The sub-district of Riung, located to the north of Bajawa, is famed for its beautiful coral gardens. The coast and the surrounding area of the town of Riung have become a national conservation area, and were even given the status of a national park and named Pulau Tujuh Belas, or ‘Seventeen Islands’. In fact, the national park consists of more than 20 small and larger islands. The local people, though, have named the area ‘Riung Seventeen Islands’, a label that is easy to remember as it refers to the personification of a beautiful 17-year-old girl and also Indonesian Independence Day on the 17th of August.
The national park area is inhabited by various exotic species, e.g. the Timor deer, hedgehogs, monkeys, ferrets, the Timor monitor lizard, marsupials, and partridges. The large variety of birds, such as eagles, white herons, black storks, partridges etc, make the area a great spot for bird watching.
Even a moderate-sized species of a Komodo dragon named Mbou is said to exist in some regions such as Torong Padang, where it has been spotted in particular seasons only. It has hardly ever been encountered by either the conservation management or tourists.
The marine park status has been established to preserve the area’s underwater world. The Seventeen Islands area encompasses a rich coral-reef ecosystem where you can count up to 27 different species of coral. The Riung waters are home to plenty of exciting animals, ranging from marine mammals such as dolphins and whales to various colorful fish. The crystal-clear water makes it a perfect place for swimming, snorkeling, and underwater photography.
The biggest island is the hilly Ontoloe, which is covered with short grass and a few trees, as well as fringed with mangroves. On the north coast of Ontoloe, you can observe the famous large fruit bats, called ‘flying foxes’, flying over the mangrove trees.
A visit to Kalong, the ‘Flying Fox Island’, gives you the opportunity to see these fascinating animals as they fly into the sunset. The island of Bampa Barat is a temporary home to several fishermen, who sometimes sell their catch of the day directly from the boat.
If you plan to see the national park, you should also take some time for visiting Riung Village, as it offers you the possibility of unique cultural encounters. Lively celebrations of the Ngada people’s traditional hunting and boxing is just one part of their manifold cultural life.
Boat tours to the islands can be arranged from every hotel in town. There are plenty of water activities you can enjoy, like snorkeling, fishing or swimming in the crystal clear waters. The best areas for snorkeling can be found in Pulau Bukit Tiga, and near Pulau Mborong. You can rent the equipment in the representative office of Dinas Pariwisata Ngada (Muhammad Awing 081230189727) or in hotels such as Pondok SVD Riung or Nirwana bungalows.
However, despite the great potential of diving, there are no dive masters operating in this area yet. By using a speed boat or another vessel you can also enjoy a panorama of artistically formed island silhouettes.
In Riung you can find a small number of accommodation options ranging from simple guesthouses to nice, mid-range cottages. There are some small restaurants, warung, and shops as well.
How to get there
Riung is located approximately 72km from Bajawa. Along the Transflores ‘highway’, Riung can be either reached from Mbay (about 2 hours) or Bajawa (4 hours). The drive from Ende takes about 3–4 hours.
If you are coming from Bajawa, you can choose the bus operator (called Gemini) which operates twice a day, in the morning and the afternoon. But be aware, that the drive can last quite long as the bus picks up and brings back each passenger to their respective destination. A little patience might be required!
Renting a car can be another option, although the bad condition of the roads might discourage the less adventurous and one should not drive on their own. From Bajawa, take the road in direction to Soa (there is a signpost at the junction next to the BRI bank) and then keep going straight on the winding road which will bring you to Riung.