An hour’s flight from Kota Kinabalu got me to Lahad Datu, a growing town of 250,00 inhabitants, with a remarkable 45 ethnic groups. Having met our local team, I headed by 4x4 to Borneo Rainforest Lodge with my guide for the next few days, Calixtus, who has worked at the Lodge for 20 years.
The drive, far from just a transfer, was filled with sightings of red leaf monkeys and hornbill shrieks, and stops at various key spots where elephants were often seen. The journey to the lodge takes anything between two and three hours, depending what comes out of the forest that day. On arrival I received a warm welcome from the staff and was shown to my delightful chalet, overlooking the river and the forest on the opposite bank.
Apart from finalising locations for all the talks and workshops we will be running during the Festival and discussing with the chef the fantastic menu’s he has in mind, I was lucky to have time to go on some wildlife walks on the trails surrounding the lodge with Calixtus. There is a good stretch of well-maintained walkways, within an easy walk of the lodge, which will provide a perfect location to spend time birdwatching with our Festival experts; in the space of just 10 minutes on the walkway, I saw helmet, rhinoceros and black hornbill, as well as crested serpent eagle. At the Festival we will have Bornean artist Yee Ting Wong with us, and the birds to be seen from the walkway will undoubtedly be the perfect subjects for guests to learn painting techniques.
I also took an early morning trek up to a viewpoint which will make an amazing spot at sunrise to see the mist rising over the rainforest canopy. The walk is around three kilometres, but fairly tough due to the humidity – luckily we had an excuse to stop on the way when Calixtus spotted (or rather, smelt!) an orangutan high up in the canopy.
Wildlife photographer Nick Garbutt (who will be accompanying us on the Festival) is an expert in this challenging environment and has taken some stunning atmospheric pictures of the Danum Valley canopy; in fact, he cites Borneo Rainforest Lodge as one on his favourite places on earth, so you are certainly in for a treat with his tuition next year!
Seeing an orangutan mother and baby (Kate, named after the Duchess of Cambridge, who was visiting the lodge when she was born in 2012) in the wild, playing at the top of the tree canopy, was undoubtedly the highlight of my stay (and surprisingly emotional). However, I was also surprised how the smaller wildlife of the Danum Valley could be as rewarding, with close up encounters with Bornean horned frog, Malay and tiger tarantulas and scorpions during a night walk. With so many reptiles and flora within a short walk of the lodge, it made me realise that the scope for close-up photography is huge, and macro expert Alex Hyde is going to be in big demand at the Festival. And of course, wildlife presenter Nigel Marven will be able to talk you through the variety of snakes to be found in the Valley – species include grass green whip snake and red-sided keelback snake.
The accommodation at the lodge is simply outstanding, both in its location right in the heart of the Danum Valley Rainforest and the comfort of its spacious and delightful chalets. There are also three huge villas, which offer an amazing space and luxurious interiors – the two storey villa has an outside shower (as well as an indoor shower and wc), and patio style windows in the bedroom which open on two sides so that you feel completely immersed in the rainforest. Oh, and a plunge pool immediately outside the bedroom. Oh, and complimentary wine and Swarowski binoculars for use during the trip. The lodge also has an amazing spa – and after a day’s birdwatching or looking up for primates in the canopy, it’s difficult to beat the relaxation of an hour’s massage – I challenge you to stay awake! And what better than enjoying a post-massage / pre-dinner drink with fellow members of the group, discussing the day’s sightings with TV personalities and wildlife experts!
Casting my mind back to the start of my recce, our hotel in Kota Kinabalu makes a fantastic start to the tour, and I would heartily recommend spending a night or two here after you leave the lodge, to relax before flying home – you will certainly need it after a busy weekwildlife activities in the Danum Valley!
The Shangri-La Tanjung Aru is perfectly located next to the beach, with a large swimming pool, beautifully kept gardens, fabulous restaurants, and an on-site dive centre. Oh, and did I mention the stunning sunsets?…
The 2017 Festival of Wildlife provides a unique opportunity to view the prolific wildlife of the Danum Valley and gain skills in photography, paining and sculpture, all in the company of some incredible wildlife experts. Join us for a memorable trip!