A Travellerspoint blog

Orangutans, Probiscus Monkeys & Turtle Island

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The main reason that we wanted to come to Borneo was for the wildlife and our first outing was to see the orangutans at the famous Sepilok rehabilitation centre near Sandakan. This is the centre that features on the TV show Orangutan Diaries and it is a rehabilitation centre for orphaned, injured and rescued orangutans. This area of Borneo is one of the only places in the world where these great apes can be found in the wild. They are highly endangered, because of many reasons caused by humans, so the centre saves and eventually releases the majority back into the wild. Since the animals are being nurtured back into the wild the centre does not allow the public anywhere except a viewing platform to watch them feed, to try to keep contact between them and humans at a minimum. Many people expect to see the babies in nappies being carried around as you see in the program but it really isn't like this and you are not even guaranteed to see any come in from the wild to feed at the platforms.

We decided to go there by ourselves instead of as part of a tour so we could stay for the full day and go to both the morning and afternoon feedings. The centre still place food on these platforms for the rehabilitated orangutans who are living farther and farther into the rain-forest, the furthest being one kilometer from the centre, to encourage them to move further out and eventually becoming dependent on their own in the wild. The platform closest is the only viewing platform for the public. We only saw four orangutans in the morning and were a bit disappointed as one of the big males had appeared the previous few days but did not turn up for us. We didn`t get much luck in the afternoon as again four turned up but one mother had a tiny baby with her so that was good to see.

However, we were extremely lucky at lunchtime after all the crowds left as we had a great encounter with a very tame ape. There only appeared to be the two of us and some employees of the there after the tours left. One adolescent orangutan came right down to the information centre and just posed for our photos. He didn`t seem phased at all by us so we even got some photos standing beside him. We didn`t want to touch him in case we scared him or even passed over an illness to him, but he seemed just as interested as us and even reached out to hold Del`s arm when he was getting his photo taken close to him. It was brilliant to get this close and get some good photos as we did not expect to get anywhere near any orangutans.

Our next trip from Sandakan was out to Turtle island, which is about one hour from the mainland by speedboat. We booked on a morning boat so we could spend the afternoon on the beach before staying the night there and hopefully witnessing a turtle coming in to nest. As soon as we arrived we could see the turtle tracks up the sand to their nests and also big monitor lizards roaming around the beach looking for eggs. The tracks were huge so we were looking forward to seeing some big turtles that night. The island itself is one of three islands that make up the Turtle Island National Park. It is a beautiful wee island with a nice sandy beach the full perimeter. The conservation project has been set up here to provide the green and hawksbill turtles a safe environment to come ashore to lay their eggs and to protect these until the hatchlings can be released into the sea.

Out of the whole group on the island, around 20-25 tourists, there happened to be six Scots and one Northern Irish girl, three of whom lived in Glasgow. We all spent the afternoon sunbathing, snorkeling and swimming. The snorkeling wasn`t as good as in Oz as it was restricted to certain areas and most of the coral was dead. However we did see loads of fish, some we had not seen before, and we got a glimpse of a reef shark. We spent a couple of hours out in the water until Linda got stung three times by a jellyfish across her wrist, stomach and ankle. We had a look to see what type had stung her but could not see anything. Linda had a bit of a panic as the lifeguard mentioned that they occasionally get the lethal box jellyfish there, but thankfully it wasn`t one of these. We were quite far out but we made it in to shore to put vinegar, not urine, on the stings which looked like big red burn marks. Linda was really sore but after a few hours they gradually disappeared leaving no marks.

That night we got to witness the conservation project in action as we watched a huge green turtle lay her eggs. Apparently they go into a trance-like state when laying so they don`t seem to be aware of us all watching. The rangers measured her shell (1.06m x 0.86m!) before removing her eggs from the nest behind her. She is unaware that these are taken as she still tries to bury them under a pile of sand. The eggs are then taken to a safe hatching area with no predators where they are buried as if in a nest. Males hatch if the eggs are four degrees cooler than the other eggs so half of the nests are in the shade and half in the sun to keep the male to female ratio similar. Following learning about this, it was time to release a batch of hatchlings into the sea. The turtles were absolutely tiny and were great to watch flapping their way down the sand into the sea. Unfortunately only around three percent of these will survive but the number of hatchlings is much higher now due to this project. The night we stayed had 46 turtles nesting and 3571 eggs laid on this island along.

