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Published: December 2nd 2010
Our wedding day really was the happiest day of our lives. The whole week leading up to the big day was a frenzy of family, friends and fun. We floated through our ceremony like we were in a dream and our reception was such a blast that it seemed as if we had hardly gotten started when it was time to rush through the crowd and off in to the night. Time flies when you are having fun... and we have never, ever, had so much fun.
The day after the wedding we enjoyed catching up with as many of our friends and family as possible (it’s not often we get to see everyone so we had to make the most of it!) before saying farewell on Monday and driving to Sydney to catch the first flight of our honeymoon.
The next 36 hours passed like this: flew Sydney to Singapore (thanks SIngapore Airlines for the celebratory Dom Perignon). Stayed Singapore (thanks for the room upgrade!). Flew Singapore to Kota Kinabalu. Stayed Kota Kinabalu. Flew Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan. And...
After all this travel, at around 9am on Wednesday, we find ourselves sitting on bench seats in the
back of a 20 foot dive boat heading in a north easterly direction towards Lankayan Island. The boat has only six other resort guests onboard and powered by twin Yamaha 200HP outboard motors our progress across the open ocean is nothing short of rapid.
Lankayan Island is a tear drop shaped coral island which is barely 150 m long and 50 m wide. It is part of three such islands which group together to form a marine national park on the eastern edge of the Malaysian Borneo provence of Sabah. The island has one eco dive resort (where we’re staying), some staff accommodation, as well as a few members of the Malaysian army to keep us (and the country) safe.
We’re completely overwhelmed as we’re greeted at the jetty by a dozen smiling staff who guide us along the pontoon towards golden white sands, pandanas palms and our own waterfront villa.
Of our three levels of ocean front seating we soon agree that the beachside sun loungers and hammock are the best and lay transfixed for the afternoon by the azure ocean and gentle waves lapping at the shore.
After our best night’s rest in months
we head to the dive centre the next morning to collect some fins, masks and snorkels each and also to book ourselves on to the afternoon boat snorkeling trip.
To get our sea legs we test out the gear in the shallows near the jetty and are pleasantly surprised to discover schools of fish and coral all around us. The fish are especially excellent. There’s brightly coloured parrot fish, coral trouts, a couple of trigger fish (one which is the best part of two foot long!), gar fish, and they’re just the ones we recognise! To top things off as we swim back to the shore we discover an anenamone, complete with a family of clown fish, only two metres into the sea directly in front of our villa. How cool, we’re livin’ next door to Nemo!
In the afternoon we join the boat snorkeling trip with some fellow resort guests. From the jetty we cruise only a few minutes offshore when the boat pulls up and we all jump out into the crystal clear waters. At first we just paddle about, taking things in when we spot a rag tag school of assorted parrot and tusk fish.
Fish below the jetty
There’s purple and black ones, hypercolour blue and green ones, big ones, small ones - all sorts! Intrigued we spend a good 5-10 minutes floating above them as they move through the reef, honing in on certain corals and destroying them in a coral crunching all-you-can-eat buffet.
It’s awesome fun. So much fun in fact that at dinner that night we book ourselves onto the boat snorkeling trip for the next morning. Initially we think we might be two of four people going, but when the other couple pull out at the last minute we’re stoked to find that it’s just us, a guide and a boat driver.
From the jetty, another short trip takes us to a new spot - aptly called the coral garden - and once in the water we’re instantly blown away by the significantly greater quantity of coral and the variety of fish. We are initially impressed by a school of spotted sweetlip but they are soon trumped by a school of around ten humpheaded parrot fish. With the larger ones in the group the other side of two feet in length they have a commanding presence on the reef. It’s absolutely fantastic
The tiers of water facing seating at our room
to watch them gliding through the water, looking for coral to trash.
A bit further along, our guide waves at us and points at something out in front. We can’t see exactly what it is, but again he points and then starts clicking his fingers. The next thing we see is a five foot black tip reef shark cruising along the reef bed, dodging the coral fans as he comes over and goes right underneath us! Perfectly harmless, it is amazing to see the shark up close and he has a good look around (and at us) before powering off. Now that was cool!
Saturday morning we’re up early and after breakfast we head down the jetty for the last time. We pile into the dive boat that bought us out three days ago and as we set off the driver makes full use of the flat seas and the oversized outboards - consequently the trip back to the mainland takes half an hour shorter than the trip out.
