On the Kinabatangan and the Astonishing Gomantong Cave


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June 18th 2018
Published: June 18th 2018
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I started my only full day at Kinabatangan with a sunrise cruise on the river. Unfortunately, some rather noisy dogs right outside my window during the night meant I hadn't slept as well as ideal.



The morning cruise was nice at sunrise being cool enough with nice light over the river and a number of interesting birds like fish eagles and Storm's Stork. On the mammal front, the most interesting thing was a mother orangutan and youngster in some trees by the river. So it's very nice to see some properly wild orangutans now which I didn't really expect here but it's great to get them already. The cruises seem to generally last longer than advertised which is good and there's lots of cool stuff to see.

After breakfast was a guided 'nature walk' in the later morning which is the sort of thing I find annoying because I don't need a guide to go for a walk in the forest obviously but doing a package like this with the transfers and food and accommodation and cruises and things works out cheaper than if you book each one separately (which you can do at the place I'm staying at. They charge RM60 per cruise if you book them yourself for example).

For the guided walk, the guide said that Wellington boots were necessary and they provided horrendously bad ones. However I was told that this was just for mud and not for wading through water so I decided just to wear my normal hiking boots. The guide wore wellingtons, but he had otherwise only been wearing flip-flops.

The walking place was a boat ride upstream and along a poorly marked trail through the dense forest itself so I wouldn't really have been able to do it on my own. Because it was already very hot and very closed low-visibility forest, there wasn't much of interest to be seen animal wise (in fact, I didn't see any identifiable vertebrate animals at all. Just some unidentifiable birds too high up in a tree.) But there were various signs of animals like orangutan nests and sunbear markings and there were a few Hooded Pittas calling though I couldn't see any.

After returning, having had absolutely no need for Wellington boots whatsoever so I was right, there was nothing happening in the afternoon giving a few hours of relaxing time before a trip to the Gomantong Caves in the late afternoon. This is a bit on top of their standard Kinabatangan cruise package but not actually that much and the caves aren't far. But inaccessible with your own transport as far as I'm aware and I thought it would make a rather interesting place to visit as I believe they're the biggest caves in Sabah and part of the same forest area as the forest around the Kinabatangan River.

I left for the caves in the late afternoon, driving through palm oil plantations to get to the bit of the forest with the cave. On the drive in, we found a fantastic white morph male paradise flycatcher.

Now onto the caves themselves. They were absolutely amazing. One of the most amazing places I have ever been. I really cannot adequately describe how fantastic it was and pictures can't capture it eigber. I had high expectations for a cave that has featured in a David Attenborough documentary and for the sort of bat and swiftlet cave with mountains of guano that I have heard about and seen in documentaries since I was a child but this really exceeded those expectations. Unfortunately I'm quite tired now so my writing won't do it justice (and I have to write these posts as they happen otherwise I just will never write them) but the Gomantong Cave is fantastic. It's in the forest with a big cave entrance and inside is a boardwalk going through the cave which is good because otherwise you'd be wading through mountains of bat guane covered in cockroaches and beetles. The smell, the sound of the swiftlets, the absolutely bizarre otherworldly atmosphere of mountains of cockroaches and the occasional light streaming in from entrances is just fantastic. I was speechless. It's one of the most astonishing places I've ever been. There were at least four species of bats, four species of swiftlet as well as rats (I guess just House Rats?) and all the insects with everything covered in cockroaches, and just pushing your foot into the mound of guano off the edge of the boardwalk was amazing. A writhing mass of cockroaches as your foot slowly sinks in.

At sunset, the bat exodus occurred as millions of bats left the cave to be attacked by three Bat Hawks and a peregrine. That was an amazing sight of bats streaming out in formations and bat hawks circling around and diving into the bat masses. In the forest outside the cave we also saw an orangutan as well as the mini-orangs: maroon langurs. I can't get across the sheer size of the cave as well as the numbers of animals and volume of guano. There were also some swiftlet nest collecting ladders (the nests are used for birds nest soup) which apparently are only permitted by the park authorities to be collected at three specific times of year to avoid breeding times. Wonderful place, unforgettable experience. I'm so pleased I spent the little bit extra to go (I forget how much exactly I paid extra for the caves compared to just doing the river, a little over RM100 I think, maybe 150) and it was only about 25 minutes drive away anyway.

After dinner I had another night cruise. This is not normally part of the package and would have been extra but because the booking people messed up with that extra day as discussed previously, they didn't charge for it and said I can do an extra sunrise cruise tomorrow also free. So that's a nice RM120 saving and ultimately their mess up with the booking was fine. This evening cruise seemed to focus mostly on bothering roosting diurnal birds but we did see two Buffy Fish Owls which is a species I was hoping for here.

I'm heading off from Kinabatangan tomorrow after breakfast, not a tremendously long visit just two nights here but very busy and lots seen and I'm pleased. Still in awe at that cave too. And the river really is lovely.

Birds:
Heard Only: Hooded Pitta

Jerdon’s Baza

Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoo

Violet Cuckoo

Bat Hawk

Peregrine

White-nest Swiftlet

Black-nest Swiftlet

Mossy-nest Swiftlet

Malaysian Blue Flycatcher

Buffy Fish Owl



Mammals

Bornean Orangutan

Maroon Langur

Wrinkle-lipped Free-tailed Bat

Large-eared (Philippine) Horseshoe Bat

Dayak Roundleaf Bat

Fawn Leaf-nosed Bat

(it’s difficult to be 100%!o(MISSING)n bat identifications, even when roosting, and the four I’m sure enough to count are based on the bats I could see close enough coupled with what species I know occur in the cave based on information from the guide – who is actually surprisingly knowledgeable beyond the basic touristy stuff and genuinely interested himself in the stuff which is often not the case – as well as from the internet. There were certainly more species than that. The Dayak is maybe a little bit sketchy because they are tricky to identify and I was looking at them through binoculars with a torch which is tricky, but I saw one patch low enough to be pretty confident with the ID and I know they do occur here as part of the main bat mass).


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