Swimming with Dragons
SwimTrek founder Simon Murie reports from Bali
I’m currently living in Bali and getting acquainted with this fascinating place. While it sits fairly central geographically within Indonesia, culturally it seems so different, with the majority of the population being made up of Balinese Hindus, with sizeable chunks of Muslims and Christians. It gives this island a unique flavour which seems to be in contrast to the rest of this wide expansive nation. While Bali’s coastline is largely dominated by big surf, the north coast is a peaceful haven and I’ve just started exploring its fascinating shoreline.
So to date the most substantial open water swimming that I’ve undertaken in Indonesia has been further east, between the islands of Subawa and Flores which consist of the Komodo Archipelago, containing the Komodo National Park, which has over 30 islands within an area of 1,700km2.
The only realistic way to get around and see what these islands have to offer is on a liveaboard, as there is minimal accommodation options within the park. Distances are big as there is something like 160 kilometres between Bima on Sumbawa and Labuan Bajo on Flores.
While there I experienced an awesome variety of swimming experiences. Whether it was passing under the still active Sangeang volcano, as smoke was literally bellowing out of its cone, or swimming over underwater thermal vents, spewing hot water and bubbles. Think of a hot tub on a medium setting but extrapolated to a size of 50×25 metres and you’ve kind of got the picture. Other highlights were a day of swimming around the extinct volcanic crater rim of Banta Island while passing over fringing and patch coral reefs and also a series of island hops, including one between the islands of Pulau Batubilah and Padar. The whole environment both above and below the water line seems to give a view of what life was like many millennia ago.
Here be dragons
Wildlife is varied with whale sharks, manta rays and dugongs among the cast list. However, there is a somewhat unusual hazard that you need to be cautious about when swimming around the National Park: the Komodo Dragon! Growing up to three metres in length and weighing up to 70kg, the Komodo Dragon is the world’s largest lizard and can live for up to 30 years. They capture the prey by first biting their victim and then following them for what can be for days before they succumb to an infection caused by the initial bite. The dragons are also known to get into the sea and are able to swim short distances, so for the open water swimmer, it is a unique hazard and well prudent to stay more than 100 metres from those islands where they are known to habitat. Who knew dragons could swim?
The best place to get acquainted with them is on land and the islands of Komodo and Rinka are the best places to see them. So if geology and nature take your fancy then undoubtedly the Komodo National Park has something significant to offer.