Our last trip from Sandakan was to go to see the biggest nose in Borneo, the proboscis monkeys. These are only found in Borneo and are very special looking monkeys because of the males massive nose. These are also endangered and the sanctuary was set up to protect their habitat which was constantly under threat, similar to the orangutan situation. We turned up for the morning feeding session where we saw loads of these monkeys, plus the impressive hornbill birds, a tree snake and some other grey monkeys. The proboscis monkeys were split into two groups, the dominant male with his many wives and kids and then a group of all the other males. They were pretty entertaining as they ate, fought and played in the trees, bushes and long grass.

In the afternoon we went to another feeding platform, where there were only four of us plus a couple of guides / rangers. This time the rangers fed the monkeys on the main walkways instead of on separate feeding platforms. They let us sit in with the monkeys feeding and even took photos of us with them. It was great fun and we also got right up close to the dominant male as he was taking food out of our hands. You can see from some photos how close they came and how funny looking they are. It was a great day out and a perfect end to our Borneo trip.

Posted by Del-Linda 18:48 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Singapore & Borneo

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We decided to only stay for two nights in Singapore as we wanted to spend more time in Malaysia and also reckon we will return again sometime since it is one of the main hubs for the far-east. The unbelievable humidity hit us when we stepped out of the airport but we were impressed by how nice and clean the city seemed as we transferred to our hostel.

Singapore has an impressive waterfront where the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel and shopping mall is located. The hotel puts on a lighting show each night which was pretty good. There seem to be shopping malls everywhere, most are huge too, which is great when walking around the city to cut through to get out of the humidity into air-con. There is also the Chinatown and Little India areas that are good to visit and for some cheap shopping. The best thing has to be the food though, as everything we tried was superb and really cheap.

We didn't really do much when there apart from spend the day exploring various areas of the city and do a bit of shopping. We hope to return again though to go to the zoo and also do the night safari as these are meant to be really good.

We stupidly booked our flight to Borneo from Johor Bahru, a city just north of Singapore but in Malaysia. We thought we would visit another city until people kept saying that it was a dump. There was a cheap deal online for a five-star hotel out beside the airport so we decided to treat ourselves and stay the day and night there instead of in Johor. It is in a big golf resort, although Del didn't get the chance to play, and has an outdoor olympic size swimming pool, good gym and other facilities that we took advantage of. After the four buses we took to get from Singapore across the border we thought it worthwhile. However, we have never been so close to missing a flight as the following morning as the airport was a total shambles. Thankfully we just got on or else the journey we took over there would have been a complete waste of time.

Our flight took us to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia Borneo, which was also ridiculously humid. As soon as we arrived at our hotel we met up with one of Del's mates from uni, Graham Henderson (Hendo), and his Danish girlfriend, Rikke, for a few beers. He is working for Shell in Borneo (and not as a spy as rumour has it) and works south-west in a place called Bintulu. They just happened to be on holiday here with his parents who we met briefly before they had to leave to get to their next destination, Mount Kinabalu. It was great catching up although a bit random on an island on the other side of the world.

The city of Kota Kinabalu was pretty disappointing and certainly not what we were expecting of Borneo. It was dirty, really smelly and was not picturesque in the slightest. It did have a fantastic night market where you could get superb local food and amazing tiger prawns and fish. There didn't seem that there was much to do there so we only stayed two nights before getting a bus over to Sandakan on the east coast of the island which is also still in Malaysia.

Again, Sandakan was disappointing and made Kota Kinabalu look nice. There was a Japanese cemetery at the back of the town but outwith that there wasn't really much to do in Sandakan itself. However, it was a good base for us to do various trips to the orangutans, proboscis monkeys and turtle island (blog to follow on these) so we based ourselves here for five nights. The best thing in Sandakan was a great cafe at the waterfront (called Harbour Bistro Cafe for anyone planning a trip there) which made amazing Malaysian and oriental dishes for about a pound. We ended up eating there every night and witnessed some impressive thunderstorms on a few of the nights whilst we were eating.

