Into the Dragon's Lair: Indonesia's Komodo Islands
Though dinosaurs ceased to rule the earth millions of years ago, their distant relatives still dominate a remote chain of Indonesian isles 300 miles from Bali. Komodo Island and its neighborsLoh Liang, Gunung Ara, Pulau Rinca, and Pulau Padarhouse the world's biggest population of Komodo dragons, the largest monitor lizard on earth and sole surviving ancestor of the carnivorous dinosaur. They often weigh in at over 300 pounds and stretch up to nine feet in length, traveling at alarming speeds to close in on wild deer and pigs, their usual prey.
Nestled between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores, the physical characteristics of Komodo Island match its dragon-fuelled mystique. The east coast is an eroded cliff that plunges straight into the ocean, while the rest of the volcanic isle is composed of alluvial fans, coastal mangroves, rocky streambeds, and massive black ravines. Tourists of yore fed the lizards animal carcasses to ensure a feeding frenzy, but that practice has since been outlawed. Today, permits and tour guides are required upon arrival at the island, an Indonesian national park. The roughly 2,000 dragons on Komodo usually congregate around their feeding areas, so chances of seeing these shy creatures are high. Early-morning and late-afternoon trips to the dragon-watching site at Banunggulung, organized by the Indonesian Park Service, will let you view the dragons from a safe vantage point at the edge of a ravine. (Note: menstruating women and red clothes are prohibitedsuch conditions agitate the dragons.) If you have time, ask your guide to take you down Loh Kalo, a 980-foot-long path devoid of brush that's used only by dragons as they cruise around searching for food.
If you're interested in doing more than dragon-gazing, the best way to explore the Komodo Islands is by sea kayak. Whether you arrange a one- or multi-day expedition, paddling through the mangroves, coral reefs, and secluded bays will expose you to some of Indonesia's most spectacular marine life: thousands of fish species, over 100 different kinds of crustaceans, dolphins, whales, and sea turtles populate this pristine aquatic environment. Strong four- to five-knot currents in the riptides and whirlpools between the islands make for exhilarating kayaking, while the flats will allow you to cruise along the coasts with relative ease
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication