We’re sitting on the front porch as we write this, basking in the sun and watching red volcanic hills and lush forests approach us in the distance, gin and tonic in hand. It’s our fourth day onboard Rascal, the first private charter in Indonesia to offer an entirely above-water accommodation experience.
Right behind us, the captain and second-in-command are steering the boat through the waters of the UNESCO-listed Komodo National Park, a group of 29 islands in the southern part of Indonesia that includes the larger Rinca, Padar and Komodo Islands; the only part of the world where the komodo dragon exists.
Komodo dragon, the world’s largest reptile
For some, the mention of “komodo dragon” brings about crippling fear. After all, the gigantic creatures have landed themselves on various lists of the world’s deadliest animals, as their saliva is so lethal that even a bite can kill the victim.
Yet, terrifying and elusive were the last descriptions that came to mind when we saw our first few dragons just moments after we stepped on Rinca Island. The massive creatures were slow-moving and docile, warming themselves up in the sun. “They’re usually here. They get warmth from the sun because they’re cold-blooded,” our ranger told us.
The rangers are the true heroes of the Rinca and Komodo islands, guiding guests through daily tours of the hills and grassland forests where over 3,000 of the world’s biggest reptiles call home. Their trusty weapon in case a dragon runs amok and comes lunging at us? A forked wooden stick, with many available in public places to ward off the reptiles in case of an emergency.
The dragons are the highlight of the National Park, but they’re not the only attractions. As we hiked further inland, we spotted other animals they coexist with, such as the Timor rusa deer (the main prey of the dragons), horse, water buffalo, wild boar and long-tailed macaques — proof of the biodiversity of the area.
While Komodo National Park has been on seasoned travellers’ radars for a while, it is still relatively untainted by mass tourism. A testament to this is the limited accommodation options on land, which is set to change with the construction of Ayana Komodo Resort in Labuan Bajo, the gateway to the National Park.
Our accommodation of choice, though, is an all-inclusive, liveaboard yacht. Considering how the life of a sailor may not exactly be the most glamorous, imagine our surprise when we had our first glimpse of Rascal. The phinisi superyacht, hand-built mainly out of teak and ironwood in a remote fishing village in South Sulawesi, features five beautifully-furnished cabins all located above water, spread out over two decks with the crown jewel, an East-meets-West master cabin, located on the upper deck.
High ceilings, light-filled interiors, large ensuite bathrooms, rattan-panelled ceilings and Sonos audio systems are the makings of the luxurious cabins onboard Rascal. The rooms are adorned with select pieces of artwork — such as gold-framed posters, carved tribal masks, and ornamental wooden paddles — all offering a nod to the culturally-rich country.
Every morning, we woke up to views of the surrounding rugged landscape before indulging in a hearty breakfast, where we were presented with a wide selection, whether it’s English breakfast (think poached eggs served with bacon and sausages), or traditional Indonesian fare such as mee goreng and nasi goreng, all prepared lovingly by the chef. The extremely talented chef is just one of the 10-people crew spearheaded by cruise director and scuba diving master Gaz Phillips, and each of them made our time on Rascal memorable.
Dive sites in Komodo National Park
The National Park is renowned for its diverse marine life, with more than 1,000 species of tropical fish, 260 species of coral, and rare marine mammals (such as the dugong), that call the nutrient-rich waters home. Is there a better place on earth to get your open water diver PADI certification? We think not.
During our voyage, Phillips led diving expeditions to The Passage, a drift dive between the two islands of Gili Lawa Darat and Gili Lawa Laut — home to white tip reef sharks, turtles, various rare fishes, and a vibrant coral garden — as well as Sabayor, where schools of giant trevallies, coral trouts and snappers can be spotted.
Exploring the National Park
If you’re not a diver, Phillips also leads snorkelling activities, but it all depends on the winds and currents. Whether you’re on Rascal for four or seven nights, there are a variety of water activities available to keep you occupied, such as swimming amongst majestic manta rays, giant sea turtles and friendly dolphins, or setting out to explore hidden beaches on a kayak or stand up paddleboard.
Alternatively, the crew is always eager to take you out on an excursion in Rascal’s trusty dingy, like the short but intense hike on Gili Lawa Darat we embarked on. Although we stopped to catch our breath every once in a while, the crew who accompanied us, Kina and Firman, cheered us on every step of the way.
Guests who prefer to have a more chilled out time can stay onboard Rascal all day too. The yacht is equipped with an indoor library, various board games, three comfortable nooks located on various parts of the boat, as well as a bar featuring a drinks menu curated by Proof & Company, the same team behind some of Singapore’s award-winning bars, including 28 HongKong Street and Manhattan.
“We once had the crew take a couple out on the dingy. As they approach Rascal on the way back, we set fireworks from the yacht’s roof as a birthday surprise,” Phillips told us.
That’s only one example of the unique hospitality experiences created by the team. Whether it’s a pop-up island dinner or an onboard cocktail party, the team puts in a 101 percent to make guests’ request a reality.
On our last night, they led us through a path lit by the glow of candles, unveiling a beautiful moonlit dinner set up, flanked by lanterns and Balinese umbrellas. Barbecued dishes specially prepared by the chef was for dinner. We feasted on sumptuous grilled prawns, tender satay, and mouthwatering, juicy lamb steak, our favourite spicy sambal matah (a special Balinese shallot salsa) on the side.
See you later, Komodo
We’ve waxed lyrical about different remote destinations, but our voyage around Komodo National Park takes the cake. With awe-inspiring landscapes that can’t be found anywhere else in the world and some of the world’s most intriguing creatures, Komodo is a destination that we wish will never change.
Our experience was made even better by the Rascal crew, who made sure we were comfortable and well-taken care of every step of the way. Trust us, they had to embark on a little rescue mission when we found ourselves being pushed back by the winds and currents while kayaking one day.
With Rascal’s success, it comes as no surprise that five more luxury yachts will be built under Rascal Voyages, operating across Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean and beyond. Like the maiden yacht, which has sailed across the waters of Komodo National Park and Raja Ampat the past year, the new yachts will offer cruises to magnificent locations off-the-beaten-path — and we can’t wait to find out what’s in store.
Rascal is only available for private charter, with nightly rates starting at S$11,569 (full board).