But just as the first part of our Borneo honeymoon ends the next begins and almost as soon as we step ashore back at the Sandakan Yacht Club
It was common to see schools of small bait fish on the shores of the island being herded back and forth by baby black tip reef sharks.
there’s a smiling Malay bloke holding a sign with our name on it - we’re off to the jungle!
The drive from the outskirts of Sandakan towards Sakau takes us past one palm oil plantation after the next. On one hand the shady palm oil groves seem quite exotic but on the other we know that such large scale monoculture sounds a death knell for Borneo’s famed biodiversity. So it is much to our excitement and relief that the palm oil plantations eventually give way to rainforest and almost as soon as they do we turn off the highway onto a dirt road.
The dirt track takes us past a local settlement and down to the edge of the Kinabatangan River, Borneo’s longest river. At a makeshift jetty we unload the car, bid farewell to the driver and then pile into a little wooden punt for the half hour trip downstream.
The jungle camp we are heading to is located inside the 67,000 acres of protected lowland forest which makes up the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. Most of the sanctuary is secondary forest (having previously been logged), but it is home to one of south east Asia’s largest
variety of wildlife and that’s why we’re spending two nights of our honeymoon here.
Upon arriving we’re given a verbal itinerary of the next couple of days before we head to our room, change camera lenses, whack on a good layer of insect repellant and meander back to the jungle camp jetty for our first afternoon boat cruise. Much to our delight it’s just us, a guide, a boat driver and the friendly Danish couple who we came down with from Sandakan.
From the jungle camp we poke off steadily downstream. We’re quietly confident that all the wildlife spotting at Colodan will stand us in good stead and we scan the banks intently.
For all our efforts it’s our guide who points out the first fauna for the afternoon - sitting up high in a large tree about 50 metres back from the river’s edge, a large adult Orangutan is munching on termites. It is holding a six inch thick, six foot long log and, propped up in a fork in the tree, it seems quite happy as it dips into the log like it’s a bag of crisps. Once the termites are all gone the log
Long tail macaque
Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve
is casually discarded and even though we’re a good 100 metres away we can hear it thud loudly as it lands on the forest floor.
Leaving the Orangutan we poke off downstream and a few minutes later our guide has spotted something on the other side of the river. We motor over to find a large family group of long tailed macaques sauntering along the muddy bank. As we get closer they climb up into the trees, but we get fantastically close and aside from a couple of dirty looks and the odd panic call, they don’t seem to be too bothered by our presence.
When the macaques eventually disappear into the trees we once again poke off downstream and after a further 15 minutes or so our guide takes a detour off the main river body into one of the Kinabatangan’s oxbow lakes. The still waters and quiet surroundings feel like they should be a haven for wildlife but as we push into water lilies at the far end of lake we haven’t spotted anything. Luckily after a minute or so of sitting quietly Ariana points out some movement in the trees on the far side and
we motor over to find a family of Proboscis monkeys. How cool!
This is really what we’ve come to see at the Kinabatangan - Proboscis monkeys in the wild. They are truly funny looking critters with their pot bellies, gangly limbs, red faces and pointy noses. They are not however the most friendly monkeys and we only get to watch them for a little while before they swing and jump their way, branch to branch, tree to tree, back into the forest and out of view.
With the Proboscis monkeys gone and the sun low, we turn and head for the camp. As we motor back upriver in the fading twilight we spot the silhouettes of at least eight or so other families of monkeys, mostly macaques, all settling in for a night high in the trees on the river bank. We ask our guide what worries them at night in the forest (i.e. why are they all sleeping over the river). He tells us that pythons can eat smaller monkeys, but more than anything else, their biggest worry is clouded leopards.
Sunday we’re up just on dawn for another boat cruise. We go downriver again and
Proboscis monkey a-leavin'
Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve
this time we poke off into one of the Kinabatangan’s smaller tributaries. Along the way we spot loads of birds (hornbills, sea eagles, brightly coloured kingfishers, storm storks), a croc and a family of long tailed macaques before we come across some more Proboscis monkeys. Yay! We thought they were shy in the afternoon but in the morning they seem even less friendly and they’re off in no time at all. But it’s still great to see them, and best of all they are in the wild - this is no zoo!
