After a slightly sketchy and very turbulent six hour bus journey from Kota Kinabalu, we arrived at the iconic Kinabatangan River. The long and windy river and the surrounding rainforests are home to a myriad of animals who call this place home.
As a result, a number of lodges have appeared on the banks of the Kinabatangan River offering cruise tours through this wilderness in order for tourists to be able to observe these animals in their natural habitat.
After doing a bit of research online on which cruise package to do, we ended up selecting a deal ran by our Kinabalu Accomdoation, Halo hostel, which offered a three day two night cruise package through Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort including accommodation, transfers and food for RM380 (A$130) per person, which looked to be good value.
In three days and two nights, we had the opportunity to do four river cruises (two at sunrise, two at sunset), along with two night trek’s into the surrounding jungle. Due to the vast size of the jungle and the unpredictable weather conditions, we were advised to take a longer tour, as the more cruises we did the more chance we’d have of seeing the animals.
This turned out to be good advice, as of the four cruises we had two very good sets of animal sightings and two which were not so good (in one cruise the rain made visibility very difficult). Overall, we were happy with that; even where there were less animals to spot, it was good fun to go speeding down the Kinabatangan River with camera’s at the ready, waiting for animals to pop out as if it were a real life game of Pokémon Go.
The most commonly found animal was the male proboscis monkey, which can only be found in Borneo. We regularly saw these swinging through the trees throughout the day. You’ll notice the big nose, which is used to attract a female mate – seemingly size matters in the proboscis monkey community!
We were also able to see other species of monkey, such as the long tailed macaques and slightly darker silver leafed monkeys.
We were also able to spot a number of cool and colourful birds, including blue-eared kingfishers, herons, eagles, and hornbills, although sadly due to a combination of a moving boat and my dodgy photography skills, I wasn’t able to get a clear shot of any!
Lounging on the banks of the Kinabatangan were a number of salt-water crocodiles; thankfully we didn’t get too close as a few of them looked pretty hungry. Also on the banks of the river was the slightly less threatening but equally impressive water monitor lizard, and a tropically coloured snake.
Saving the best till last, we also managed a glimpse of an orangutan. These intelligent creatures are now sadly endangered; we learnt during our trip that there are actually only two islands in the world where organutan’s can be found – the other place being the Indonesian island of Sumatra located nearby.
There had been stories of elephant spottings, but these are rare and sadly we weren’t able to see any on this trip. Our evening treks were less successful, although we still managed to see a few unusual insects and interesting looking frogs.
Our lodge had a very organised programme and the tour felt a bit like going back to school camp, with allocated times for breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner, where chicken and rice was served out of giant Bay-Marie’s. However, the food was pretty decent considering the remoteness of the location and the bunk-bed lodge dorm that we shared with other travellers was adequate as well (the nearby showers even had hot water!)
As the sun set at the end of the day, the wonderful views of the river made the lodge a great place to relax with a beer and a game of cards before we moved on to see more wildlife at Sepilok.