Flores & Komodo National Park

Posted January 2015

Flores is the largest of 500 islands comprising Indonesia's Eastern Nusa Tengarra province. A small portion falls within the boundaries of Komodo National Park, which lies of its west coast. Nusa Tengarra is of volcanic origin, formed by the subduction of the Australian continental plate beneath the Asian continental plate. 

With annual precipitation only reaching 1,000 mm (39 inches), the area's arid climate contrasts the majority of Indonesia; very fitting for a true land of contrasts. Brilliantly blue ocean wraps around various white sand beaches, mangrove forests, and bays. Combined with the sheer cliff headlands, rolling hillsides, and predominantly dry savanna landscape of its islands, a unique juxtaposition is created.

2,000,000 residents call Flores home, representing nearly half the population of East Nusa Tengarra and consisting of several distinct tribes speaking 8 different local dialects. These tribes have be influenced to varying degrees by western cultures, beginning with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century. In stark contrast to the overwhelming Muslim majority in Indonesia, over 80% of the population in Flores is Roman Catholic.

 

Labuan Bajo

This beautiful little harbor Flores' west coast acts as the gateway to adventures in Flores and Komodo National Park. Population is steadily growing as tourism has taken over as the primary economic driver, and its main road is now lined with tour operators, restaurants, hotels, and shops. The quaint little town is small enough to walk end-to-end in 15-20 minutes, but motorbike rentals are available and there are dozens of bemos cruising around.

 

Waecicu Beach

There are a couple hotels along this small beach, who operate their own boat tours off a private pier. A short 10 minute drive from Labuan Bajo, this is pretty much the only beach in the area. While a pretty setting, the sand has a lot of coral fragments making swimming here a bit less enticing. Really nice scenic drive to get here, overlooking Labuan Bajo. A visit here and a stop off at Batu Cermin Cave make a nice afternoon.

 

Batu Cermin Cave

This easily accessible cave sits amongst a small forested area just outside Labuan Bajo. Guides will walk you in and show you around the cave while providing some basic background of the area. Depending on your fitness level, you can also trek to the cliff above the cave and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area. Spelunkers will likely be unimpressed as the cave is relatively small, but it's a nice and easy inland journey while in the area.

 

Cunca Wulang

The scenic hour's drive from Labuan Bajo to Cunca Wulang is worth the trip alone, traversing beautiful countryside and several small villages before ascending into lush green mountains. Upon reaching Wersawe, travelers can trek down into the Cunca Wulang canyon. There are a few canyoning opportunities available depending on your fitness level and the weather conditions, but the waterfall is the main attraction here. The river water is cool and refreshing for a swim.

 

Komodo National Park

Komodo National Park is an Indonesian national treasure that rightfully earned its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, joining only seven other locations in the country. The park encompasses a portion of Flores' west coast, Komodo, Rinca, Padar, and 26 other small islands. Entering Komodo National Park feels like taking a step back in time, or a step into Jurassic Park. 

The park's most famous inhabitant is the Komodo dragon. A member of the monitor family, Komodo dragons are the world's largest living lizards, reaching 3 meters in length and upwards of 70 kilograms in weight. Their size is often attributed to a phenomenon known as 'island gigantism', when animals isolated to islands grow much larger than their mainland counterparts primarily due to the lack of predators and/or competitive species. Indeed, the Komodo dragon only lives on a handful of islands in the national park with a known population of only 5,000 lizards. It is also the top of the food chain and feeds on pretty much anything including other reptiles (including  other Komodo dragons), birds, monkeys, wild boars, deer, and water buffaloes.

While the Komodo dragon is often the star of the show, Komodo National Park's islands are home to a variety of other fauna. Mammal species include the endemic Rinca rat, deer, and civets. Small and rarely seen herds of wild horses roam Rinca and Komodo islands, remnants of the islands' colonial past. Over 70 bird species inhabit the park, including several critically endangered ones such as the yellow-crested cockatoo and the Flores Hawk-Eagle (below, left). Reptiles are prolific here: several other types of lizards, a variety of frogs, and twelve species of snakes call the park home. Saltwater crocodiles were known to inhabit the park before but are believed to now be extinct.

The marine environment here is considered one of the richest in the world. While not atypical of the Indo-Pacific region, species diversity is very high thanks to ample sunlight, clear water, and high nutrient levels due to equatorial upwelling from its surrounding deep waters. Over 1,000 species of fish, 250 species of coral, 14 species of whales, 10 species of dolphins, and 5 species of sea turtles, call Komodo National Park home.

Continue reading Part II