Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gilt-edged adventure in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

"EAT some chocolate," Nathan Wedding says, thrusting four squares from a bar studded with hazelnuts in my direction. "It's really important for you to eat more chocolate," he says again with an uncharacteristic note of venom in his voice.

Under normal circumstances it is not necessary to force-feed me chocolate but this morning is anything but normal.

It's 4am, the temperature is just above freezing and I'm at 3800 metres on an exposed mountainside in a biting wind. I have an altitude-induced headache, my pace has slowed to a shuffle during the 90 minutes I've been climbing and it's probably going to take me another hour to get to the top of Borneo's Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in south-east Asia at 4095 metres.

Wedding warned us this would happen. "It's the altitude. You probably won't feel like eating but it's really important to keep your energy levels up," he said to us in the cosy confines of our four-bunk room in Pendant Hut the night before.

Wedding's specialty is putting ordinary mortals into extraordinary places. Correction: ordinary mortals with deep pockets who are ready, willing and able to take on some of the most remarkable experiences in the world of travel.

The visionary and chief guide of Seven Skies, Wedding has cherry-picked the best of local culture, wildlife, cuisine, accommodation and guides in select parts of Asia to stitch together a concept he calls "luxury adventure travel". Usually backpackers are the pioneers of the sort of trek he's offering but Wedding serves up the experience when it's still close to its raw state and then edges it with gold.

Our Borneo adventure begins with a sea-kayaking trip through Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah's capital and gateway. Wedding began his adventure career as a sea-kayak guide and paddling comes naturally. After a quick introduction, including how to wear the spray skirts that look like neoprene tutus, we launch our kayaks in the shallow waters off the beach just south of Tanjung Aru.

First stop is Mamutik Island, which is crowded with day trippers from Kota Kinabalu. But when we beach 40 minutes later at the comma of sand extending from Sulug Island, it's completely empty. The only sign that anyone has ever been here is a table that awaits us at the water's edge and is loaded with tropical fruit, iced drinks and cold towels.

As pampered paddlers, we're accompanied by a boat carrying our overnight gear, plus snorkels and masks and a grinning crew of three.

Wedding escorts all his trips, a level of commitment that you don't often find in the travel business. Group sizes can be anything from two to eight but six is about a perfect number, according to Wedding. On this trip there's Nancy, who cycles, hikes, paddles, does an hour of yoga each morning and climbed Kilimanjaro last year. The trip is a present from her son, Adam, who works for a London fashion label.

On the second day, we paddle around the seaward side of Gaya Island, the largest in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Gilt-edged adventure in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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