After lunch we borrow a set of the jungle camp’s gum boots and follow our guide out into the surrounding forest. It only takes about 60 seconds of walking in the dense mix of trees and undergrowth and we’re completely drenched in sweat but at the same time we are full of excitement as we scan the path ahead, the trees above, and the forest floor for any signs of wildlife.
Suddenly, our guide turns back to us and with a wide grin points to a set of fresh-since-last-night’s-rain tracks on the trail. Round, and about the size of a bread and butter plate, there’s no
Borneo has eight varieties, we saw six. Not bad for two days in the jungle.
need for any further explanation... elephants! There’s been wild pygmy elephants walking through the jungle only about 100 metres from where we slept last night!
Without talking we continue to follow the trail, all the while with our sense of expectation building. Imagine how cool it would be to come face to face with a herd of elephants in the Borneo rainforest...
Unfortunately for us the trail we’re following starts to loop back towards the camp before we come across any of the jungle giants but our guide seems quietly confident that if we head upstream this afternoon in the boat we might just be lucky.
When it comes time to head off on our afternoon boat trip we’re given the seats in the nose of the boat which gives us a prime vantage point to scout for wildlife. As we make our way along the river we spot a few more hornbills and some other birdlife. We’re scanning the trees for something bigger when our guide slows down and moves us over towards the bank. He’s found a whole family of macaques scooting around on the mud flats, but behind them the real find is up
Funny looking fellow
Proboscis monkey - Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve
in the tree - there is a massive family group of Proboscis monkeys, six of which are lined up along a single branch preening each other! We’re completely awestruck and sit for about 20mins watching the group go about their afternoon feed. For a change they’re not worried about us either. It feels wonderful to be so close to them but far enough away for them to not feel threatened and to allow them to be themselves in their natural environment.
Our guide is keen to continue to cruise up the river in search of elephants and while we spot plenty of elephant sized slide marks on the Kinabatangan’s muddy banks (where they’ve been for a drink recently), the real thing eludes us. Nevertheless, on the trip back to camp we spot more proboscis monkeys (yay), more hornbills, a wild boar, and a family of pig tail macaques (our fourth primates for the trip!).
During dinner we’re happily tucking into our delicious Malay food when the guides point out a civet cat which has suddenly appeared in the shadows around the jungle camp’s main building. He’s not that much bigger than a fox, but he’s got an unusually
Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve
long neck and an almost badger like black and white colouring.
Encouraged by this find, we finish our dinner and borrow a torch to see what else we can find. On the walk down to the jetty we find and owl and in an attempt to up the ante we set off towards the back of the camp. Shining the torch over a patch of short grass in a clearing we’re excited to find a pair of small beady eyes peering back at us. It’s not far away, maybe 30 metres, but we’re not too sure what we’re looking at. The creature is small, about the size of a rabbit, but with no tail and small ears pointing straight up. We follow it in the torchlight as it trots along (a revelation in itself - it looks like it should hop) and look at each other incredulously as we can’t work out what on earth this creature is.
We snap a few blurry photographs and watch as the weird rabbit-sized, small-eared critter trots back off into the jungle. Back at the main camp building we set about describing what we’ve just seen when one of the guides pulls
More long tailed macaques
Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve
out an animal book and opens it to an illustration of a mouse deer. Incredibly it fits our creature to a tee and we head off to our cabin laughing about our rare (and oddly named) find. Mouse deer indeed.
Monday morning is our last in the jungle so in order to not let it go to waste we’re up early and head back in to the jungle for an hour and a half trek in the hope of spotting an elusive elephant. Alas none are to be found but we do spot a Bornean bearded pig as a consolation before we return to camp to grab breakfast, pack up and head down to the jungle camp jetty for the last time.
As we pull out and head upstream a small part of us is hopeful of catching one last glimpse of some Bornean wildlife. We scan the banks thinking that if we’re lucky we might see a troop of macaques, and to our amazement about 10 minutes after leaving camp we pull across to the other side of the river where low and behold, a huge male orangutan is wedged into a fork of a massive fig
Old man orangutan
Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve
tree tucking in to some figs! We get amazingly close in our little boat and he keeps an eye on us while he munches down one ripe fig after the next. What an incredible highlight and fitting farewell as we head out of the jungle and back to Sandakan.
We’re dropped off at our new abode for the evening on the edge of the Sepiok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and after settling in, we take the 10min walk to the centre in time for the afternoon feeding session.
