The following article may contain affiliate links.
The propeller plane took an hour and a half from Bali to Labuan Bajo on the west coast of Flores island. The kids were made a fuss of at the tiny domestic airport. We had booked a one night stay at the Exotic Komodo Hotel before our three-day boat trip. The hotel was quite literally across the road from the airport and took two minutes to walk to. We had a bit of a laugh with the taxi drivers requesting to take us to our hotel. We pointed across the road to the hotel and asked ‘How much?’. The evening was spent packing a few smaller bags for our trip, everything else would be left on shore in the bigger bags.
Having had reservations about spending three days on a wooden boat to visit Komodo Island and the surrounding areas we had exchanged emails with Hendrick from gotokomodo.com. He had been quick to respond to our questions and we made the decision as a family to go on the three day, two night Komodo Adventure. Our guide for the trip met us early at the hotel and we headed off to the GotoKomodo office. The office was just across from the jetty and once we had dropped off our big backpacks for storage and were fitted up for flippers we headed off to the boat. We were to be joined on the trip by Evin, an 18-year-old tourism student. Our wooden boat was the fifth one out from the end of the jetty. This meant that to get to it we would have to clamber over the four boats before it. The staff helped the kids and Mum and Dad just hoped we didn’t fall in the sea before we had even set off. Once on the boat we asked about life-jackets. They produced the life jackets they had on board, however they were all adult sized and far too big for the kids. We expressed our concern to the guide and the captain of the boat headed off in search of life-jackets that were fit for the kids. Half an hour later he returned. He could not find any children sized jackets in Luaban Bajo but had returned with a couple of extra small adult sized ones. We tried them on the kids. They were a little big but would serve the purpose if needed so we gave the all clear to set off.
The wooden boat had a crew of three. The captain, his first mate and the chef. There was a sitting area at the front of the vessel, a table with two benches. We had a tiny bedroom with a bunk bed in it for us all to share. The toilet/shower room was towards the back of the boat and at the back was a small area for cooking. You could climb up a ladder at the front to the roof of the boat and sit up there if you fancied it.
The kids explored around the boat as we made our way through the calm waters. After about an hour the boat slowed down and the captain shouted enthusiastically. He had spotted something. Dad looked up and saw a pod of dolphins breaking the water. The guide came forward and confirmed that we were lucky enough to see dolphins. We spent a bit of time watching them play in the sea not too far from the boat before moving on.
The chef had been busy cooking and lunch was served at the front of the boat. Rice, noodles and fish alongside some fruit. We were halfway through lunch when the captain and our guide got very animated again. Right next to the boat were about ten mantas. The sea was so clear and the mantas glided effortlessly alongside us. Mum asked if we could get in the sea with them and the crew were happy to position the boat so that the mantas would be swimming towards us. Mum and Dad had their snorkels at the ready. The kids were also keen to get in but Dad was going to test it out first. Not being the best swimmer, Dad had a life vest on to aid his floating. He was first down the stairs and into the sea. The current was very strong though, and before he knew it Dad had been swept towards the end of the boat and was struggling to swim well with the life vest and current. The decision was made right then that the kids wouldn’t be getting in the sea. Dad swam against the current and made it back to the boat. Mum had been holding onto the ladder and felt the current too, she wasn’t happy about getting in at that point so with everyone on board the crew repositioned the boat further ahead. Happy with the new position, and watching a manta heading out way, Mum launched into the water with her snorkelling gear and GoPro just as a manta swap past. She swam after it for a bit, but the crew and rest of the family shouted to her to turn around as a manta was approaching from behind. Mum got the message and turned in time to see the manta swimming right past her!! She popped her head out of the water and gave a big smile!! One more manta was heading her way so she snorkelled some more as that one swam past. We learned that manta swim again the currents of the sea. Mum was now trying to get back to the boat but the current was strong. The captain threw out a rope to her and pulled her in. Everyone on the boat joined Mum in celebrating just how close she managed to swim to the manta. The kids were a little upset that they didn’t get to swim in the sea but were promised by the guide that we would stop at a beach later for some swim time.
The boat chugged on to Padar island, passing some spectacular island scenery and we felt so remote. We hopped off on to the beach and put our walking boots on. . A short hike up a hill led to spectacular views of the island and the two sand beachy bays. Dark clouds were making their way towards us and on our decent it began to rain. The rain was a welcome relief from the scorching heat and we were happy to have it. The boat set off again on a shorter trip to a nearby island with a nice sandy beach. As we dropped anchor the guide pointed to a spot on the far side of the beach where you could see the strong current pulling out to sea. “Avoid that spot” he said and we relayed the message to the kids. So, we were back in the sea, this time with the kids, as we swam around the boat to the beach. The kids enjoyed the time on the sand and in the water while Mum snorkelled and Dad practised his snorkelling. Noticing the crew were also in the water and swimming under the boat we quizzed our guide. The propeller on the boat had come loose and the crew were busy trying to fix it. After a while the guide let us know that it would be too late to set sail for Komodo, where we were scheduled to anchor for the night. Instead we would sleep here for the night and set off early in the morning. That was fine with us. It meant more time on the beach and in the water.
Once out of the water the kids relaxed on the top of the boat as the sun began to set. A posher boat arrived and dropped anchor. There were a lot of people on board and their crew began to set up a bonfire and BBQ on the beach. They had probably planned to have the area to themselves but here we were sharing the same waters. We laughed later as their ambiance was shattered by our captain blasting out cheesy 90’s pop songs (The Venga Bus is Coming…) while we had a dance off on deck.
It was 8:30pm when we headed to our small room and bunk bed to end an amazing first day. Tomorrow we would be heading to Komodo and Rinca islands to see the Komodo Dragons….