I've always wanted to see Komodo dragons. They loom the size of dinosaurs in television nature documentaries, slobbering and chomping on buffalo haunches. Breathless narrators tell you how their saliva is poisonous, and how they've been known to drag villagers off to their doom like something out of a B-grade horror movie.
So I'm excited but a bit nervous, really, walking through the bush between steep rocky hills on Komodo Island, behind a skinny park ranger armed only with a forked stick and a bored face. Every rustle of leaves has me twitching. Every brown leathery boulder could be a potential predator in camouflage, waiting to pounce.
Finally, there it is and – sorry! – it's really just a big dusty lizard. The Komodo dragon dozes in the shade as if it couldn't be bothered catching a fly, never mind a buffalo. It's all ribs and claws and looks as if it's in need of a good feed. Or some kind of entertainment to enliven it. The dozing dragon is obviously completely over bothering to even open an eye at the gaggle of passing tourists with their sunburned brows and selfie sticks.
After a while I don't mind, really. If other people want to take photos of themselves grinning near some sad-looking creature, good on them. As a matter of fact, our guide is rather good at the dramatic angle. In some of his photos, the Komodo dragon looks like Godzilla, the grinning tourist nearby like a screaming starlet about to be eaten.
After the third or fourth dragon, though, my attention wanders. I'm distracted by the scenery. I was expecting dragons, but nobody ever said that Komodo Island was so beautiful. As my cruise ship Star Clipper sailed in that morning, the ocean was purple and the hills golden, separated by a Lego strip of bobbling fishing boats and multi-coloured houses on stilts at the water's edge.
Now I see that Komodo has rocky brown cliffs and big blue worn-out volcanoes, and water that would put a peacock to shame for flamboyance. Savannah-like scrub is replaced, deeper into the hills, with quasi cloud forest and great stands of creaking bamboo.
Are we all a bit deflated by our dragons? Perhaps. Other famous creatures leap or run or holler, but Komodo dragons don't do anything at all. We leave them behind and sail down the bay, where Star Clipper anchors off Pink Beach which is – well, a pink beach, but one of unsurpassed baroque loveliness. I tiptoe across the pink sand and into the aquamarine water and find myself among yellow and orange fish, cheerfully busy as they chomp on purple coral.
I scramble up the headland and more Komodo Island landscapes unfold in brown and blue. It's the most beautiful scenery I see on this cruise, which is a cruise of beautiful scenery around numerous Indonesian island studded with volcanoes and indented with magnificent bays.
Star Clipper unfurls its sails as we head off in the late afternoon, and the sunset is a golden halo behind mountains that has passengers pinned to the decks for an hour. The sea turns to molten orange and early stars tangle themselves in the ship's rigging. You might come for the dragons, but you'll leave feeling you've just experienced one of the world's most beautiful cruise destinations.
Virgin Australia flies to Denpasar in Bali from every major Australian city. Phone 13 67 89, see virginaustralia.com
The chic Alila Seminyak Bali sits on the beach and has contemporary flair, with a spa, excellent dining and helpful staff. Rooms from $455 per night. See alilahotels.com/seminyak
Star Clipper next sails seven-day cruises round-trip from Bali between June and September 2019, some heading westwards and taking in Lombok and Java. The writer travelled on an eastbound itinerary that visits Lombok, Komodo, Satonda and Bali. Prices from $2874pp twin share including meals, entertainment, water sports and Komodo dragon spotting. Port charges, beverages and other shore excursions extra. Phone 1300 295 161. See starclippers.com/au
Brian Johnston travelled courtesy Star Clippers and Alila Seminyak Bali.