BORNEO 2009

NIAH and BATU CAVES

Forty thousand years ago, Niah Caves sheltered both wild animal and human life. Today the cave is home only to bats, swiflets, snakes, and invertebrates, as well as the oldest human remains in South East Asia. Located on the Sungai (river) Niah, about 3 km from the small town of Batu Niah and 110 km south-west of Miri (northern Sarawak), the Niah National Park is one of Borneo’s most important archeological and cultural sites. Locals still venture deep into the dark interior to collect guano (bird and bat droppings used as fertilizer) from the cave floor and bird’s nests, up to 60 m high from the cave roof.

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GUNUNG MULU WORLD HERITAGE PARK

Through the eyes of Gunung Mulu

Gunung Mulu World Heritage Area lies deep in the interior of Borneo, within the heart of Sarawak. The park is accessed only by aircraft or via a long adventurous boat trip along a series of long meandering rivers. The park exhibits outstanding scenic, cultural and biodiversity features of exceptional beauty.

The high concentration of caves, geomorphical structures and significant habitat for a large consortment of plant and animal life, makes Gunung Mulu one of the most spectacular and rewarding areas to visit anywhere in the world.

We travelled there in June 2009, opting for the more adventurous boat journey, and spent time in some of the smaller villages, notably the beautiful and hospitable Batu Belah. Enjoy.

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MOUNT KINABALU

Mt Kinabalu, in all her glory

At 13,435 feet (4095 meters), Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in Borneo and one of the highest mountains in South East Asia.

Your journey begins at around 1000 m altitude, as you commence a guided walk through the lower forested slopes and begin your ascent. Here the forest is full of life and strange invertebrates appear at night around the lights. Following close behind, geckos looking for a meal.

As you rise higher and higher, the track becomes narrow and spectacular views of the surrounding jungle become apparent from gaps in the lowering treeline. Animals up here are shy, however the occasional shrew was seen scavenging around one of the rest stop areas. Once you ascent above the clouds, carnivorous pitcher plants become common and several species can be seen just off the side of the track. A little higher and you get your first views of the Labuan Rata Rest House, 3,272 metres above sea level. You are now given options: 1) continue climbing to the top, 2) remain at the lodge overnight and climb to  the summit the following morning, or 3) both of the above. I opted for #3, continuing to the top solo and revisiting the all mighty summit the following morning. At these heights, breathing starts to become difficult. The combined effects of shortness of breath and steep bare rock make the final ascent challenging…but unbelievable! Standing on the summit, overlooking the the entire landmass of wild Borneo, is awe-inspiring!

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KINABATANGAN RIVER

The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, with a length of 560 kilometers. The river and vast flood plains host one of the highest concentrations of willdlife in all of Borneo, including populations of saltwater crocodiles, proboscis monkeys, orang-utans, Asian elephants, Sumatran rhinoceros, and a great variety of bird life. A 2 hour long boat ride up the river sent my heart racing, as we encountered some of the very unusual and spectacular wildlife.

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DANUM VALLEY

Morning mist in the Danum Valley

If ever I have felt so unbelievably humbled by nature in a single place, it would have to be in the Danum Valley Conservation Area. In deepest darkest Borneo, the Danum Valley represents the largest remaining area of virgin, undisturbed, lowland rainforest in Malaysia. It is recognised as one of the world’s most complex ecosystems, comprising large river and tributary systems, high cloud-topped mountains, and lowland forest; and supports a tremendous variety of plants and a full range of Sabah’s lowland fauna, including rare and endangered species like the Sumatran rhino, Asian elephant, clouded leopard and orang-utan.

We were privileged to spent 4 days at the Danum Valley Research Centre in June 2009, which undoubtedly remains one of the most exciting, rewarding, and humbling experiences of my life. A classic day is described below.

Early morning, you would rise to the sound of long-tailed macaques, red langurs, and the melodious song of a variety of birds. The walk down the gravel road to the research station, through the thick, cool, morning mist would send shivers up your spine and in the distance, the distinctive howl of Bornean gibbons would reassure you that soon you would be watching these beautiful creatures in a nearby fig tree, as they devoured their breakfast. The arrival of the gibbons at the fig tree, was closely preceded by the retreating orang-utans who had gorged themselves on fruit and were off to continue their morning forays. Meanwhile, rhinoceros hornbills, pig-tailed and long-tailed macaques, iridescent pigeons, and small passerines had been visiting the surrounding trees and putting on a spectacular show of bright colour and sounds. The day would be filled with long walks through the forest, often encountering strange invertebrates, outrageous reptiles, and the odd orang-utan or gibbon. With the setting of the sun, came a whole new array of sounds and the wildlife producing them. Night drives through the park would reveal palm civets, giant flying squirrels, a slow lorris, crested serpent-eagle, and a huge variety of frogs.

Lying in bed at night, I would reminisce over the days adventures and blow my mind thinking of the number of undescribed species inhabiting the forests of the Danum Valley. “I will return and visit you again” is what would run through my mind before passing out for the night.

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