It was certainly worth-while going to Borneo for the trips that can be done, but the cities / towns are not good to stay in for any length of time. The locals also give you a lot of attention but it is more funny than off putting and everywhere seemed really safe. We definitely want to return someday to see more of Borneo and do some diving / snorkelling further south in Semporna, which is meant to be one of the best places in the world for this.

Posted by Del-Linda 16:39 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

OZ - Perth

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We had nine days to spend in and around Perth where we had a few friends to catch up with. Our friends from Tain, Kate and Graham (aka Mooch), kindly invited us to stay at theirs where Kate's sister (Margaret), her husband (Neil) and their five year old twin daughters (Isla and Lucy) were also staying whilst on holiday. Luckily they live in a huge house in the south of Perth so there was enough space for everyone. We had a great time staying there, having bbqs, a few drinks occasionally and Isla and Lucy kept us all entertained whilst also being extremely well behaved.

We were planning a few days south of Perth but unfortunately we couldn't get a campervan hired for this. Most of our days were spent in and around Perth, with the nicest areas being Cottsloe, Freemantle and Kings Park. All areas of Perth that we saw were really nice though and we really liked the city as it wasn't too big. The weather was also fantastic and not humid like the east coast. Del also managed to get his first game of golf, as Mooch took him and Neil out at his course which is pretty good and has loads of kangaroos.

We managed to catch up with some other friends when there, mostly from Tain. We went up to see Cat Mackay, Shane and their wee boy, Dylan, who have lived in Perth for years now. Cat's sister, Fiona, and Ronnie were also over on holiday too. We also visited Dave Fraser and Anita who are currently in the same boat as us having quit their jobs and packed up to go travelling. They are staying with Grieg for a couple of months before heading up the west coast. Unfortunately Grieg is away on a big holiday so we never caught up with him, but we will see him in Tain once we return. We also met up with Carrie-Anne, one of Linda's friends from uni, and her boyfriend, Matt. They kindly showed us a few areas we had not seen yet before going to city beach, where Carrie-Anne plays beach volleyball, where we had a nice meal.

It was great to catch up with all our friends who now call Perth home and see their lifestyle over there, which they all seem to love. We also really liked Perth and enjoyed our time there so thanks again to Kate and Mooch for letting us stay.

Posted by Del-Linda 03:41 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

OZ - Cairns & Cape Tribulation

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We had a brief overnight stop at near Bowen, the location where they filmed Australia, on our way from Airlie Beach to Cairns. This was another huge drive but we wanted to spend more time up there so just bypassed the places on the way. We had a day in Cairns before doing our day trip back out to the great barrier reef. Like Airlie Beach, Cairns also had a big lagoon and although is much bigger it is still a nice place. We sorted out hiring an underwater camera after seeing the amazing photos our friends took at the Whitsundays.

We booked onto a powered boat to get us to the reef quicker so we were guaranteed six hours out there to go snorkelling and diving. Linda couldn't dive, due to her previous collapsed lung, but I was desperate to dive again and was lucky enough to be out first since it was only me and another girl who had ever dived before - being first generally means having a better chance of seeing more before the sealife swims off as more people dive.

The dive did not disappoint as almost straight away we were approaching a big reef shark, which looked almost my size but are thankfully harmless. Amongst all the amazing fish and coral we also found a turtle, stingrays, clown fish (Nemos) and more large reef sharks (video below of one swimming off as I approach). It was great only being the two of us and the instructor as we were shown far more and it felt less crowded than the dive at the Whitsundays (but that was still really good too!).

The snorkelling was amazing too and we spent hours exploring two seperate reef locations. There were loads of fish and coral with unbelievable colours and the giant clams were really colourful and impressive. To Linda's delight we also found more Clown fish, although she was not a fan of the school of large fish that lingered at the back of the boat. I found it pretty amusing watching them swarm around her when she got in, until one of them bit my finger!

