Going in search of myths and legends, Benjamin Sturges cruises to Komodo Island on the ultimate multi-generational sailing adventure.
Komodo sweeps you up in an incredible sense of adventure
The moment we stepped aboard Leyla – a beautiful wooden Phinisi yacht whose wonderful crew took us to the heart of the Komodo National Park – we were swept up in an incredible sense of adventure.
Catch an overnight breath on pretty Flores Island
The day before, we’d flown just one hour east of Bali to Flores island and an overnight stay at the impressive Ayana hotel outside the port town of Labuan Bajo. With stunning views out to the Komodo island chain it felt a world away from busy Denpasar. A feeling that continued next morning when we were collected by the charming Dodi: a native Florenese, who would be our trip coordinator and divemaster on this voyage.
Sail into a realm where time seems to slow
Arriving at the small but bustling port, we and our bags were loaded onto tenders and ferried across to our home for the next seven days: what a sight it was to see Leyla riding gently at anchor in the breeze. Then, after being introduced to the rest of the Helm crew – numbering nine in total – we sailed out of the harbour, leaving behind the modern world and gliding into a realm where time seemed to slow instantly.
Diving off Sebayur Besar Island
Our first stop was the island of Sebayur Besar where we dropped anchor for lunch, discussed our itinerary and then dived straight into our first experience of the phenomenal underwater world. One of the absolute highlights of Komodo is snorkelling and diving in the park’s pristine waters.
The reefs are a kaleidoscope of colours and home to an incredible variety of marine life, and the Leyla’s experienced crew and onboard dive instructor made sure even our youngest adventurers could safely explore their marvels.
Swimming with manta rays, turtles and sharks
For more experienced divers, Leyla comes with a full set of diving equipment and Dodi our host and divemaster proved to be an excellent guide. There’s diving to suit both beginners and experts and the marine landscape is a treasure trove of vibrant coral gardens. Plus, if you’re lucky, there’s also a chance you’ll see wonders such as manta rays, turtles and sharks.
Sangeang: the village of boat builders
The next leg of our adventure was an overnight trip across to Sangeang, an enormous volcano forming its own island which rises to nearly 2000m above sea level.
Sangeang is still active and at night you can even see its red glow. So the sense of excitement was palpable as we sailed across on the tender to visit the village of boat builders fronting its black volcanic beach.
We felt as if we’d arrived at the edge of the world
Here, we were shown around the current three-year project: building an enormous traditional, cargo Phinisi out of ironwood. It’s no exaggeration to say we felt as if we’d arrived at the edge of the world.
Entering the kingdom of the Komodo Dragon
However, the heart of our journey lay on Komodo Island itself and visiting the park’s namesake, the Komodo Dragon.
These ancient reptiles, often referred to as living dinosaurs, are the largest lizards on earth and found nowhere else but Komodo National Park. The currents that swirl from the Indian ocean through the Indonesian archipelago are phenomenally strong and it’s these which have kept Komodo Dragons isolated and protected.
Understandably, they also necessitate the careful planning of sailing routes and diving, so an experienced Helm crew like Leyla’s is essential when sailing here.
Padar Island: the photographer’s dream
As the boat navigated the park’s waters, each island revealed its own unique identity. Padar for instance, with its distinctive rolling hills and panoramic viewpoints, is a photographer’s dream.
Hike up to the top here and you’re rewarded with spectacular views of surrounding islands, as well as the famous pink Padar beaches: naturally coloured by the local coral.
Sailing on Leyla is an extraordinary experience
The key to sharing this extraordinary cruise with three different generations, as we did, comes down to balancing excitement, comfort and relaxation. Meals on-board were wonderful, and both our local cooks rustled up delicious dishes, often featuring freshly caught seafood – fished from outside the national park, of course.
In fact, the entire crew delivered in spades all-round and simply couldn’t do enough for us; whether they were setting up umbrellas and loungers on a tiny desert island for the afternoon or arranging an incredible dinner under the stars on a deserted beach.
Witnessing sunset wonders on Rinca Island
One absolute highlight of the trip was mooring on Rinca Island at sunset to witness hundreds of giant bats making their nightly journey from the mangroves here, to feed on Flores Island.
Experiences like this captivated everyone and made us truly appreciate the privilege of disconnecting from the outside world, as limited phone signal meant we could switch-off and fully immerse in the wonder.
Komodo creates many moments of sheer magic
In truth, our journey on Leyla through Komodo National Park was more than a family holiday, it was an extraordinary odyssey, weaving together threads of adventure and discovery to create so many shared moments of sheer magic. And I think I can speak for all three generations, when I say that the memories we made were unforgettable and will live with each one of us, forever.
Planning a Komodo family cruise
How to get there
Flights from Bali to Flores take from 1 hour
Where to stay
AYANA Komodo Waecicu Beach, Flores
Good to know
Benjamin’s cruise from Flores to Komodo was organised by HELM, in partnership with The Yacht Club Indonesia
Four nights shared charter, aboard Leyla, including food and excursions