There’s no doubt coming face to face with the prehistoric Komodo Dragon will send a tingle up the spine. The heightened sense of awareness that you’re in man-eater territory starts the moment you set foot on Komodo Island, one of only two places in the world where these giant lizards are found. The other is nearby Rinca Island.
You’ll be met off the boat at the Loh Liang settlement by park rangers who spell out the dangers of wandering the islands alone. Basically don’t! Komodo Islands has several walking trails of differing lengths and you’re welcome to explore them all but you much be accompanied by at least one ranger armed with a forked stick to fend off a potential attack. Menstruating women are asked to notify the ranger of their status and stay extra close. In all honesty, a forked stick seems like rather pitiful defence against meat-eating dragons that can grow to 70kg and 3 metres in length and easily outrun and outswim a human. However, visitors are assured that the only tourists who have been attacked and eaten where those silly enough to head out alone.
Although attacks on humans are rare, they do indeed occur. The first recorded European victim of Komodo attack occurred in 1974. There are mixed accounts of the exact circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Baron Rudolf von Reding Biberegg, an elderly Swiss tourist. By one account he was picnicking on the island with friends who had earlier in the day, used the carcass of a goat to entice Komodo’s into a feeding frenzy. At some point, the baron left the group to hike back to their waiting boat alone – a destination he never reached. Another account states that the baron was fell and injured his knee whilst trekking on the island. Unable to move the baron alone, his guide left him to seek help. When the rescue party returned, he was gone. Whatever the case, there is no dispute that an ensuing and extensive search of the island failed to find any trace of the baron other than his camera and broken glasses, and there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that he had been entirely devoured by the meat-eating dragons.
Apart from potentially saving your life, the other advantage of having a guide along is these guys have a pretty good idea where to find the dragons and other wildlife such as wild buffalo, Timor deer and long-tailed macaque monkeys.
Wildlife aside, trekking on the island rewards visitors with superb views across the myriad of islands, bays and inlets lying in wait for you to explore during the rest of your time in the national park. There are four designated treks of varying length and difficulty:
- Short Trek – 1km, 30 min. An easy, low gradient walk to the top of Frigate Hill where there is a nice view back over Loh Liang Bay. You’re unlikely to encounter any Komodo’s on this trek, other than those that frequent the buildings around the visitors centre.
- Medium Trek – 3km, 1.5 hours. This loop trail incorporates a section of dry forest, a small waterhole, some open grasslands, a view across the Sulphurea Hill and a short climb to the top of Frigate Hill. The mixed terrain provides a chance to spot Timor deer, wild boar and Komodo dragons in the wild.
- Long Trek – 4.5km, 2.5 hours. This trek is an extension of the medium trek trail to include two known Komodo hangouts called Dragon Nest and Megapode Nest, and additional scenic views. Of the shorter walks, it offers the best chance of seeing Komodo’s and other native wildlife in their natural environment.
- Mt Ara Adventure Trek – 8km, 6-8 hours. This round trip trek heads into the interior of the island to the summit of Mt Ara (510m). The trail includes several steep rocky hills and a mixture of vegetation including open grasslands, wooded forests and bamboo forests. Great views and increased chance of spotting the island’s wildlife go without saying.
- Poreng and Loh Sebita Adventure Trek – 10km, full day. This route to crosses the island’s interior to grassy hills to Poreng and Loh Sebita on Komodo’s northern shore and includes a visit to the memorial of the unfortunate Baron Rudolf von Reding Biberegg. It is the most difficult of the Komodo treks and involves some steep climbs.
With the possible exception of the less frequented Adventure Trek, all the treks are fairly easy on well-worn paths but shade is limited so a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water are essential. The longer adventure treks require a good level of fitness and generally need to be arranged in advance. Getting an early start to make the most of the cooler morning temperatures is recommended.
Komodo National Park headquarters are located at Loh Liang which is well set up to cater for visitors with western style toilets, a small kiosk selling cold drinks and snacks and a small market where locals, most from the nearby Komodo Village, sell an array of souvenirs.
If you’d like to visit the fascinating stilted fishing village of Komodo, the friendly locals don’t mind at all. It can be reached via a 30 minute walking trail westward from Loh Liang (with a guide of course) or by boat. Your guide or one of the park rangers will be able to help organise this on request.
For more information on park history and ecology, visit the official Komodo National Park website. Click on the link for details on applicable National Park fees and charges.