gili lawa

Chasing Sunset on Gili Lawa

Gili Lawa is located in the north side of Komodo Island and considered as the gate to the natural habitat of the largest prehistoric lizard in the world, Komodo dragon (until now, I still don’t understand why it’s called “dragon”, since we all Indonesians see it as a giant lizard), at Komodo National Park. It takes 3 to 4 hours from Labuan Bajo, but only 30 minutes from the famous Pink Beach by boat.

There are 2 parts of Gili Lawa, which are Gili Lawa Darat (literally meaning Land Gili Lawa) and Gili Lawa Laut (Sea Gili Lawa), situated across one another. To hunt for sunset, we visited Land Gili Lawa, located between Sea Gili Lawa and Komodo Island. It was our second time to do the same activity as that on Padar Island the day before with Indonesia Photo Tour.

gili lawa

Like Padar Island, the only way to get the best viewpoints is by trekking. Land Gili Lawa is an uninhabited island, so make sure to bring own food and drinks, wear trekking shoes or mountain sandals, sunglasses, a hat, a flashlight (the one from your smartphone should be okay, too) to get down from the hill after dark and last but not least, a good quality camera (and all the tools necessary if you want) to capture the moments to the fullest! Bring a plastic or paper bag as well to collect your trashes (and bring it to the boat for littering). Remember that there are no local people there, including the cleaning service, so please be responsible to keep clean and preserve the nature.

gili lawa

Last April, the hilly terrain was dominated by savanna covered with grass and I was delighted to see that because it was like a hilly golf course that doesn’t happen all year long. Usually, the land turns green during rainy season and a transition to dry season. In dry season, it turns to be a barren land. Some say that it delivers a different kind of beauty, but I personally like it green.

The signature characteristic of Gili Lawa is that the 2 islands, situated across each other, have a sort of “tentacle” shape on one side, whose edges are not attached. It creates a gap that looks like a straits, where all ships and boats can pass by freely.

gili lawa

gili lawa

It took between 30 minutes to an hour to reach the top of the hill, depending on speed and stamina. For débutant trekkers, like me, the trails were pretty strenuous. Steep paths with gravels and slippery soil were a daily dose along the way. Having anticipated beforehand, our local guides were ready to give a hand when necessary. It was something I desperately needed on certain paths, but I tried my best to hang on and not to depend on them entirely. I had no shame using my own ass to slide on uneven and slippery surfaces, while grabbing steady rocks or twigs as handrails for balancing.

While trekking, make sure to keep looking down, place your feet sideways, either to the left or right instead of straight, to prevent getting easily slipped. If you have knee problems or tired, take a break. Listen to your body and don’t push the limit too much. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need to. Last but not least is to believe in yourself you’re gonna make it no matter what.

gili lawa

The good news is there are 2 options for viewing the sunset, the easy way or hard way. I remember the day before on Padar Island that going down to the shore was so much more challenging than going up. Therefore, I know my limit and decided to choose the easy way, meaning that I “only” needed to walk half of the whole trail and that was a relief. Although it was impossible to avoid the nature, which are steep and slippery paths no matter what.

I wasn’t alone with my choice. Actually, 6 of 8 members in our group were with me. Especially, our tour leader told us that the sunset looks prettier from the lower view point than the higher one. So, I didn’t see the point of having feet and knee sores for the sake of the reaching the peak.

How about the hard way? Easy. Just walk all the way to the top, as shown on the following pictures:

gili lawa
trekking to the highest view point
gili lawa
yes, it’s human beings, not fleas!

The lower level view point, aka the easy way, was actually stunning! Gili Lawa had never been better from this spot with savanna as a photo framing. By the way, the water should be blue, but I forgot switching the dynamic range setting back to normal.

gili lawa
waiting

On the right side of the island, that was where the sun went down. It was the right moment to place our tripod and adjust the camera setting. This spot was perfect because it is off the beaten path. Most people try hard to the peak, thinking that the highest point should have the best view. But it doesn’t always work that way.

gili lawa
Chasing sunset. Image credit: Indonesia Photo Tour.

