The all-new AYANA Komodo Resort on the Indonesian island of Flores is the perfect family holiday destination, with a dash of adventure added for good measure, discovers Aindrila Mitra.
No, it isn’t mythical. The ‘Land Crocodile’ exists. The Komodo dragon, also known as the Komodo monitor, is the largest living species of lizard. Worthy of the title ‘dragon,’ the lizard is found in the Indonesian island belt. With only 5,000 individuals left in the wild, it’s a species that desperately needs conservation measures to avoid extinction. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, the Komodo National Park here comprises the islands of Rinca, Komodo, and Padar.
I was counting down the days to this sojourn. If you’re a beach baby, then an island destination is inevitably your favourite kind of holiday. And Bali was a no-brainer. The expanse of greenery and the immaculate luxury that RIMBA Jimbaran BALI by AYANA offered was hard to get past. But it had to be put to rest. For the one ingredient that always stokes me is curiosity. And this time, it was the search for Komodo dragons. I took an hour-long flight from Denpasar, Bali to Labuan Bajo in east Indonesia. This trip was all about experiencing nature at its intimate and pristine best in a luxurious setting, thanks to the launch of a brand- new five-star property (the only one on the island), AYANA Komodo Resort, Waecicu Beach.
Ricardo, a former architect and now the Spanish operations manager for the resort’s water activities and Lako Taka (the glass bottom boat popular for coral reef sighting excursions), was witty, knowledgeable, and clearly had a way with words. “Don’t go too close to the Komodo dragons if you want to come back to luxury,” he cheekily warned us on our way to Rinca Island, a 90-minute boat ride from the resort. While my flourishing idea of a ‘selfie with the dragon’ was instantly squashed, the ride itself was nothing short of stunning—while the north of Komodo faces the Pacific Ocean, the southern part kisses the Indian Ocean. And it is around the Komodo National Park that the two oceans merge to host the kind of marine life diversity that’s rare and glorious. It’s also one of the few sites that have largely escaped coral bleaching.
On our way to discover the dragons at Rinca, Ricardo was quick to point out Batu Bolong, Taka Makassar, and Menjerite—some of the most impressive snorkelling spots in Indonesia, as I’d discover later in the day. AYANA Komodo, with the help of marine biologist Jing Jing Yan, has taken up the cause of preserving coral life in and around the island. “We’re promoting coral propagation at AYANA by trying to build new corals and through coral gardening,” Jing Jing said. As we edged closer to Komodo National Park, I was enchanted by the mangroves, the likes of which I’d only seen in the Sundarbans back home. Muis, the ranger who came from Rinca village, was fluent in English, thanks to his Flores education. He was pithy in his directions: “We have crocodiles, snakes, and dragons here. Stay close and in groups, and make sure to keep a distance of at least four to five metres when you spot a Komodo dragon.” A dragon bite can be fatal, he claimed. Komodo dragons are known to carry 54 bacteria, including one called black poison. The dragon venom consists of various toxic proteins and causes some dreadful effects, such as extreme pain, blood loss, and paralysis. While Rinca has 1,500 dragons, the rest are found on Komodo and Padar islands.
Our Rinca island excursion involved a 40-minute trek through the jungles. I was in luck this time. We had our first spotting near the dapur (kitchen), around a kilometre from the start point. “They come looking for food in the kitchen,” Muis smiled. Four Komodo dragons, some lying on top of others, looked like they were sun-bathing after a wholesome meal. “The dragons don’t attack if they are not hungry, and a full buffalo can last them a month,” Muis continued. Occupying the highest place on the food chain in these forests, the dragons feed on deer, buffalos, and cows. A Komodo dragon can reach running speeds of upto 20 kilometres per hour and are easily two to three metres in size. Those details were enough for me to stay away. Back at the resort, after a long, hot day, a dip in the infinity pool was exactly what I needed.
Along with three pools (including a kids’ pool) and a sea-facing gym, there are numerous activities at the property—from underwater walking, to canoeing, paddle-boating, coral sightings onboard the Lako Taka, and cruises on the Lako D’ia (a nine-bedroom phinisi ship where guests can enjoy first-class voyaging with a full charter service).
‘Ayana’ in Sanskrit means ‘piece of refuge,’ and their Komodo property proved to be just that: a sanctuary of peace amidst the most scenic landscape of Indonesia, located on a ‘flower’ island (Flores means flower in Portuguese). Each of the 205 rooms comes with majestic ocean views, and every sunset you experience has a different palette of colours. While my first sunset was a burst of orange and red, the second one was splashed with purple and pink—an experience that you have to see to believe, and one that doesn’t hurt your Instagram following. Besides the extraordinary views, AYANA Komodo comes armed with exciting culinary offerings, including the Kisik Grill that serves fresh seafood, the all-day diner Rinca, the Japanese restaurant HonZEN, UNIQUE rooftop bar, Mesa Bar, and my personal favourite, Naga Bar, which is located on the resort’s private pier and makes for the best spot to witness the sun go down over a glass of champagne. Over dinner on my last night, one of the guests and a Bali resident said, “If you’re looking for an island way of life, and are seeking some quiet time and balance, then Bali is an obvious choice. But if you’re looking for an exclusive experience, then AYANA Komodo is the cherry on top.” She was absolutely right.
GETTING THERE: There are direct flights from Denpasar, Bali and Jakarta to Labuan Bajo. AYANA Komodo is located 20 minutes from the airport.
STAY: While there are a few properties in Labuan Bajo, already popular among divers, AYANA Komodo Resort, launched this September, is the only five-star property on the island. There are 205 rooms, out of which 13 are suites, and 192 standard guest rooms. Full ocean view rooms from `35,000 per night; ayana.com
WHO SHOULD GO: Ideal for honeymooners or for a family vacation. The resort comes equipped with a spa, two swimming pools, and a kids’ pool, sailing-themed kids’ club that also involves a coral schedule every Wednesday, various water activities including snorkelling, marine walks, dolphin watching, SUP Yoga and canoeing, sunset tours, scuba diving, etc. And there are six restaurants to cater to your culinary needs—Rinca (all-day dining), HonZEN (Japanese cuisine), Mesa Bar (casual dining), Kisik Grill (seafood and grills), UNIQUE Rooftop Bar, and Naga Bar.