Friday, September 23, 2016

Mr and Mrs Romance: Welcome to the jungle – how to experience the Borneo rainforest, Danum Valley, Sabah

Visiting Danum Valley’s pristine rainforests in eastern Sabah, Borneo isn’t easy, but my goodness, is it worth it. Here’s what to expect on this jungle adventure.

Sabah, Borneo has some of the world’s most pristine rainforests with one of the widest ranges of plant, bird and animal life of any ecosystem. Danum Valley is Sabah’s largest protected lowland forest, and has stood unchanged and untouched for over 1 million years.

As we fly into Lahad Datu, the local airport nearest the only entrance to Danum Valley, we can see the horrifying reality of the encroaching palm oil plantations. They stretch out as far as the eye can see – even from up in the air.

Thankfully, the Malaysian and state Sabahan governments have stopped the plantations taking over the remaining 43,800 hectares of Danum Valley, preserving one of the last natural habitats for Asia’s largest primate, the orang-utan and the Borneo pygmy elephant, the world’s smallest elephant.

Because this is such a delicate ecosystem, it’s very hard to gain access to Danum Valley. No unauthorised visitors are allowed through the gates into the national park, which means self-driving and day visits are out of the question.

Borneo Nature Tours are permitted to have a maximum of 60 guests at any one time exploring Danum Valley and staying with them at Borneo Rainforest Lodge. This number is strictly monitored, so this has become quite an exclusive destination.

Because of its uniqueness, the staff at Borneo Nature Tours and the Rainforest Lodge see themselves as caretakers or guardians of the forest. Their love of this beautiful, untouched piece of the planet is clear to see.

How to see Danum Valley, the heart stone of Sabah, Borneo

How do you get there?

Getting to Danum Valley is a challenge. From Australia, you need to fly to Kuala Lumpur then transfer to Lahad Datu. This is the quickest way, however, we’d recommend a stop in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital. Then you fly on to Lahad Datu in the east of Borneo from there.

You can also drive there from other parts of the state.

From Lahad Datu Airport, a representative from Borneo Nature Tours meets you and takes you into the Lahad Datu office to sign in. And then the real fun begins! It’s a 2-hour 4×4 drive on unsealed roads through secondary rainforest until you get to the ‘front door’ to Danum Valley Conservation Area and the start of the primary jungle.

It’s then another half an hour of fording rivers, crossing timber-and-earth bridges and bumpy, unsealed roads before you come to Borneo Rainforest Lodge and home for the next few days.

This is the only way in or out… although Prince William and Kate Middleton flew in by helicopter. They still weren’t allowed to fly all the way though, and had to drive the last half an hour.

Where do you sleep?

Borneo Rainforest Lodge is the only accommodation in the 43,800 hectares of the Danum Valley Conservation Area. It’s actually on the site of an old tribal village that was abandoned many years before.

This doesn’t mean you’re sleeping in huts. Not by a long shot.

Everything has been built with minimum impact in mind. All the buildings are elevated on stilts to reduce forest floor contact. The main building, where you eat, relax and meet up with your guide, is a beautiful wooden hall open on all sides to allow airflow.