Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bert Newton's Double

I apologise for leaving you blog-less last week. I was chasing wild orang utans around deepest, darkest Borneo. Okay, so it wasn't Africa, but I must own up to enjoying myself thoroughly. A change is as good as a holiday as they say. It was a 6 night wildlife adventure operated by Borneo Eco Tours. The first 3 nights are spent in Kota Kinabalu in the 3 star Shangri La Downtown Hotel - a comfortable joint with a couple of interesting little quirks. For example, whenever they had a buffet there would be a sign on the table telling you that you were welcome to eat all you like but that there was a five ringget (about two Aussie dollars) charge for every thirty grams of waste food left on your plate. I'm not quite sure how they administered this, but on the face of it it seems like a good idea. Anyway from this hotel we did a few tours, including a day trip to nearby Gaya and Manukan Island for a spot of jungle trekking and snorkeling and then to Mount Kinabalu and Poring Hot Springs.

Mount Kinabalu is spectacular in anyone's language. At 4095 metres it is the highest mountain in South East Asia. I climbed it a few years ago when I was younger and even sillier and I can tell you that it is a hard climb. There's no technical climbing but because the ascent is so steep once you get above 3000 metres the effect of altitude starts to kick in. Seen from it's base it is quite intimidating with it's bare rock summit glistening wet and slippery in the morning sun.

The next day we flew to Sandakan and immediately transferred by boat out to Selingan Island - a one hour speedboat ride across the Sulu Sea to within sight of nearby islands of the Philippines. Here we stayed in a comfortable chalet and witnessed a green turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs. The rangers take her eggs immediately and bury them in a protected hatchery to preserve them from the predation of birds and monitor lizards. We watched as the turtle deposited ninety four slimy pingpong balls into a hole she had dug and then filled in the hole, unaware that her eggs were already gone. Later that evening the rangers released a large batch of recently hatched baby turtles. We watched as they scuttled off to the sea and wondered how many would survive the night, let alone reach adulthood.

The next part of the trip was the highlight for me. We were transferred by boat along the chocolate brown Kinabatangan River to Sukau Rainforest Lodge. It was along this broad river that I caught up with my wild orang utan. It was a big moon-faced male (looking remarkably like Bert Newton) high in one of the tall trees that line the bank. There were also pig-taied macaques, long-tailed macaques, proboscis monkeys, gibbons and some beautiful birds, especially kingfishers and hornbills.

The area also has pygmy elephants, though we kept missing them. We saw their tracks on numerous occasions but never found the animals themselves. The Sukau Rainforest Lodge was very comfortable and run in a similar manner to an African safari lodge, except that the game viewing activities were carried out by boat rather than in a 4x4vehicle. There were two cruises of a couple of hours per day in small boats powered by almost silent electric motors. It really was great! There was also an optional night cruise to be had and it was on one of these that we were charged by a four metre crocodile. He took exception to our guide shining the torch into his eyes. (Fair enough too.) He slipped silently off the bank into the murky water and disappeared momentarily before surfacing a few metres from us and charging towards us like a big scaly torpedo - man he was scary! Our guide gunned the engine and we shot away just in time. He was a little more circumspect with where he shone his torch after that. Had the croc rammed us there was little doubt that we would have joined him in the river - not the best outcome. My heart was pumping blood to parts of my body I never new I had.

It was a superb experience nevertheless and was topped off by a visit to the very moving Australian War Memorial at Sandakan. Anyone interested in visiting the incredible jungle along the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo should call Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646.

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