Wildlife Wanderings: a Luxury Sabbatical in Borneo and Indonesia
Wildlife enthusiast? Step this way for the wildlife adventure of a lifetime. Escape on a 35-day luxury wildlife sabbatical to Borneo and Indonesia, hopping from rainforests to island national parks and seeing every inhabitant from orangutans and slow loris to Komodo dragons and whale sharks.
Itinerary At a Glance:
- Explore Dermakot Forest Reserve, going on wildlife treks and enjoying the delights of the jungle
- Spend a night in Sepilok Nature Reserve
- Enjoy cruising along the Kinabatangan River
- Spend time in the the Danum Valley, exploring virgin rainforest and trekking to ancient burial sites
- Spend time relaxing on a beach backed by rainforest in a heavenly resort
- See orangutans and more in the incredible ecosystem of the Gunung Leuser National Park
- Stay in a houseboat on the Kumai River and traverse the watery canals on the lookout for animals. Stop off to help reforestation programmes and learn more about local wildlife
- Marvel at the natural wonders of Komodo National Park, trekking on the smaller islands with local guides
- Snorkel and dive in the waters of the Komodo National Park
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When To Travel
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Days 1-4: Your Wildlife Wanderings Begin
Your first stop on your luxury wildlife sabbatical in Borneo and Indonesia is the capital of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu..
After landing, you will be transferred to Deramakot Forest Reserve, which will be your home for the next four nights. This reserve was first certified in 1997 and today 10% of its 137,000 acre area is dedicated to conservation. Despite being a logging concession, Deramakot is one of the best spots in Sabah for wildlife watching, with 75% of the region's mammals calling this home. Expect to see our cousins, the gentle orangutans, plus pygmy elephants, banteng (wild cattle), proboscis monkeys, captivating clouded leopards and many more rainforest-dwelling species.
On your first night in the forest, enjoy a 4x4 drive at dusk to spot as many animals as you can. Searching as the sun sinks means you have a greater chance to spot the forest's inhabitants as the temperature cools and the animals start to stir.
During your time here you might wake a little bleary-eyed for your pre-dawn wildlife drive at five in the morning, but trust us, it's worth it. Spend time walking through the rainforest listening to the sounds of the residents before lunch and then there are even more chances to spot the more elusive inhabitants of this lush, green world before dinner. Listen to monkeys calling between the trees and the chorus of birds. Stand still for a moment and watch the forest come to life around you in this Eden-like world.
Day 5: Conservation in Sepilok
Be sure not to miss seeing the sights on your drive between Deramakot and your next stop: Sepilok Nature Reserve. Known for its orangutan rehabilitation and sun bear conservation centres, Sepilok is the place to see these gorgeous apes and elusive sun bears, and to witness the incredible efforts to save them and their rapidly shrinking world.
Days 6-10: River Roamings
After the delights of Sepilok, embark on a boat trip along the Kinabatangan River, the second longest in Malaysian Borneo and one of the best locations on the island for spotting wildlife.
This is thanks to the river basin's immense biodiversity and exposed banks; which provide a prime opportunity to spot species that are otherwise hidden in the thick rainforest. Make sure you are on the lookout for a flash of the orange fur of a wild orangutan, or leaping proboscis monkeys, or maybe a herd of pygmy elephants congregating on the river bank for a cooling drink.
Days on the river will be filled with cruising and taking in the sights. On your first morning you will head to Kelenanap oxbow lake to view more birds and wildlife. Afternoons might involve listening to the onboard naturalist talking about the local species, or learning how to take better wildlife photos. You can also enjoy silent cruise on board smaller electric boats for an even greater chance to spot animals without disturbing them.
Make sure you take an afternoon to hop across to Gomantong Cave by car. Wander deep into the forest along a winding trail and then witness the exodus of over two million bats (and raptors) from this huge cave. It's an amazing way to continue your luxury wildlife sabbatical.
Days 11-15: Perfectly Pristine Rainforest
At the heart of Sabah lies over 106,000 acres of pristine tropical rainforest, your the next stop on this luxury wildlife sabbatical.
Venture into the dense, virgin rainforest of the Danum Valley, one of the world's most complex ecosystems. Prepare for a bumpy ride, down gravel roads; but it is worth it, we promise. After checking into your rainforest lodge, your home for the next four nights, take a moment to gaze in awe at your surroundings. The Danum Valley is one of the largest areas of protected rainforest in Malaysian Borneo, and the fascinating flora here is home to all manner of weird and wonderful wildlife. Some 120 species of mammals, 72 reptile species, 56 amphibian species, over 340 bird species; all can be found here. More amazing still, new species and sub-species are still being discovered by scientific researchers on a regular basis, making it a must-see for any wildlife enthusiast. Who knows, you might discover the next biological breakthrough hidden in the Borneo rainforest.
The valley is also one of the few remaining habitats of the orangutan, and the chance to spot one of these majestic orange primates actually in the wild is a once-in-a-lifetime privilege. While you are trekking through the forest make sure you keep an eye (and ear) out for long-limbed gibbons, more pygmy elephants, brightly plumed hornbills and the adorable, doe-eyed slow loris. Wildlife aside, this ancient rainforest is a treasure trove of hidden gems from cascading waterfalls to ancient burial sites.
No need to set an alarm while you are here, wake to the dawn chorus of singing birds and the eerily beautiful calls of gibbons. Take a morning trip to the 200-year-old Kadazandusun Burial Site, known as 'Coffin Cliff'. The trials of this trail are worth it, with jaw-dropping views over an ocean-like million-year-old jungle.
