(THE BUSINESS TIMES) - There is nothing to prepare you for your first sight of the Komodo dragon in the wild. You may have seen one at the zoo, but when you're barely two metres away from this giant monitor lizard with only a park ranger in between, all you can feel is immense awe and respect.
Not to mention intense fear. It may look big and clumsy but the creature can outrun you; and with David Attenborough intoning in your head that the Komodo dragon's bite can be venomous, this is one lizard that you don't want to mess with.
The best - actually the only - place in the world to see these creatures in their natural habitat is in the Komodo National Park in Indonesia. It is made of over 20 islands spread over an area of 1,733 sq km, and the only way to get there is by boat.
You can either do a day trip from Labuan Bajo in Flores or take a few days to cruise leisurely among the islands. If the latter sounds tempting, then the newly launched super yacht Rascal will be hard to resist.The 31-metre Rascal is built to look like an Indonesian Phinisi boat, using the same methods used by craftsmen over a century ago, but outfitted with the latest technology. There are only five guest cabins - all above deck and with huge windows offering unfettered views of the sea and surrounding islands. Each is spacious and luxuriously furnished, with ensuite bathroom, TV and minibar. There are wide sundecks, an outdoor dining terrace and indoor bar for guests to chill out at.
Rascal operates private charters only, so guests get to design their own itinerary. A typical cruise goes to two of the biggest islands Komodo and Rinca, where the Komodo dragons roam freely, with stopovers at smaller islands such as Sabolan and Gili Lawa Darat.
Most visitors head to Komodo Island itself, which has proper infrastructure that allows you to safely get up close and personal to its inhabitants. Nobody is allowed to wander about without a park ranger who acts as a guide and protector.
Walking trails are clearly marked out, ranging from an easy half an hour walk to a more demanding hike which would take several hours. We were told that the dragons were most likely to be seen near the rangers' station, and we were not disappointed. We even got to see one of the bigger ones chow down on a wild boar that it had caught. Besides the lizards, the island is rich with flora and fauna that the ranger will eagerly point out as he leads you through the forest.
Apart from the dragons, the other attraction of the Unesco World Heritage Site-listed Komodo National Park is its immense marine biodiversity - making it a big draw for avid divers around the world. This is evident from the number of live-aboard scuba boats in the area bringing groups of divers to popular sites, at times creating an underwater rush hour crush.
But there's no need to be frazzled by the crowds because Rascal's very experienced cruise director Gaz Phillips has his own secret spots that will have divers gushing about the sharks, turtles, cuttlefish and rays that they encounter. As a PADI dive instructor, Phillips, who has chalked up over 3,500 dives, is also able to take guests through a whole range of PADI certification courses.
Non-divers won't be left out because the clarity of the water and an abundance of corals in shallower depths make for great snorkelling. Our favourite is just off the Pink Beach (the sand looks pink due to the presence of crushed red corals) on Komodo Island. A short 10-metre swim off the shore and we're treated to a spectacular underwater garden of amazing soft and hard corals, and fishes of various shapes, sizes and colours.
When not dragon-spotting or admiring sea creatures, there is still plenty to do, especially on a yacht like Rascal. On board are a number of "toys" which guests are free to help themselves to. Kayaks and stand-up paddle boards let you explore the waters on your own. Adrenaline junkies can get their kicks from being pulled by a tender at high speed while clinging onto an inflatable jumbo ski tube. Or simply do nothing, and allow the yacht's ever-obliging crew to pamper you with cocktails and snacks as you laze on the vast sun deck, work on a tan, and watch the sun sink slowly below the horizon.
The writer was a guest of Rascal Charters.
To celebrate its launch phase, Rascal is offering a complimentary night for every three nights for charters booked between January and June 2017. In addition, Rascal will offer free dive courses for charter bookings prior to October 2017. For more information, please refer to www.rascal-charters.com.