, where Moana may operate in the future for a few months of the season.
I also hope I find the time to come back as I really enjoyed the atmosphere on board this liveaboard. The best thing about the Moana is its cosy atmosphere. Normally there are no more than 10 guests on board which makes you feel like part of a small team. It also means you get plenty of attention from the staff and they are always happy to cater to your needs. It would be a great boat for a group of friends to charter exclusively or for single divers to join where they know they will have good food, comfortable cabins and great company.
Written by Ingo Siewert, July 2007
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