While you are here spend your afternoons walking along the 900ft long canopy walkway that is raised 400ft off the ground. There are morning, afternoon and evening wildlife treks with a guide on offer too. During an evening trek, a local guide will help you look for the nocturnal members of the forest family. You might see samba deer, or a civet cat and maybe a leopard, as well as a glittering array on insects and frogs, who flourish under the cool light of the moon.
Days 15-20: Between the Sea and the Rainforest
Catch a flight back to Kota Kinabalu before jumping on a boat to Gaya Island and your resort home for the next few days on this luxury wildlife sabbatical in Borneo and Indonesia.
Spend your days lazing on the beach, by the large infinity pool or in the jungle spa, all with virgin rainforest as a backdrop. For those days when you are feeling a little more adventurous, try out a zipline through the forest. Explore the island on a guided jungle and mangrove walk, and look out for the amazing flora and fauna - from tropical hardwood trees and forest flowers to hornbills, monkeys and lizards.
For ocean enthusiasts, there are watersports off the beach or the chance to go diving on the reefs that surround the island. The local waters are home to myriad species, from sea turtles, giant groupers and clown fish to colourful corals, trigger fish and, occasionally, majestic whale sharks. The nearby Marine Ecology Research Centre is a must visit for those interested in the underwater world, where you are able to actively participate in restoring vibrant life back into the ocean thanks to their coral and giant clam projects.
Days 21-26: Wild Wanderings in Gunung Leuser National Park
Transfer back to Kota Kinabalu before a flight to Singapore and then onto Medan, where you will be met and transferred to Gunung Leuser National Park, the next stage of your luxury wildlife sabbatical.
The chance to catch a sight of our red-haired relatives, the orangutans, as well as other primates swinging from tree to tree, is reason enough to spend an extended amount of time in this national park. This is even more important when you consider that it is one of the last places in the world to see them in the wild. But the jungle gems don't stop with orangutan sightings; this tropical Sumatran ecosystem has so much more to offer. Lookout as well for Thomas leaf monkeys, long-tail macaques, gibbons, black gibbons and other kinds of flora and fauna.
Your first day here will be spent walking through the jungle on an all-day hiking trip, complete with packed lunches. The next day will see you exploring a bat cave in the jungle. Stretching 1,500ft deep into the rock, the cave is home to thousands of bats jostling for space on the ceiling. Catch the reflection from a thousand glittering eyes as your torches cast a golden glow over the ceiling.
Cool off in the afternoons with a dip in the river and spend your evenings listening to the canopy's chorus.
Days 26-30: Jungle Cruising in a Houseboat
After a flight to Jakarta and another one to Kalimantan a car will take you to Kumai. Upon arrival, board a luxury houseboat which will be your watery home for the next three nights. About 15 minutes down the Kumai River, you will reach the Sekonyer River, the main river in Tanjung Puting National Park.
Spend the next three days cruising up the Sekonyer River, on the lookout for macaques, proboscis monkeys and orangutans. You can also visit the orangutan feeding platform in Tanjung Harapan to get another fix of our orange friends. You can learn more about the residents of the park during a visit to the information Centre at Camp Leakey to get an overview of the work of Dr Birute Galdikas, who has been studying orangutan in the national park since 1971. You can then trek into the forest to see the orangutan feeding that takes place in the afternoon. For a different kind of animal encounter an evening wildlife walk is a great way to see the way the jungle comes to life after dark. Follow your guide into the forest and see - among others - huge-eyed tarsiers and hairy tarantulas.
While you are here, travel to the heart of the park to learn about their carbon-offsetting programme. Help with reforestation efforts by planting endemic fruit trees and learn more about how the park is combatting deforestation and climate change.
On one of your three days here, take a motorised canoe to explore the smaller tributaries in the park. Make sure you take the chance to photograph the incredible birds, insects and (hopefully) primates you pass.
Days 30-34: Dragons in Komodo
Another two flights will see you travel to Jakarta and then onto Komodo and your lodge.
The Komodo National Park, slap bang in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago, was established in 1980 and consists of the volcanic islands - including the eponymous Komodo - that cover a total area of almost 550,000 acres. Thanks to the region's dry climate, sandy beaches and coral-rich waters, there are a significant number of species that can only be found here, a fact that has led to the Park being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On land, the most noteworthy endemic species, to tourists and evolutionary scientists alike, is the legendary Komodo dragon. There remain over 5,500 of these over-sized lizards in the wild. Measuring up to 10ft long and weighing over 150lbs, they are not animals to be messed with.
Beneath the waves, you can experience some of the best diving in the region; think manta rays, whale sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, over 260 species of coral and more than 1,000 species of fish. No wonder Komodo National Park has been granted a New Seven Wonders of Nature status.
The next three days will be spent on speedboats travelling between your hotel and the other islands in the National Park. First stop is Rinca Island, smaller than Komodo and mostly covered with savannah, it is easy to observe the dragons and other animals here, such as buffalo, monkeys and wild pigs. With a local expert guide, discover the island's hidden secrets on a trek through the undergrowth. Next up is Padar Island for another trek and more incredible scenery. Saving the best for last, jump off the boat and onto the largest and the most famous of the islands in the Komodo National Park; Komodo itself. It also has the largest community of Komodo dragons and many other animals such as wild horses, buffaloes and pigs. Spend time with a park ranger, who will explain about the iconic dragons and life on the island.
Seeing as you are on a boat and cruising around the national park it would be rude not to jump off your boat to dip beneath the waves for a spot of snorkelling. Or spend your time swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding, or enjoying a massage in the spa. It's the perfect finale to an epic adventure through the natural wonders of Borneo and Indonesia.
Days 34-35: Homeward Bound
After the last few weeks of wildlife spotting, it is time to head home after the adventure of a lifetime on this luxury wildlife sabbatical in Borneo and Indonesia.
Jacqui and Holly are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.