Borneo Safari Review by Richard & Sue
Arriving at Sandakan Airport we were through customs and had picked up baggage within minutes before being met by Ben Duncan, who would be our guide, on and off, for the next 7 days. Our first stop, Sepilok Nature Resort was about 30 minutes drive away and fairly typical of the quiet and simple resorts we used throughout our stay in Sabah We had chosen this one solely to visit the Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre which is, literally, next door and which you reach by a 10 minute stroll along the road.
You can visit the centre at any time of day but there are two feeding sessions which are when you are most likely to have good animal viewing. Ours saw about 50 people congregate though we were told that the morning session is much busier, with some people even flying in from Kota Kinabalu for the day. Within the space of about 90 minutes we were lucky enough to see 9 orangutans, including 2 mothers nursing babies. Mostly they were about 20 feet away from our large viewing area on another platform where the Centre staff put out food. The orang-utans are clearly habituated to this arrangement (as are the large numbers of long-tailed macaques who did their best to muscle in) and were arriving up to 30 minutes before food was set out. After feeding, several animals came down to the boardwalk so that at times we were only a few feet away with centre staff preventing unwary onlookers from going too close.
Later that evening we returned for a guided night-walk with Ben and an experienced ranger from the Centre. Night viewing with an expert was fascinating and wild life was more prolific than one might have expected: amongst other things we saw several birds (Blue-eared Kingfisher, White-browed Shama and the rare Hooded Pitta), frogs, snakes, a moon rat and my wife had her first encounter with a leech.
Early the next morning we drove back to Sandakan to catch a boat for Lankayan Island, leaving Ben behind us for the next two days. This was an archetypal tropical island: white beaches, palm trees, turquoise seas, sunshine and lush tropical vegetation. It’s small enough to walk around in about 20 minutes and is a remarkably tranquil spot. Our interest lay in its turtles and on both nights of our stay we were privileged to be woken Up and taken to see large Green Turtles laying their eggs and return to the water.
The Reef Guardian’s team then uncovered the eggs again and took them to a hatchery where protection from natural and human predators means a higher survival rate is guaranteed. As evidence of this, another highlight of our time on Lankayan Island was witnessing the release of 76 baby turtles [featured image] which had just hatched - a frantic scrabbling race across the sand and into the Sulu Sea where they were quickly lost from our sight.
Another 2-hour boat trip took us back to Sandakan where, meeting up with Ben again, we had a quick trip around the city; the fish and vegetable markets were fascinating and we could have easily spent more time there but we also took in a Chinese temple and the memorial to the Sandakan Death Marches of WWII: again had time allowed we would have liked to spend more time here. Our next boat left from the Floating Village - another glimpse into communal Sabah lives.
Crossing the harbour to the mouth of the Kinabatangan River we made our way upstream to Abai Jungle Lodge which is the only lodge in this area. Chalets here lead off a boardwalk and are within a short distance of the central reception. There are several viewing towers off the boardwalk but wild-life viewing within the lodge was mainly limited to smaller birds, attracted by the abundance of tropical flowers and vegetation. We did also spot a macaque on a neighbour’s balcony and had our first of many encounters with Junior the resident (not very) wild boar.