Located on the north coast of Flores island in the Ngada district lies an archipelago that forms a unique, paradisiac sea garden, called the 17 Islands Riung Marine Park. This cluster consists of islets whose waters are rich in biodiversity, sandy white beaches and crystal clear blue waters where you can dive in and swim among the colorful and varied coral beds.
One of the most popular attractions, for which these islands are famous is the ‘Rose of the Sea’, a renowned underwater phenomenon, which can be seen around several of the islands. Below the oceans surface you will find clusters ofsea roses waving mesmerizingly in the current. These are in fact a collection of giant sea hare eggs that, bound by membranes, together form red petals like giant red roses waving in the sea.
The 17 Islands Riung Marine Park, which extends from Toro Padang in the west to Pulau Pangsar in the east, range in size, but all are virtually uninhabited.
The small-time fishing town of Riung is perched along the quiet and relatively dry northern coast of Flores, making it a decidedly long way away indeed from the beaten backpacker track. Occupied by a mixture of Bugis, Bajau, Bajwanese and the occasional migrant from Amon, residents here subsist largely from fishing, some farming, and the small-scale tourism that comes here, as well as seaweed farming.
Tourists come here in pleasingly small numbers to take boat tours of the “Seventeen Islands,” island-hopping in smallish fishing vessels from one white-sand tropical paradise to another. There’s also very good snorkelling over hard coral, a truly massive colony of fruit bats, and the off-chance of spotting a mbou — a smaller and shyer cousin of the more-famous Komodo dragon.
This area is beautiful both above the oceans surface with the clean, white sands, and below as well, with the crystal clear water and colorful coral reefs. The water is so clear, making swimming, snorkeling, and diving an extra unique experience. For photography buffs, this is an excellent location to capture the beauty beneath the ocean’s surface. Due to its exceptionally clear waters, underwater photography can be amazing.
You can also take a boat or a speedboat with a fiber-glass bottom to enjoy the beauty of the diverse and colorful underwater world from the surface. This is also an impressive diving site as there are a large variety of sea creatures and coral reefs to explore. Here is an overview of some of the major and larger islands of the 17 Islands Riung Marine Park in the Ngada district of Flores.
Pulau Batang Kolong is most popularly visited by divers in search of a first-hand view of the affectionately nicknamed, exotic ‘sea rose’, a unique organism resembling the shape and color of a rose. Layer upon layer of red hair tendrils anchored to a rock pulsate to the rhythm of the underwater currents at depth of 10 meters. This flower of the sea has the appearance of a bright red and orange flame, waving its long petals. In fact, the ‘sea rose’ is a collection of the eggs of the red Giant Sea Hare (Hexabranchus sanguineus), growing to a size of 30 centimeters.The eggs are bound by mucus and float like flowers in the wind. A specific type of sponge common to the area also attracts large tortoises. The long stretch of coral gardens indicates to divers, that they are indeed nearing the home of this large sea creature.
Some cultural celebrations of the Ngada people are said to happen in Riung, but seeing these may be more a matter of luck and timing. Ask a local guide to clue you in if you’re the anthropologically inclined type.
To reach this destination one must ride overhills and along narrow, winding roads; a journey which may be somewhat daunting for some.But a number of visitors have actually commented, that these narrow and winding roads along the edge of the abyss in just getting to Riung, was half the adventure. However, what is waiting at the end of the journey is a beauty that will amaze anyone, and makes the trip well worth the challenging ride to get there. In one section of the journey to Riung, around the town of Bajawa, you will see a large expanse of green, tundra-covered hills, where are scattered single palm trees appearing like candles on a birthday cake.
The closest airport to Riung is the Maumere Airport. There are airlines operating from Jakarta, Surabaya, or Bali to Maumere. The local flight from Denpasar to Maumere is about 2 hours. Flights from Jakarta or Surabaya to Maumere usually have a connection at either Denpasar or Kupang. There are also flights from Bali to the town of Ende. From Ende to Riung by car takes about 3 to 4 hours.