Project Description

WORLD HERITAGE

WILDLIFE

NATURE

SERVICE

Highlights: Marine turtle conservation / Coral reef ecology / Intertidal zones / Tropical rain forest ecology / Endemic species / Cave ecology / Mountain ecosystems / Pitcher plants / Geology of geothermal springs

The Best of Borneo – 8 Days

Borneo is a land steeped in legend. The third largest island on Earth with its towering mountains, steamy rainforests, raging rivers, wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys, hornbills and legendary headhunters has long captivated the world’s imagination.

Our “Best of Borneo” adventure goes beyond the mystique to reveal the real Borneo today where massive deforestation and oil palm plantations have reduced the island’s biodiversity to a few protected sanctuaries. The Malaysian State of Sabah in the northeast part of the island offers visitors the best chances of seeing Borneo’s natural wonders. Here students can intimately watch sea turtles depositing eggs on remote beaches and hatching out young on the same night. They will visit the world’s largest orangutan sanctuary, explore Sabah’s largest cave chamber and cruise a jungle river that boasts Malaysia’s greatest wildlife concentrations in search of Borneo gibbons, pygmy elephants, rhinoceros hornbills, crocodile and the unique long-nosed proboscis monkeys.

A real highlight of this trip will be climbing the slopes of Mt. Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia. Kinabalu National Park and World Heritage Site ranges over 4 climatic zones and boasts the richest flora diversity in the world, including the world’s largest pitcher plants and rafflesia, the world’s largest flower. Rather than embark on the exerting two-day climb to the barren summit, students will hike lower elevation trails where they can study the unique plant and bird life in more detail and at a more leisurely pace.

Community service projects will include a half-day working with local elementary school children in a small rural school at the foot of Mount Kinabalu and partnering with local interests in reforesting critical wildlife corridors along the Kinabatagan River.

Borneo has been called a “land of superlatives” and it is sure to inspire any student with a love for wildlife, a spirit of adventure and a desire to restore part of nature’s fragile balance.

Study Focus: Borneo’s Orangutans & Rehabilitation Efforts

Note: This itinerary can be done in reverse order if flight arrival times in Kota Kinabalu are too late for the same day connecting flight to Sandakan.

  • Students arrive in Kota Kinabalu aboard their international flight and transfer on a short domestic flight to Sandakan at 1:10 pm. Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia, may be visible along the flight route.
  • From Sandakan we transfer 30 minutes by charter bus to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center in time for the 3:00 pm afternoon feeding of orphaned animals.
  • The words “orang utan” are Malay for “people of the forest” as people here have long recognized the close link between humans and our orange cousins – an ape that shares 96.4% of our DNA.
  • At Sepilok, the world’s largest orangutan rehabilitation center, we will see far too many orangutans that have been captured as pets or orphaned when their mothers were killed. Widespread and permanent deforestation of Borneo’s forests combined with the lowest reproductive rate of any mammal on earth, have now put this magnificent creature on the endangered species list.
  • Students will engage in discussions on this issue today, considering who is more in need of rehabilitation – the orangutans or the poachers, loggers and authorities that fail to enforce laws protecting them?
  • Just 500 meters from the orangutan center is the lovely Sepliok Forest Edge Lodge where we will check in to our accommodation for the night and enjoy a delicious dinner.
  • A trip orientation and group bonding session will be followed by an evening of stargazing from the soothing comfort of the lodge’s outdoor Jacuzzi pool.

Overnight: Sepilok Forest Edge Lodge

Study Focus: Island Ecology, Coral Reefs, Sea Turtle Life Cycles and Conservation Strategies for their Recovery

  • Today we set off right after breakfast for the 45-minute drive to the Sandakan Pier where we board a speedboat for 1.5 hours voyage across the Sulu Sea to Selingan Island, also known as Turtle Island.
  • On arrival we will check into beach chalets and enjoy a delicious lunch before taking the afternoon to swim, snorkel and discover the rich marine life on this remote island.
  • Hawksbill Turtles and Green Turtles make the annual pilgrimage to Selingan in greater numbers every year, so successful is the conservation work being done here. While snorkeling, there’s a good chance of seeing these magnificent marine reptiles feeding along the reef and swimming like ballerinas as they surface for air and dive again in the crystal clear waters.
  • After dinner there will be lessons on sea turtles and recovery efforts followed by a group candle circle on the beach.
  • At some point during the night we will be called by the island’s Park Rangers to observe turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. It’s a slow sand digging, laying and burying ritual that each female goes through before making her way back to the sea. After the eggs are laid, they are removed from the nest burrow to a protected hatchery where they are re-buried in a place safe from predators.
  • Selingan Island is one of he few places in the world where turtles lay eggs every night, consequently, there are baby turtles hatching out every night also. We will be able to not only watch the hatching process, but we will help release the turtles into the sea – a never to be forgotten experience!

