Pretty fish, turtles and terrifying, tyrannical titan triggerfish


After two weeks of island hopping in Thailand, it was time to move on.  It had always been my intention to meet up with my friend Fiona somewhere in Indonesia right around this time.  Neither one of us had any specific plans so we emailed back and forth about where to meet up.  She suggested Kanawa Island, a tiny one-resort island just off of Flores.

My heart sank.  Alan and I had been to Kanawa 4 years ago, and whilst it had excellent snorkelling, the resort was pretty bad.  We were the only guests on the island, and the staff came over on the boat with us.  It was like a ghost town – you could just imagine the tumbleweed blowing along the path.   The bungalows were rustic, they had limited water and squat toilets and the restaurant was terrible (both food and service).  The few staff that were there were lazy and lethargic.  You took your life in your hands each time you walked along the long rickety pier that was missing a quarter of its planks, and wobbled with the waves.  (It did finally fall over earlier this year when they had some bad tropical storms).

Did I really want to go back to this place?  I knew it had been taken over by new management – but still, we were going for 8 days.  What if it was still just as dire?  I couldn’t stomach nasi goreng for lunch AND dinner, for 8 days!

Never mind – when living the life of an intrepid traveller, you gotta’ take these things in your stride.  So I agreed.  And off we went.

Fiona arrived a few days before me.  I flew from Bali to Labuanbajo (Flores) on the small Merpati plane – and as luck would have it, I ended up sitting across the aisle from Fabrizio, one of the new Italian owners of the resort.  He assured me that it was a whole different place now.

From the airport, we taxied into town where we met the boat to take us out to the island.  There were about 6 others waiting to board the boat as well.  That was a good sign – at least we would have company.

The new pier - much sturdier!

The new pier – much sturdier (for now, at least)

The new owners of the resort did some work on the old bungalows to spruce them up a bit, and replaced the dreaded squats with proper sit on toilets.  And as a result they also increased the prices quite a bit.


However, they also introduced new accommodation options:  tents and bales (bah-lays). The tent option didn’t really appeal to me.  They were small tents, and there was no where comfortable to sit.  They may have been OK for 1-2 days, but not 8.

The tents - OK for a day or two maybe.

The tents – OK for a day or two maybe.

The bales looked like a good option:  they are essentially bamboo platforms with 4 roll-down blinds.  Inside, they had a light and a power switch, and hanging shelves on which you could put your stuff.  The mattress was on the base of the platform covered with a mosquito net – not that you need the mosquito net as there are no mozzies on the island.  The bales are right on the beach.  At night, you could keep the sides partially rolled up to let the sea breeze waft through the bale, but low enough to still give you privacy. The only real downside of the bale was the fact that you had a shared bathroom.  But it was really no different than staying in a campground.

This was home for a week or so

This was home for a week or so

Yep – I think I can manage 8 days here.  And after my first snorkel from the beach, I KNEW I could manage 8 days here.  In fact, when it was time to go I would have been tempted to stay on for another week if I hadn’t already bought a non-changeable ticket.

You can't get much closer to the beach than this

You can’t get much closer to the beach than this

Kanawa is my new favourite place for snorkelling.   I hate to say it, but it even beats what I’ve seen in Fiji which I always thought was pretty awesome.

So what did I do there?  Not much!  Read, snorkel, eat, sleep.  Rinse and repeat.

Things got a bit interesting around Day 3 when a thunder storm hit us for 3 days and nights.  We had an exciting thunder and lightening show each night, and some heavy duty rain.  The rain started to make things a bit miserable when the roofs of the bales started to leak, with the drips falling on the bed.   After the 3rd day of rain, we contemplated calling it quits on Kanawa but then we’d heard from some new arrivals that it was just as bad back in Bali and on the mainland in Flores.  So really – where were we going to go?  We decided to stay put as we could at least get into the water in between the rain falls.   And somewhere around Day 6, the skies cleared and we were back to beautiful sunny days, complaining about the heat!

So why is Kanawa my new favourite little paradise?  Because of the variety of marine life that you can see just swimming off the beach.  I don’t recall seeing so much last time were we there.