We were delighted with our photos from the underwater camera, as they came out clearer than we imagined. The water visibility was also really good and we chose another great sunny day to do the trip. The company we went with were also really good which added to a cracking day.

We had a couple of days left before returning the campervan, so we headed north up to Cape Tribulation. Port Douglas was our first stop, which is a really pretty town. We then had to get a small ferry across a river to get further north to get to the Daintree National park. This has the oldest rainforest in the world and in this area it meets the coast where you see great beaches at the edge of this impressive forest. We did a few of the rainforest boardwalks and were really lucky to see a rare cassowary (like an emu but with a blue and red head). We also took a walk down the side of a river hoping to see salt-water crocodiles but unfortunately didn't see any. When walking along a beach later that day where we think we saw one in the water, which must be fairly common as the signs state no swimming due to the crocs.

Our final night with the van was spent at a town called Palm Cove, which was really pretty and peaceful, before returning to Cairns to finally move out of the campervan. We had two nights in a nice hostel there before leaving the east coast for Perth. The last couple of weeks have definately been the best part of OZ so far for us with our trips out to the great barrier reef being the highlights.

Posted by Del-Linda 20:06 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

OZ - The Whitsundays

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We booked a three day / two night trip on a maxi racing yacht called Eureka II. However, when we called to confirm a couple of days before we were told it was cancelled but they offered us a couple of alternatives instead. One was a free upgrade to the tallship, the Solway Lass, the other option was to do a shorter trip on another racing yacht. As the weather had been wet and windy over the last few days we decided to go for the Solway Lass for a more comfortable trip. This way we would also get our full three days and nights sailing.

The name Solway Lass rang a bell with me and I could remember someone talking about her. When we got to Airlie Beach I remembered it was Gemma Stephenson who we go on holiday to Newton Farm with in the summer. We asked in the office and it turned out this was the boat Gemma worked on. The girls in the office and the crew all say hi if your reading this Gemma! It's a small world.

The Solway Lass is a beautiful old tallship made in 1902. It has an interesting history from being a cargo ship, a q-boat in the war, captured by the Germans in WWII, all before being rescued by a Scotsman and taken to the Solway Firth where she was given her name. There were thirty-two of us on board plus six crew and we met some new friends there. It was a really good crowd and we enjoyed having some extra company for a change. The whole trip was fantastic and we ended up getting three days of sun. We didn't do too much actual sailing as the boat has no keel so can only really sail when the wind is behind her. When the sails were all up (around ten in total) it was an impressive sight.

The scenery through the whole trip was beautiful and the highlights were Whitehaven beach and all the sealife we saw when snorkelling and diving. I had to give the diving a miss because of my collapsed lung a few years ago but Del tried it for the first time and loved it. We saw small reef sharks, stingrays, huge green turtles (some about a metre long) and loads of wierd and wonderful coloured tropical fish. Del also managed to spot a giant male Maori Wrasse fish, called Elvis by the locals, who was the only male in the bay and was a monster! The best part for me was finding Nemo! Well, some Clown fish, and we even found a baby one that looked like Nemo. Del got too close though and it came and nibbled his toe! The Clown fish seemed very territorial and were not swimming about like the other fish. They stayed very close to the plant that must have been their home. As well as the sealife the coral was really impressive to see. It was all amazing different colours and was a mix of soft and hard corals.

We managed to do three snorkels at three different bays and got great underwater visibility. We were so lucky as the last few weeks had made the water really murky right up to a few days before our trip. Some people had underwater cameras and took some great photos and videos so we were a bit jealous. We have booked another diving / snorkelling trip to the great barrier reef when we get up to Cairns so plan to rent one for our next trip.

The trip started and ended at Airlie Beach which was one of our favourite places in OZ. Even though it didn't have a good beach and it wasn't safe to swim in the sea because of the stingers, it was a really nice town with a lovely marina and great swimming lagoon on the shore front where everyone seemed to hang out. We had a fantastic couple of days here and the sailing trip was definately the hightlight of OZ for us both so far.

Posted by Del-Linda 19:25 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

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