Overnight: Selingan Island Park Chalets, Sulu Sea

Study Focus: Intertidal Life, River Flora & Fauna, Endemic Species of Borneo

  • Everyone may choose to sleep in a bit following our late night with the sea turtles. After breakfast there will be time to swim and explore the inter-tidal realm before catching our speedboat back to the mainland at 10:00 am.
  • By 11:30 am we should be back aboard our bus for the 1.5-hour drive to the famous Kinabatagan River.
  • The Kinabatagan is Sabah’s largest river that is now being hailed as the “Amazon of Borneo” for the treasure trove of animals found here. Influenced by the tides of the Sulu Sea and massive rainfall in the Borneo interior, the lower part of the river plain floods regularly – just like the Amazon. Thus over countless centuries, five distinct habitats have evolved – waterlogged and dry forests, saline and freshwater swamps and limestone forests. Each of these habitats contributes towards some of the most diverse concentrations of wildlife in Southeast Asia.
  • We will check in to the beautiful Myne Resort perched on a forested hillside and overlooking a great bend in the river. Anyone considering a refreshing dip may think twice when seeing the large crocodiles sunning along the riverbanks or peering, like periscopes from the murky depths.
  • Following a delicious lunch in the open-air pavilion restaurant, there will be time for a discussion on endemism and the regions wildlife before our afternoon river excursion.
  • Like all islands, animals that evolved in isolation on Borneo have tended towards dwarfism or gigantism. Borneo, for example, boasts the world’s largest pitcher plant, flower and moss, but the smallest squirrel, orchid and elephant.
  • At 3:30 pm we will board motorized launches for a 2.5-hour jungle river cruise in search of Bornean endemics and other species. This is the best time of day to spot large troops of proboscis monkeys, long-tail macaques and all 8 species of hornbills found in Borneo as they gather atop tall riverbank trees to roost for the night.
  • There is never a dull moment along the Kinabatagan. Our wildlife safari should include sightings of stork-billed kingfishers, blue-eared kingfishers, night herons, great egrets, oriental darters, Storm’s storks, fish eagles, hornbills (rhinoceros, helmeted, black, white-crowned, pied, wrinkled, wreathed, bushy-crested), Asian reticulated pythons, mangrove snakes, crocodiles, monitor lizards, long-tail macaques, proboscis monkeys, orangutans, Borneo gibbons, Borneo bearded pigs, otters, and with luck – Borneo’s pygmy elephants.
  • As the sun sets over the Kinabatagan River, we will slowly cruise back to our riverside lodge for a delicious buffet dinner and a sharing circle on the lounge deck to tell tales of our day’s adventures under the star-studded sky.

Overnight: Myne Resort, Kinabatagan River

Study Focus: Reforestation Service Project, Nocturnal Animals & Constellations

  • Sunrise over the Kinabatagan River is a sight not to be missed. From the private balconies of our beautiful hillside chalets we should see hornbills flying overhead and hear the first songs of the Borneo gibbons greeting the day.
  • A hearty breakfast buffet served on the riverside restaurant will fortify us for our planting exercise as we set out in the cool of the morning on a reforestation project.
  • The Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT) is a state mandated NGO established in 2006 to deal with the pressing needs of preserving the habitat and migration routes of Borneo’s most endangered wildlife. Reforestation of denuded lands along the Kinabatangan corridor is of highest priority as forests here are so fragmented that wildlife populations are restricted to small reserves where inbreeding and survival become critical issues.
  • Our morning service project will involve working together with the BCT, or other local groups, in planting trees to help reconnect Borneo’s Green Corridor for wildlife. Enrichment planting fruit trees, like durian, mango, jackfruit, rambutan, lychee and wild figs in secondary forest is another way to guarantee the future health of this critical wildlife region.
  • We will either enjoy a picnic lunch at our planting site or return to our lodge for a hot meal before enjoying some free time in the afternoon to clean up, catch up on journals or just relax in a hammock with the soothing sounds of nature. Nearby the lodge are some excellent trails we can explore and a 300-year old strangler fig tree with a hollow center that students can explore inside.
  • Following a delicious buffet dinner we will have a briefing on nocturnal animals before setting off by boat at 8:30 pm for a Night Safari. Animals typically seen at night along the riverbank include: slow loris, civets, owls, bats, kingfishers, pythons, frogs, wild pigs, barking deer, mouse deer, fishing cats, crocodile, and occasionally clouded leopard climbing trees in search of sleeping monkeys.
  • If the night sky is clear students will be shown some of the major constellations including the Southern Cross and Big Dipper as both of these star clusters, used for centuries in navigation, are visible near the Equator.
  • Our Night Safari can go as late into the night as we choose.

