The Komodo Dragon is a rare, but deadly beast, found only in a few scattered regions of the Indonesian Archipelago; I journeyed to Komodo Island, in search of the world’s largest living lizard and found myself face to face with a prehistoric dragon.
I set out from Bali, Indonesia’s tourist hot spot, and hopped from island to island, heading East to find the Komodo National Park.
The journey was hardly short, and I utilised whatever transport I could jump on to travel the 500 or so miles across land and sea.
Who needs cruise ship luxury when you can take a local ferry?
The ferry crossings were arduous, but copious quantities of rice wine and spectacular sunsets hastened the journey along.
Being a protected National Park of some importance it was difficult to actually stay on either Komodo or Rinca, the two main dragon inhabited islands. Instead I was going to start in the fishing village of Labuanbajo on the large island of Flores, and hitch a boat ride from there.
After three days of travel, I’d made it to the village, and my jumping off point for Komodo.
Now it was time to find myself a Boat and a Captain.
At the docks, the ship was provisioned for a two day trip. We would chase dragons by day and sleep out on the deck under the stars by night.
The first port of call would be Rinca island, the largest island in the National park, and the most likely place to spot a Komodo Dragon in the wild.
Komodo Dragons secrete a venomous toxin when they bite, which slowly infests a wound, turning it gangrenous. Locals tell legends of the dragons which cause men to disappear, slowly and painfully. This attribute is how the Komodo Dragon hunts successfully, using its rapid acceleration to chase down prey, infecting it, then stalking it for days until it drops dead.
It didn’t take long to see the first of the dragons. The guide explained that they used to feed the lizards to put on a spectacle for tourists, and as a result they still tend to turn up at the visitor’s village, hiding under the cabins and strolling along the walkways.
The guide warned us to watch out for the young Komodo Dragons, which tend to stay in the trees, and drop down unexpectedly when hunting.
The Komodo Dragons rarely need to eat, and as a result, unprovoked attacks on humans are extremely rare. The local guide’s reassurances provided little consolation as our small group began the trek into the dense surrounding forest, to try and encounter these beasts in a more natural habitat.
Our hike inland provided for scenic panorama and rich wildlife, yet we came across no more Komodo Dragons.
Venturing back towards the village, it seemed that they were all to be found sunning themselves here.
The night was spent on the deck of the boat, and as darkness began to fall the Captain sailed us to see the Flying Foxes, bat like creatures which come out at sunset.
They swarmed out of the trees, heading off into the skies.
We cracked out the beers and enjoyed the surroundings.
The next morning as the sun rose we headed to Komodo Island, the namesake of the dragons themselves.
There were ominous dragon trophies awaiting us on our arrival.
We hiked into the island’s interior, on alert for signs of the beasts.
We came across plenty of potential Komodo Dragon prey.
Even Bambi was hiding in the foliage.
We emerged from the dense woodland, again having seen no Komodo Dragon. But as we headed back to the coast, ahead of us on the path a giant lizard was lumbering slowly towards us.
Not demonstrating the pace they are capable of, the creature just plodded down the path, its tongue flicking out to taste the air.
The guide, wielding a long pronged stick he’d picked up off the ground for protection, told us dramatically how he’d once had to fend off an attack by one of the lizards near the very path we were on, and urged us into the brush and out of the lizard’s way.
Up close and on the move the Komodo Dragon was terrifyingly magnificent.
It stared us straight down, and we all backed off into the bush around us, the guide urging us to stay still.
It crawled past, close enough to make out the individual scales across its body.
Once it was far enough up the path, the guide led us out of the trees and back to the coast. He said he’d truly been worried, as away from the old feeding zones they don’t generally get so close to people.
I’d come face to face with the dragon itself, after hiking through the rugged landscape of Komodo Island in search of the creature, and it was indeed a moment to behold.
Take a look at the Komodo National Park UNESCO World Heritage listing for a bit more info on the Park!