Using Fuji XA-1, the first generation of XA type from Fuji X Series, I managed to capture the sunset with low light manual setting without any filter (cause I don’t have one).

gili lawa

After the sun was below the horizon, no one should leave the spot immediately, since the magical moment of spectacular lighting had yet to come. This was the moment I long for while chasing sunset and I hope it would not be disappointing. Sometimes nature doesn’t answer your prayers, so I prepared for the worst and if it happens, let it be.

Approximately 15 to 20 minutes later, the sky showed off its radiant and dramatic yellow-orange colour gradation. After changing the setting into advanced filter and choosing dynamic range feature, it resembled Mordor on Lord of the Rings, a place where Frodo should throw away the cursed ring.

gili lawa
second sunset

Furthermore, the island we had seen since 3 pm from all angles suddenly transformed itself to bluish-pinkish appearance both in the sky and the water surface. I love how the cloud in the middle looked like a pile of popcorn. I truly admired and appreciated the non-polluted environment that delivered such a miracle. It was the most beautiful blue hour I’ve ever seen and I couldn’t ask for more.

It was originally beautiful on its own, although the picture shown below used a dynamic range feature and dramatized the overall look. Does it remind you of a children’s book cover?

gili lawa
blue hour

After the magical moments was over and before it was getting too dark, we left our spot with a flashlight in our hand for clearer view of the paths on the way back to our ship. Darkness may turn into danger if we get slipped or lost without assistance (and don’t know how to find the right track).

As a farewell to Gili Lawa, we captured the sunrise from the boat the next morning on the way to Papagarang Island.

I was glad that we visited this island, since not all tour operators put Gili Lawa on their itinerary. Sampai jumpa lagi, or see you again!

sunrise
sunrise from the boat

Further enquiry about the trip, please check: http://www.indonesia-photography.com/. Instagram: @indonesiaphototour

DISCLAIMER

Please note that I’m not affiliated with this company and not paid for this article. I’m nothing but a participant of this trip.

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padar island

Trekking on Padar Island: Challenging Path for Breathtaking Views

PADAR ISLAND AND KOMODO DRAGON

Padar Island is one of the islands that belongs to Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara Province, Flores Island, Indonesia. It’s the third largest island after Komodo and Rinca Island, about 14.09 square kilometers.

The uninhabited island is a home for savanna and palmyra palm trees flourishing on the hilly terrain, along with mangrove, gecko, snakes, eagles and crows. On the other hand, the sea is a home for manta rays, sea turtles, corals, and sharks.

But, how about Komodo dragons?

The locals said that not long ago, there were 5 Komodo dragons exiled on Padar Island after attacking humans on Rinca Island, where the more aggressive dragons (than those in Komodo National Park on Komodo Island) live. However, recently there are only 3 left due to lack of food and eventually dead.

Fortunately, our tour leaders mentioned this information the day after in order not to scare us! Anyways, suppose they happen to be on the island, they would be somewhere off-the-beaten path on the other side of the hill.

Regardless the 3 remaining hungry dragons, those days, Padar Island was once the habitat of Komodo dragons. Nonetheless, illegal hunting and food deficiency finally lead to their extinction. FYI, feeding Komodo dragons is not allowed on Komodo Island and the rest of the islands to preserve their survival instinct.

padar island
approaching Padar Island. The boat we stayed is on the far right side

Padar Island is one of the popular destinations for island hopping, besides Kelor, Kanawa, Gili Lawa, Pink Beach and Rinca Island. The only transportation is a local boat, and spending overnight at sea is the most efficient way to explore the beauty of each island.

So there I was, in the boat with other group members of Indonesia Photo Tour, a photography-oriented tour, to capture sunset and sunrise views. Departing from Labuan Bajo, the capital city of East Nusa Tenggara province, I tried my best to take a nap during the 3 hour trip. But in the end, I only laid down on the bench with my eyes closed instead of having a proper sleep.

CHASING SUNSET: NO PAIN, NO GAIN

Three hours later, our boat approached Padar Island, docking few meters from the shore. Then, we immediately took another 10 minute ride with a lifeboat to actually get our feet to the ground (read: sand).

padat island

We had been previously warned that reaching the top to hunt for sunset would be a challenging job, but “slightly less” strenuous than trekking on Kelor Island.

In the beginning of the trail, I was glad that the wooden stairs welcomed us, becoming the saviour to save our energy, although they only covered a very small percentage of the whole trail.

