KM Black Manta Trip Reports

Sep 4, 2012

Komodo, 29 Aug - 4 Sep 2012

I've waited a long time to visit this 'must see' destination. As a full-time professional diver; expectations, apprehensions, and awe are usually experienced vicariously; through our guests with White Manta Diving, whom I have the privilege to guide through their adventures. This year Raja Ampat and Komodo have given me the chance to 'step into your fins' so to speak.

Labuan Bajo in western Flores is the best launching port for diving in Komodo. Its airport is currently serviced by 4 airlines from Bali, and just minutes from the harbour where Black Manta awaited us.

We started our trip with check-out dive close by, 'Bidadary'. It is a shallow dive and a perfect entree to the delights of the next few days.

Komodo is a wonderfully robust and enchanting mix of seamounts, channels, fringing coral reefs and black sand muck dives. Most of the reefs encompass a fusion of twisty whip corals; black corals in green, orange and yellow; bubble corals; spectacular sponges and ascidians. Hard corals are similarly plentiful, providing a fascinating topography riddled with residents of all shapes, colours and sizes.

Our first dives were amongst the colder waters of South Komodo. For me the highlight was Cannibal Rock. On this rich seamount we spotted a number of different nudibranchs including Nembrotha Chamberlaini mating. We sighted a big turtle during the dive, culinarily captivated by the biomass.

Torpedo Alley was an obvious hit with our Macro enthusiasts from different parts of China; part of the Xcess Scuba group. They, and others, captured some fantastic shots of the little critters that Stanny, Ungke and Anto (BMs Indonesian dive guides) delight and specialise in finding. Top of the bill is a good teeth cleaning at a white banded cleaner shrimp inhabited cleaning station, though the Lembeh sea dragon, tiny frogfishes, flambuoyant cuttlefish, and mimic octopuses were mooted post-dive triumphs. A night dive at Pink Beach delivered a black hairy frogfish, halimeda ghost pipefish and an astonishing field of 'sea apples' in the sand (a small red sea cucumber, partially buried).

Our first experience with the infamous 'Komodo Dragon' came at the beaches of Rinca Island; close to Cannibal Rock. A must see, but don't get too close! We also spotted: deer, wild pigs, monkeys and buffalo whilst anchored nearby; there was frequently a bird of prey circling in the sky too.

We now focused our trip in North Komodo, home to some of the most famous divesites in the region. We started with Crystal Rock. Here, my fascination with the plethora of marine species was only exceeded by my furious scribbling: recording observations on my dive slate; both sides full. Nothing rivalled my surprise all trip to spin around to a dolphin swimming directly towards me!

'Castle Rock' is widely touted as the best divesite in Komodo and it is hard to disagree with that sentiment. We enjoyed it twice. It is a thick soup of fusiliers, damselfish and anthias. This dive is best enjoyed after high tide; the current attracts the fish; in particular the sharks! This is indeed a Sharkey dive, jostling for position in the current, the sleek and angular white-tip reef shark and the more rotund, yet lesser sighted, grey reef shark. We hooked on, hung on and egged on the activity. It was an experience I had only encountered previously on campsites,!

Now for the drift dives....there are a couple of channels between Gili Lawa Laut, Gili Lawa Darat & Komodo island. 'Shotgun' is probably the most notable, dubbed 'The Cauldron' by some. Prepare yourself for some serious fun. We all loved this dive. What a ride! Sharks and Manta Rays thrilled the divers. Post-dive chatter from the Chinese divers was enigmatic! They were so excited! Golden Passage (presumably named after the golden damsels, anthias, and fauna populating the divesite) is another thrilling current ride. 'Lighthouse' yielded another Manta Ray, missing his left cephalic lobe. He played with us in the shallows, and later, with a couple of his friends, marvelled our snorkelling non-divers: Emily (daughter of Mantha) and Danielle (friend of Cedric’s mum, Paulette). The most challenging drift dive is 'Makassar Reef', we've renamed it 'Mantas on the Moon'. 5 Manta Rays & 5 Turtles, a brisk current, and practically nothing to hold onto! Really super stuff.

The best night dive in the world, might probably be 'Wainilu'. I can't remember seeing so many rare and weird things in one dive. I witnessed a crocodile flathead swallowing one of many striped catfish dive-bombing the sand as a collective 'baitball'. I saw a giant, painted and clown frogfish, harlequin shrimps, flying gurnards, Spanish dancers (a large swimming nudibranch), ornate ghost pipefish, many types of decorator crab, bobbit worms and a whole host of things I couldn't identify excited dive guides and guests alike. We did this one twice too!

Black Manta is better than I can ever remember. This was a nostalgic trip for me. I lived on Black Manta for over 3 years. I was so happy to be briefly reunited with my old friend Juyanto: our longest serving employee and engineer extraordinaire. Entertainment on board included action films selected by Steven Neo & David Tan and poker games with the guests from China. Sing-a-long lullabies with the talented guitarists Stanny and Cedric, ukulele by Christopher Ochs and the simply amazing voice of Kate (Katherine O’Keeffe).

The trip finished with a Dragon trekking on the final afternoon, Vampire show in the evening, and a wave goodbye from Dolphins playing in the bay at Labuanbajo. I didn't want to leave; indeed I'm sure all guests left wanting more. I waved farewell to Sophie Martin, my dive buddy and Lesley Chan, my travel companion. They return to Europe and Canada respectively. We've a enjoyed some great trips together in the past but none better than this. I wish you luck and hope that we will be re-united for further adventures in the future.

I would like to make a special mention to the excellent food enjoyed by all during the entire trip, magnificent service and friendly disposition provided by the crew, and surely the most passionate and talented cruise director in all of Indonesia, my venerable friend Cedric Lesenchal. Thank you to you all, bon voyage for next trip; and see you next time.

Black Manta is in Komodo from April - October after which she crosses via Maumere, Alor, Banda and the spice islands, the ring of fire, Ambon and Misool on the way to Raja Ampat. She is embarking on trips to Cenderwasih Bay (dive with Whale Sharks, yes...dive!) during November, and Raja Ampat (North & South) trips December-March.

Join Black Manta for a trip of a lifetime, check out her schedule

All underwater photos and Komodo Dragons taken by Lin Lin from China. 
Others provided by myself, and group photo: Abdul Rahman from Indonesia.

Trip Overview
Days 7; Dives 20; Komodo North-South

Dive type:

Drift Dives:

  • Shotgun a.k.a. The Cauldron
  • Lighthouse
  • Golden Passage
  • Makassar Reef (Mantas on the moon)

Muck & Night dives:

  • Torpedo Alley
  • Wainilu
  • Pink Beach

Seamounts / Pinnacles:

  • Cannibal Rock
  • Crystal Rock
  • Castle Rock

Reef Dives:

  • Bidadary
  • Tatawa Kecil
  • Sambal
  • Batu Bolong
  • Tengah

Top tip: buy a hooded vest, good reef hook and a 3-5mm full suit; you easily get cold, especially if your trip includes South Komodo.

Useful information: Komodo now has a new mobile communications mast. Buy a Telkomsel card from Denpasar airport or at Labuanbajo harbour. 50,000 rupiah (about US$5) is plenty for light web surfing, email and cheap telephone calls. Top up your phone using the enclosed instructions then send SMS to 3636 stating FLASH ON, then FLASH ON 20000, then FLASH YA when prompted. For cheap international calls prefix 01017 before your country code and number.

Bandwidth is narrow and signal is intermittent, but there is reasonable access every day.

Christopher Hutton, Cruise Director MV White Manta