Trip report by group leader Maggie Russel. Photos by Maggie Russel, Gennady Elfimov, Jeremy Smith, Bee Smith and Mark Cunningham. With thanks
I have just returned from a Dive Safari Asia Small Group Safari to Alor and Komodo. It has been over 2 weeks of being awed by some stunning dive sites along with some great overland stopovers.
I met the majority of our guests at the Bali Novotel for dinner and a couple of beers and wine the night before our planned flights to the island of Alor. The hotel is well appointed and very easy to walk to from both Domestic and International terminals and thus prevents the hassle of arranging taxis to the airport first thing in the morning. The following morning we met for an early breakfast buffet and I caught up with the rest of our group. Then we were off to domestic departures to catch our flights to Alor via Kupang and the wonders of excess baggage charges. All our guests had pre-paid for excess baggage so it was up to me to sort it out and get it all paid for. A few million Indonesian Rupiah later saw all 10 of us and our 13 hold bags plus our carry-on luggage and cameras tagged and accounted for. Whilst waiting to board the plane a nice couple came and introduced themselves, they were Max and Lauren, the owners of Alami Alor who we were staying with for the first part of our adventure.
The holiday had begun. On arrival at Alor airport we were greeted by our drivers and set off in 4 large comfortable cars through the countryside to reach the resort. Plenty of space for us and all our luggage. Smiling faces and counting just how many people you can fit on a motorbike kept us entertained during the journey. The roads got narrower and bumpier and then in the middle of the jungle the small resort of Alami Alor Resort appeared. It’s located in a remote corner of Alor in a bay with views of the neighbouring islands. A set of 6 beautifully appointed individual en-suite bungalows with private verandas- the rooms were spacious with loads of sockets for various electronic gadgets. There is also a large spacious camera room set up with individual stations for those that wanted to use it. A welcome drink and then it was off for a quick unpack, leaving any dive gear in a crate outside on the veranda where it was immediately whisked away to the dive centre by one of the staff to be set up ready for us to use.
We then joined Max and Lauren and their equally friendly staff, Kevin and Ciantra for a delicious Indonesian inspired family style lunch. Over lunch our group decided that they wanted to go diving as soon as possible to get weights right and check camera housings so a dive from the house reef was arranged for those that wanted it. It turned out to be everyone so rather than relaxing on the sun- loungers and hammocks that first afternoon we all jumped in and got rid of those pre-dive holiday nerves. What a fantastic house reef, by the time we got out it was getting dark so our “check” dive finished looking at mandarin fish under the jetty.
The following days saw us diving a variety of sites around Alor ranging from muck sites, reef sites, walls, sandy slopes, coral gardens, pier dives, into the blue dives and anemones as far as the eye could see – and the eyes could see a very, very, very long way indeed, the underwater visibility was stunning. The diversity of the dives is amazing. This coupled with the friendly and knowledgeable Max and Lauren and staff who cannot do enough to make your stay enjoyable, pure bliss. We did find that at some of the sites the currents can be strong and unpredictable, especially around the full and new moons when there is more chance of seeing the hammerheads and mola molas. However Max, Kevin and all the dive staff are very experienced and able to judge conditions before each dive, changing dive sites when necessary. The corals and reefs are in pristine condition, I put my camera away many a time and just watched. The highlight dives for me were Clown Valley, anemones as far as the eye could see, oh and just then you think you cannot see any more there are pygmy seahorse here too, we saw seven of them on two sea fans. Another highlight was The Great Wall (of Pantar) which was a stunning wall dive topped off by a school of bump head parrot fish swimming by in the blue. Surface intervals were spent admiring the views whilst dolphins often joined us for our trips to and from the sites further from the resort.
Most of our group opted for 2 dives every morning, followed by the house reef or another guided dive in the early afternoon and then a sunset or night dive. A few of us even managed to cram in 5 dives a day on a couple of days in between eating all the delicious food! The house reef at Alami Alor proved to be the icing on the cake, the more we dived it, the more we found. One of our group didn’t fancy going out for a second morning of current dives so I stayed behind and we had the house reef all to ourselves. We had a fantastic underwater camera session trying unsuccessfully to photograph the juvenile black tip reef sharks in the shallows and then more successfully the leaf fish and nudibranchs, corals, pipefish, octopus and more. The last night saw the house reef produce a wonderpuss – amazing. On the final evening we had a slide show, trying to pick our 10 best images, it was so difficult. The diving combined with freshly prepared delicious breakfasts with freshly baked bread, delicious Indonesian style lunches and dinners plus freshly baked home-made cakes and cookies on the boat meant the group thought they had been transported to heaven!
All too soon it was time to leave. Knowing we would be having withdrawal symptoms from the home cooking Lauren baked us delicious Macadamia nut cookies for the journey. We arrived at the small airport and waited for our flight, the airport opening about half an hour beforehand so we could check in all our bags. 3 short flights later and a very scenic boat trip from Flores Island saw us and all our bags safely arriving at Komodo Dive Resort on Sebayur Island where were greeted with friendly smiles, cold face clothes and welcome drinks. After a quick shower we met for a briefing from the main guide Leo followed by a delicious and very large Italian a la carte dinner and drinks at the bar.
The following morning we started diving. We had a great set of guides including, Marcus from the Scilly Isles, who once again did all they could to make sure everyone in our group enjoyed their diving. Komodo soon lived up to its reputation with healthy reefs, sometimes-strong currents and lots of fish. On the first day some of the group saw mantas whilst the group I was in saw a shark and eagle rays. Batu Bolong is an amazing pinnacle reef with loads of reef fish, octopus and nudibranchs. The majority of our group opted to dive the Northern Sites of Castle and Crystal Rock followed by The Cauldron and we were really glad we did. Our local guides Hanky and Rafen got us to the sites at the just the right time, not too much current and what followed were some amazing fish encounters. We were surrounded by huge schools of tangs and fusiliers, massive sweetlips, groups of jacks patrolling and buzzing the schools of fish. The the visibility up here was once again brilliant. The rocks are really just one massive cleaning station where large numbers of fish come in to be cleaned and relax. The end of one of the dives saw some of us up close with the eagle rays whilst others watched as a Titan Triggerfish single-handedly destroyed part of the reef super structure. The final day saw us opt for another go to see the mantas, this time at Mauan and we were all blessed with a show from at least 3 of these magnificent creatures.
Our days consisted of two morning dives about an hour or so away from the resort, back for Indonesian a la carte lunch, and then an afternoon dive at a nearer site. We also did some night dives. When we opted for the Northern Sites which were further away we stayed out for the day and had a great Indonesian lunch on board. The evening meals were Italian feasts, the chocolate lava pudding will remain in my memory for a very long time. Our group decided to have the final day to off-gas as we had managed to fit all our dives in that we had pre-paid for, plus extras over the previous 4 days so on the last morning we travelled to Rinca Island to see the Komodo dragons in the wild. Everyone was able to get up close and personal with the dragons, very glad to be behind the ranger with his pointed stick whilst we wandered through the wet lands spotting buffalo and endemic bird species before climbing a bit of hill to get a wonderful view of Rinca Island and the surrounding area. A spectacular way to off-gas. The afternoon saw us packing and the next day we were all up early for the boat trip and the flights back to Bali where most of us collapsed in day rooms at the hotel, luxuriating in the spa or swimming in the pool before our international flights home or for one lucky person a domestic flight to Manado and another 2 weeks diving in Bunaken and Lembeh. It was a great trip and we all parted with smiles and promises to keep in touch and go diving together again soon. This is what I love about our trips, I always meet so many lovely people, both old friends and new all with a passion to see the world and go diving.