Actually, the stairs were created to ensure the safety of The Minister of Indonesian State-Owned Enterprises (BUMN), Rini Soemarno, and the officials who visited Padar Island on Youth Pledge Day last year. They are initially not meant for trekkers, but manage to offer easier options for visitors, nonetheless, who either have less fond of adventure or less physical strength.

pulau padar

On the other hand, European trekkers object the availability of the stairs as they ruin the fun and challenge that the nature already delivers. Not to mention that nearly all national parks in Europe have stairs with a better quality than those in Indonesia.

The ugly truth of the hilly terrain with gravels and steep paths came next after the last step of the stairs. I was (and still am) a trekker newbie. Without some helpful hand from our guide, I could only imagine how many more times I would get slipped. I was amazed that some people (not from our group) can walk nearly effortlessly only by wearing a pair of cheap flip-flops!

The view point from each level of the hill was pretty. Every time we took a break, we looked down to see how far we had been. We chuckled in awe, witnessing the beauty of God’s creation and capturing with our camera as much as we could. Yet the local guide kept reminding us,

“You haven’t seen it all. More magnificent views await as you go further up.”

padar island

padar island

padar island
the x-trail

So true. The higher we went, the more stunning views we got. In fact, Padar Island has a very unique shape, like a tree with crooked branches on both sides, creating giant C-shaped silhouette hugging the water. Not to mention that the savanna made the entire surface of the island looked like a hilly golf course from the distance.

I felt so lucky that the savanna was still green when we were there in April, as it will dry somewhere in July and the hills will become barren and look more “rocky”.

padar island

padar island
keep going, despite the burning heat. Photo Credit: @firman_photography

The most outstanding viewpoint of all was indeed the destined location for chasing sunset, which was actually not on the peak of the hill. There were 2 C-shaped angles instead of 1, creating a signature characteristic of this spot. The sun was shining right above the crooked part of the hill and I couldn’t be more excited how the sunset would look like. We immediately placed our tripod and set up the (photography) tools required for best results. I didn’t really have those sophisticated tools, except a tripod, a shutter release and of course, my own Fuji XA-1.

Landscape photography requires a lot of patience, the right technique, tools, and timing. But suddenly, when the right (sunset) time arrived, the uninvited cloud came out from nowhere blocking the view of the sun going down!! A stroke of luck is something we should not put aside, and that’s what we missed at that time.

The picture below was taken a few moments before the cloud hid the sun.

padar island

I think the sky could be more reddish in blue hour if the thick cloud didn’t conceal the source of residual sunlight before it completely disappeared. No matter what happened, I still believe that all the struggle we had from the start was paid off with picturesque views like nowhere else in the world.

blue hour
padar island
blue hour on the other side of the spot

Other remaining challenge was going down from the hill after dark and get ready to gather at 4.30 am the day after at the dining room above our rooms for chasing sunrise.

padar island
gorilla shaped rock a few step above our sunset spot

CHASING SUNRISE: BEST VIEW FROM THE BEACH

Despite motion sickness due to the mild wave that shook the boat the night before, I managed to get up 40 minutes earlier than the actual gathering hour. What motivates me the most was to take a shower before peak hour since there were only 2 shared bathroom for 12 people. So, I really needed to outsmart the situation to avoid the queue.

Fortunately, there was no need to trek for sunrise hunting because we captured the moment from the beach, with an eye level view of sailing boats at sea. The colour change of the sky started at 5 am and gradually turned into the most spectacular red sky I’ve ever seen in my life, just before the sun was up.

padar island
before sunrise
padar island
the most spectacular sky ever seen
padar island
the sunrise

Since we were the only ones witnessing the sunrise, there was no need to fight for a great spot. When we headed back to the boat for breakfast after the sky turned brighter, we saw a group of non-photography tour who just arrived at the beach and start trekking.

Well, I wish they knew what they just missed a moment ago.

padar island

sand
the sand pattern is just like a wallpaper

Further enquiry about the trip, please check: http://www.indonesia-photography.com/. Instagram: @indonesiaphototour

DISCLAIMER

Please note that I’m not affiliated with this company and not paid for this article. I’m nothing but a participant of this trip.