There were plenty of colourful fish like this one:

Picasso triggerfish

Picasso triggerfish

and this one:

Orbicular batfish

Orbicular batfish

and this one:

Some people to wear eyeshadow this colour!

A juvenfile Angelfish of some description?

If you want to see something really psychedelically amazing, look at this google search of Juvenile Angelfish images.

Puffer fish?

Puffer fish I think…  isn’t he cute?

Here’s another cool google search:  puffer fish images.  Also check out ‘bat fish images’ to see some uglier versions. 

We saw manta rays on a snorkelling trip… some of the others on the boat saw one that was up to 8m wide!


But the highlight for me was the turtles!  Each day I saw 2-3, and was able to just hover and swim along with them for 30-40 minutes while they went about their business.


And then there was the Titan Triggerfish.

Titan triggerfish (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Titan triggerfish (photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve seen these fish before when I was last in the Gili Islands in Indonesia.  They are large beautiful fish.  I used to watch them tear up large bits of coral in search of food (presumably).  I found one at Kanawa and keeping a 10m distance from him, I just wanted to watch him do his stuff.  And then he saw me.

And this is what I saw next:

Tyrannical titan triggerfish (photo credit:

Tyrannical titan triggerfish

This guy came charging at me, stopping just inches away.  He retreated, then came at me again.  I used my fins to kick him off.  He continued to retreat and attack.  I cannot tell you how scared I was.  I kicked at him with my fins as frantically as I could while trying to make my way back to the beach.  The tide was low so not only did I have this beast chasing me, but I was now also at risk of injuring myself on the coral only inches below me or damaging it.  I don’t know – it all probably only lasted 30 seconds, but that was 30 seconds too long.

I made my way back to shore and wasn’t in a hurry to get back out that day.  I spoke to a guy at the dive centre and I learned that they are actually not the nice, beautiful fish that I had observed previously but in fact are very aggressive and territorial, and have been known to take chunks out of limbs and fins.  I had invaded it’s nesting territory, and it let me know in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t welcome.  My mother found a funny and interesting webpage about this if you want to read more about them.   In another article, I saw them referred to as an ‘agitated pit-bull with scales’.  An apt description, I think.  (Needless to say, these aren’t MY triggerfish photos.)

For the rest of my days at Kanawa, I struggled to relax while in the water, always on the lookout for this bastard.  The problem was, I knew roughly where he was, but couldn’t remember the exact spot.  And it was near where the turtles also hang out.  What a dilemma!

Aside from that incident, the snorkelling was just simply fantastic.  I spent hours at a time in the water, and each time discovering new fish that I hadn’t seen before.  I started out almost dreading the days I was going to spend on Kanawa, but it ended up being a real highlight for me, and I will definitely go back one day.  Maybe in the not too distant future.

Note.  Kanawa Island is near Rinca and Komodo Islands, where the Komodo dragons can be found.  This is usually a day trip by charter boat.  I saw them previously and decided against going again.  But if any of you ever plan to be in this area, Komodo or Rinca is a must-see.

Slideshow: (more pretty fish pictures!)

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About BusyLizzy

Normally I live in NZ but having re-discovered the joys of independent travel over the last few years, I decided it was 'now or never' and am taking some time out to see what the world has to offer.
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5 Responses to Pretty fish, turtles and terrifying, tyrannical titan triggerfish

  1. Peter Hodossy says:

    We were at Kanawa 2009 September suffering from the same service issues just as U described your former trip. Good to know there are some development there but the marine life is the same! I maybe took photo of the same cone snail as U did :)) Be careful as it can be very poisonous, much more dangerous than your buddy, triggerfish;)
    Peti and Andi, other Kanawa lovers

    • BusyLizzy says:

      Ahh.. so you HAS been there before – I couldn’t remember. I know you and Andrea would enjoy it even more if you were to return. And no – snails will never scare me s much as the big mean triggerish! (Until then, I never knew that they could be so dangerous!)

  2. Charmaine Wilson says:

    Hey Lisa, another great read, thanks. Yes I could stay in the bales for a few weeks myself. What a beautiful spot. That triggerfish has human teeth…yuk Well we didn’t win lotto so I can’t meet up…hahahahaha
    Stay Safe xo

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