Become a wild fan of Borneo

We follow in the footsteps of William and Kate in Malaysia.


By Helen Oon, March 13, 2013
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The rainforest features colourful fauna and flora, such as this

The rainforest features colourful fauna and flora, such as this

As the speed boat skims over the choppy sea, galloping over the water from Kota Kinabalu to Gaya Island, a mere 15-minute boat ride, a Borneo adventure awaits.

Gaya Island is the largest of a cluster of five islands that form the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park in Sabah. The forests on the islands and the sea around them are conservation zones under the auspices of the Sabah Wildlife Department.

At Gaya Island Resort I am met by a bevy of staff armed with a welcome drink and a chilled towel to freshen up. With the heat and humidity, I look like something the cat dragged in from the bush; wind-trapped hair and sweaty.

It is a relief to be back on terra firma and shown to my villa at the edge of the rainforest where the chirping of the cicadas echo through the air.

Getting there

Fly
Malaysia Airlines flies non-stop to Kuala Lumpur from Heathrow twice daily.

Internal flight
Air Asia, a budget airline, has daily flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu.

Get to Danum Valley
Fly to Lahad Datu from Kota Kinabalu with MASwings.
Then it's a two-and-a-half hours transfer by land to Danum Valley. This can be booked through Borneo Nature Tours. Tel: +60 88 267637>

Stay:
Gaya Island Resort. Rooms at the resort start from £150 per night. Transfers can be arranged for an extra fee. Tel: +60 88 271100

The resort hugs the shore of the Malohom Bay with the Crocker Range and the awesome Mount Kinabalu looming in the distance across the bay. The mysterious mountain is often obscured by a shroud of cloud, only appearing at sunrise to show off the full glory of its strange rock formations .

One of the rocks is believed by the natives to be the legendary "Kinabalu" or the "Chinese widow" in the local language. Legend has it that each day she stood on the mountain top waiting for her sea-faring husband to return, but, alas, he perished at sea and she turned into stone.

The resident naturalist, Justin, invites me to take a nature walk in the jungle. After a 30-minute trek, I am drenched in sweat but the enchantment of the rainforest, its amazing inhabitants and lush exotic plants compensate.

Liana vines drape and curl over trees like giant pythons constricting their victims, forming aerial walkways for arboreal animals to move from tree to tree without touching the ground. Abrown tree lizard and a crested green lizard are camouflaged among the foliage, but they cannot escape the eagle eyes of Justin. Birds of many hues and colourful butterflies look like delicate motifs against the jade green wall of the jungle.

Gaya Island Resort is committed to minimising the carbon footprint within its environment and so there are no buggies to ferry guests around its hilly terrain.

After an exhausting but educational jaunt in the jungle, a treatment in the resort's spa, built by the edge of a mangrove forest with surreal stilt roots, is invigorating. The high ceiling, glass walls and water feature in the spa create a tranquil sanctuary away from the main part of the resort.

I opt for a relaxing massage and, energised, I am ready to follow in the royal footsteps of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Danum Valley. I arrive by air at Lahad Datu. After two and a half hours on a bone-shaking drive on a rugged gravel road, I reach the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley.

The next day the dawn chorus is in full symphony, filling the air with melodious bird song.

My alarm call comes at 6.30am - we need an early start to hike up to the canopy aerial walk which William and Kate enjoyed on their visit to Danum Valley.

My nature guide, Amrafel, and I stroll along the muddy path flanked on both sides by primary rainforest. The morning mist shrouds the emerald forest with an ethereal veil, with necklaces of cloud forming around the giant trees.

Cheeky macaque monkeys frolic on high branches, teasing and bullying one another like children do. The "wak-wak" calls of the gibbons reverberate through the forest - it's noisier than Piccadilly Circus.

The 45-minute trek to the start of the canopy walk is humbling. The jungle towers over us. The ghostly mengaris trees with their shining white bark stand out - the natives call them "the ghost trees", believing they are homes to the forest spirits. It is bad luck to chop them down.

The canopy walkway spans 300 metres, with its highest point 26 metres above the forest floor, suspended by cables fixed to the trees. Stepping along it, you get a bird's eye view of the forest.

Amrafel was one of three lucky naturalists to accompany the royal couple when they embarked on their canopy walk in front of journalists.

"William and Kate were very friendly and informal," he says. "No airs and graces. They spotted three orangutans in the wild which is a very rare sight."

I am staying at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, an eco-friendly rustic lodge by the Danum River, at the foot a forest-clad hill.

From my verandah facing the river I can see a pair of colourful bird-wing butterflies dance in unison in the sun, flitting over the water and then resting on an Ixora shrub festooned with tightly clustered flowers.

The verdant forest is a cacophony of cicadas and crickets - they make up the jungle orchestra, with intermittent arias from the legion of birds, including the distinctive honking of the rhinoceros hornbill, an exquisite bird with a giant bright orange bill and black and white tail feathers.

I spy one in flight and it lands quite clumsily on a branch opposite the lodge. It is not easy to be graceful when you are the size of a turkey.

A doe and her fawn wander on to the grassy field by the river and begin to graze while kingfishers, clad in feathers of red, orange and blue, circle and swoop down into the water to prey on the fish.

Danum Valley is a magical place - the journey to reach the lodge is long and tedious, but it is worth for this once-in-a-lifetime experience... Danum style!

    Last updated: 12:50pm, May 1 2013