Nusa Kode’s heavily forested backbone slopes down to a horseshoe-shaped bay where the Banda Sea waters lap against a lonesome beach. If not for the six Komodo dragons prowling menacingly along the water’s edge, it would be an idyllic spot to spend a day swimming and snorkelling.
“The sound of our tender’s engines attracts them. They think they are going to be fed,” says Andy Brusselmans, our cruise director on the swanky super-yacht, Prana by Atzaro.
Our driver, Second Officer Andi Masur, patrols the shoreline from a distance, studying the dragons’ behaviour before deciding to inch towards the beach. “Don’t get too close,” says a fellow passenger. “I don’t want one of them spitting on me.”
This ill-informed conversation inside the tender is based on the belief that Komodo dragons kill their prey merely by spitting at them, the belief being that their saliva contains sufficient toxicity to bring down a buffalo. But more recent research suggests that dragons use strangulation and blood loss from bite wounds to bring down their prey. And while dragons hiss, certainly, they don’t spit.
Nevertheless, it’s wise not to get too chummy with these dragons, especially once we learn that their diets are indiscriminate. They mill along the water’s edge, their tongues flickering constantly in a bid to gauge our scent. One appears to have an inflated belly. “Is it pregnant?” a passenger asks.
“Maybe it’s just eaten,” says the dive master.
“Hope so,” someone murmurs.
Eventually, a fearsome 100-kilogram monster, with a face only a mother could love, eases into the water and swims towards our tender, propelled by a swishing tail as long as its torso. Masur puts the tender into reverse and the dragon soon gives up, swinging round to return to shore. “The water is too cold for them,” explains the dive master. “It won’t come in again.”
Hard to believe that this water could be too cold for anything. For two days now, every passenger onboard Prana by Atzaro has been soaking in its 27-degree warmth, either by aqualung or snorkel.
Prana by Atzaro is like nothing else. The hand-built, 55-metre-long ironwood and teak superyacht is crafted in the style of a traditional Indonesian phinisi, a classic wooden two-mast Indonesian transport and cargo boat. Prana was the brainchild of Atzaro, a high-end resort and hospitality group headquartered on the Mediterranean party island of Ibiza.
Propelled by nine sails, aided by an 880-horsepower Yamaha motor, the ship has become the Banda Sea’s new standard-bearer, with nine elegant suites for up to 18 guests, with an equal number of crew catering to their whims.
It began operations in July 2018, with a schedule that rotates between Komodo, the Spice Islands and Raja Ampat, a jungled archipelago teeming with reef life off the northwest tip of West Papua. Our four-day cruise starts and finishes in Labuan Bajo, a shabby port town on the west coast of Flores, the emerald jewel in the Nusa Tenggara group of islands east of Lombok.
We’ve drifted over coral reefs and swum with reef sharks and manta rays in a region recognised globally for its unmatched marine diversity. Then we’ve lazed on tidal sand spits with dazzling white beaches, before hiking to sunset viewpoints or sharing candlelit, barbecue dinners on the beach under a blanket of stars.
Crew members have always been waiting for us to reboard the yacht so they can hand us chilled, lemongrass-scented face towels and tropical fruit juices laced with tamarind, ginger or turmeric. On one occasion, after we’d dived over a coral reef harbouring an impressive number of tropical fish and corals, I counted 10 staff offering a helping hand onto the rear deck, to take our flippers off or hand us a dry towel. You’d think they had nothing better to do.
In between adventures we’ve been able to just enjoy being on the yacht. Two spa therapists have been busy massaging us on the open deck, where fresh sea breezes wash over us. Morning yoga classes have taken place on the top deck soon after the sun has risen. And a six-strong kitchen team has prepared scrumptious Asian and Western-fused meals accompanied by surprisingly palatable Balinese wines made with Limestone Coast grapes.
My time onboard Prana has been so memorable that when we sail back into Labuan Bajo at the end of our cruise, the thought of returning home to work downright appalls me. Then I remember those hungry Komodo dragons. Perhaps I shouldn’t tempt fate any longer than I have to.
CRUISE LINE: Atzaro Group
VESSEL: Prana by Atzaro
MAX PASSENGER CAPACITY: 18
TOTAL CREW: 20, including two dive masters
PASSENGER DECKS: 4
ENTERED SERVICE: 2018
FACILITIES: Nine en-suite cabins, a yoga deck doubling as an open-air cinema, onboard spa treatments and water-sports equipment.
Highs: Pampered opulence among mesmerising islands.
Best for: Adventurous souls seeking absolute comfort in the Banda Sea.