From the Sepilok entrance a small walk takes us to the feeding platform, just in time to watch the staff bring out today’s meal - a couple of 20L buckets full of bananas. This watershed moment causes a frenzy as the forest comes alive with the orangutans and the pig tailed macaques all trying to get onto the platform and claim their share of the food. A fuzzy little baby orangutan grabs a bunch of bananas in each foot and one bunch in its mouth and swings off to a high perch to eat in peace while the largest orangutan of the group stays put on the feeding platform to fend
off the macaques. This lasts until he has built a little pile of bananas at his feet and as he settles in to enjoy his meal, he drops his guard and the macaques move in. They jump from tree to tree and carry themselves along the rope via their feet, hanging upside down to munch down their stolen bounty. It’s a sight to behold.
There are five orangutans who’ve come to visit on this particular day and more pig tail macaques that we can count. The aim of the sanctuary is to take care of orphaned or sick animals so that they are once again able to survive in the wild. All these primates in front of us today are free and wild and once they’ve eaten, the orangutans at least will head off back into the forest.
The next morning a 20 minute walk takes us to the Rainforest Discovery Centre. We go in with the hope of getting some more up close experiences with macaques but are even more delighted when on the tree top walk we spot our first giant squirrel of the trip. Things get even more exciting when a few minutes later a
Rainforest discovery centre
flying lizard glides straight past us landing on a nearby tree trunk. This country is full of so many weird and wonderful animals!
After lunch we head to the airport and catch a 50 minute flight back to Kota Kinabulu, where upon landing we take a taxi to Jesselton point jetty. It’s here that the real luxury of our honeymoon begins.
Our destination for the next three days is the five star spa resort of Bunga Raya, which is located in a secluded part of Gaya Island just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu.
Much to our surprise they have their own office on the jetty where we check in and sit in air conditioned comfort, enjoying ginger ice tea, while we wait for our scheduled boat departure.
When it’s time to leave we hop into the dive boat and are on our way. Five minutes later, we’re dropping five passengers at Bunga Raya’s sister resort, Gayana, and with just us remaining in the boat we continue on a bit further to Bunga Raya. We’re greeted warmly at the jetty by about four members of staff who insist on carrying all our luggage leaving us to
meander along at our pace.
At the end of the jetty we’re given our room key and an explanation of how things work at the resort, the most important of which is - there’s no need to walk anywhere, if you want to go somewhere, just call for a gold buggy.
A quick stop at the welcome area to pat our faces with cool towels and we’re jumping in to a golf buggy which escorts us to our room. We’re told about the dozens of varieties of hibiscus on the island- the owner loves the flower which has given the resort its name (Bunga Raya is hibiscus in Malaysian) so much so that he has even named each villa after his favourites. Ours, high up on the hill overlooking the jungle and blue water down below has been named after the Chinese lantern. We’ve never stayed at a five star resort before and are blown away when it’s explained to us that we can call for a buggy any time we wish to go somewhere on the island, that the sarongs printed in beautiful Malaysian patterns in our room are a souvenir for us to keep, that the
drinks in the mini bar are free and will be replenished each day along with the bottles of water which seem to fill every spare surface along with the gorgeous array of luxury toiletries.
Our next two days go a little like this, buggy collects us from room, takes us to cocktail hour/dinner/lunch/breakfast, pool time, beach time (snorkeling and paddle skiing), pampering at the spa, bush trek, enjoying great food, conversations with super friendly staff and soaking up all the luxury the island has to offer. A highlight has to be our afternoons spent at the spa. It’s absolute heaven and even Lachlan seems to have enjoyed his first spa experience, even though the ladies had to take longer than normal cleaning the mud mask out of his beard.
On the morning of our check out, Bunga Raya have booked a special boat for us to travel back to the mainland on in order to make our flight, so we get down to breakfast early to enjoy every last minute of it. We’re the only guests here at this time of the morning and all four of the staff, including the chef are on hand to chat and
Bunga Raya Resort, Gaya Island
help us with anything we need. Lachlan cheekily asks if he can take the dragon fruit from the fruit platter and they even offer to chop it up for him. Two hornbills join the fun in the tree opposite and pretty soon some macaques arrive to steal the show.
We’ve had such a brilliant time in Sabah but all good things must come to an end. It has been a brilliant two weeks and a great start to married life. We’re welcomed back to Britain by golden leaves and a chill in the air but we couldn’t be happier and can’t wait to start sharing our photos and memories with our friends and family.
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