Cantik Flores; Part One

It took a lot effort to write this post. No, not because Flores is boring but rather I’ve worked myself into a deep state of relaxation after some serious time spent in hammocks. But here we go..

After spending a night in Bali we arrived in Labuan Bajo on the west coast of Flores. As our propeller plane glided into the port city we glimpsed the beautiful islands and sparkling clear water we would soon get to explore.

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Situated three major islands east of Bali, Flores feels a world away from the Indonesia we’ve come to know through visits to Bali, Lombok and the Gilis. Nestled into the hillside, Labuan Bajo is a ramshackle town that’s growing fast. The streets are filled with the noise of construction, mixed with the sound of  boat engines and the motorbikes of locals who seem very oppposed to using mufflers. Not to mention the multiple calls to prayer each day which were pleasant at first, not so much at 4 am each morning.

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Labuan is the gate to the Komodo National Park and isn’t much of a travel destination in its own right. It does however feature some decent places to eat and enjoy a drink as the sun sets.

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We stayed at Green Hill, where we had a great view of the harbour and found this seriously adorable little critter in our bed.

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Green Hill is conveniently located above Made in Italy, a restaurant that quite frankly gives any Italian Restaurant in Perth a run for its money, both in terms of food and service. We had heard it serves the best pizza in Indo so of course we had to give it a try and it didn’t disappoint. Treetop and The Lounge were also good but by far our favourite was Warung Mama which served up some awesome Indo cuisine like beef rendang, tempeh and spicy eggplant.

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From Labuan we chartered a boat to take us out to three islands north of town. First up was Sebolo Besar. In typical form, the spot I chose to snorkel was full of stingers. The next spot, straight out from where the boat landed was much better and had some good snorkeling, or what we thought was good snorkeling at the time.

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Next up was a tiny island opposite Seraya.

After a bit of a snorkel and lazing around on the boat we took the short trip over to Seraya which we had heard had the best snorkeling of the three. Before arriving in Flores we had contacted the resort on Seraya to book a room but unfortunately they were under construction.  As we ate our box lunch under a palm tree we were greeted by the owner of the beach who seemed a bit perplexed at us being there. He told us a bit about his plans for the new resort which will be much more upmarket and includes all meals, AC and a pool for probably $150 pn, he hadn’t decided yet. As the workers took their lunch break they joined us jumping off the jetty. At the end of the jetty was some amazing snorkeling but in the distance we could see a storm heading our way, so we took that as good a sign as any to call it a day. Heading back we couldn’t help but think how different this day would have been if these islands were in Thailand, we’d barely seen another tourist all day.

After Labuan we spent four nights on Kanawa or as I like to call it paradise.  An hour or so boat ride away, this little gem of an island sits just outside the Komodo National Park area. We very easily fell into a routine of swimming, snorkeling,  eating, reading and napping, with the occassional walk.

Pulling up to the island’s jetty it was clear this island had an amazing underwater world to explore. During our stay we managed to see turtles and reef sharks as well as an array of coral and fish.

Back on land we even spotted some wild goats and beautiful bird life during our daily walks around the island. Each evening we’d watch the sun set from a different spot, the beach, the jetty, a hammock or the top of the island, which only took 15 minutes to climb.

There is only one resort on the island and although the meals and beer were a bit pricey in comparison to elsewhere in Flores, the Bungalows were cute and decent value given the location. Electricity only ran a few hours each day during the evening. So each night before dinner we’d sit on the balcony and play cards while watching the geckos catch their dinner in the paper lamp above.
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On new years eve we booked a trip out to the National Park. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, from 1st January the park fees were pretty much doubling. We’d also heard rumours that Kanawa will be getting a Seraya type makeover sometime soon. We started our tour with Rinca, one of the five islands home to Komodo Dragons. The things are massive! Growing up to 3m long, capable of running 20 km/hr and with a bite that gives its prey a septic infection, you would not want to find yourself near one of these guys when they’re hungry.

After getting all of our passes from the office, yes there’s a separate fee for entry, trekking, snorkeling and having a camera, we walked around the island for an hour or so learning about these giants. Their ancestors are thought to have migrated from Australia millions of years ago, and no one knows why they are only found in this tiny bit of the world. Most of the dragons we saw were hanging around the staff kitchen but we were lucky enough to spot another two further afield, as well as monkeys, wild boar and this crazy rafflesia flower, also known as the corpse flower because of its horrible smell.

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After Rinca we headed for the island of Pengah Kecil which had a wonderful selection of coral and fish, including a lion fish which I was stoked to see.

From here we moved onto Batu Balong, which as the name suggests is really just rocks protruding from the ocean rather than an island. Perfect for the lazy snorkeler, the strong current pulls you around with a stunning variety of fish by your side.

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Our last destination for the day was Manta Point, more of a patch in the sea than a landmark. This was the bit we had been most excited about, the chance to swim with manta rays. With our snorkeling gear ready to go we peered into the depths hoping to see a dark shadow glide by. And lucky we were. After jumping in, we managed to swim with a huge manta for quite a while before another boat joined us and scared it away. This photo in no way does justice to the size of this graceful creature.

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Very much content, we travelled back to Kanawa to ring in the new year with a bonfire, fireworks and a bunch of people from around the world, many of whom had made this slice of heaven home. And to top off an already unforgettable week on the west coast of Flores, we spotted a pod of dolphins as we made our way back to Labuan to discover the mainland.

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