Overnight: Myne Resort, Kinabatagan River

Study Focus: Keystone Species, Cave Ecology, Lowland Dipterocarp Forest, Tea Plantation, Borneo Indigenous Lifestyles

  • We will rise early today and embark by boat on a Dawn Safari as this is the best time of day to see some of Borneo’s “keystone” species. Fruit bats, hornbills and gibbons are all frugivores (fruit-eating animals) and are crucial to the wide dispersal of rain forest seeds. Because the loss of these species can result in the loss of the forest itself, biologists refer to them as “keystone” species.
  • Returning by 9:00 am from our Dawn Safari, we will enjoy a good breakfast, pack up and bid a fond farewell to the Kinabatangan.
  • Just a 30-minute drive by bus from Myne Resort we arrive at Gomantong Cave. This is the largest cave in Sabah and home to millions of bats and swiftlets. A 15-minute walk through a jungle trail leads us to the cave chamber entrance where we can witness bird nest gatherers going about their daredevil task (90-meters above the cave floor) collecting swiftlet nests for the lucrative Chinese trade.
  • The edible nest swiftlet is an insectivorous bird that patrols the skies by day, then retreats to the security of the cave chamber at night. The waxy secretion it uses to build its nests in the cave is the source of the famous Chinese “bird nest soup”.
  • The WWF has described Gonantong as “the best managed edible bird’s nest cave in the world”, and historical records have traced it as the source of this precious delicacy to Chinese Emperors centuries ago.
  • Dusk is the time that all the swiftlets return to the cave and millions of night-feeding insectivorous bats emerge. It is a dramatic moment as the hordes of bats pour out of the cave chamber and ribbon their way across the sunset colored sky.
  • While we will not stay here long enough to witness this spectacle, we will have an excellent opportunity to learn about cave ecology and to view orangutans in the wild. The road leading into Gomantong Cave, and the boardwalk leading to the entrance, passes through a prime orangutan forest as evidenced by the profusion of nests seen in the treetops. With any luck, we should see “The Wildman of the Forest” here even if we failed to spot any orangutans along the Kinabatangan.
  • From Gomantong Cave we now have the longest drive of the trip ahead of us. It’s a four-hour journey, but we will break up the bus trip with a good lunch stop at Telupid along the way.
  • Arriving at Sabah Tea Garden in the late afternoon it will all seem worth it as we find ourselves in the sloping hills, dipping valleys and lush surroundings of Sabah’s only tea estate. Students can try their hands at the age-old art of tea picking (two leaves and a bud), as well as tour the tea factory with its wonderful aromas and interesting processing methods.
  • Our overnight accommodation will be in a traditional style Borneo longhouse where we can all gather together native-style on the long porch for lessons on the indigenous peoples of Borneo.
  • Here in the delightful cool of the highlands we will enjoy a delicious dinner and a campfire beside the lovely Sapaon River before retiring to our Borneo longhouse beds.

Overnight: Borneo longhouse, Sabah Tea Garden

Study Focus: Community Service School Project, Lowland Dipterocarp Forest, Rain Forest Canopy Levels, Waterfall Micro Climes, Stream Macro Invertebrates & Geology of Geothermal Springs

  • Sunrise over the verdant tea plantation is stunningly beautiful, a moment we can savor while enjoying an early breakfast.
  • Following breakfast, we set off by bus for the short 30-minute drive to Poring Hot Springs, part of Kinabalu National Park and World Heritage Site. Nearby is a local school where we will have session teaching world geography and English language skills to the rural children as part of a community service project. School supplies, maps and visual aids encouraging language learning and conservation can also be presented to the school at this time.
  • When the students break for lunch, so do we — dining at the nearby Poring Hot Springs’ Rainforest Restaurant.
  • Following lunch, our first study focus and adventure of the afternoon will be exploring the lowland forest searching for rafflesia in bloom – the world’s largest flower. These spectacular blooms can only be found in lowland forests of Southeast Asia, forests that are characterized by huge flared root bases on trees, large woody liana vines and enormous epiphytes.
  • We will have the opportunity to explore this forest from ground to canopy level as we climb up to a canopy walkway 41-meters high and literally walk through the treetops on a series on securely connected suspension bridges.
  • Our next adventure is a 90-minute trek through the forest to the beautiful Langanen Waterfall. There will be time here to frolic in the falls, discover the lush vegetation growing in the perpetual mist and investigate the many invertebrates that support a healthy stream ecosystem.
  • It’s another 90-minute hike back to Poring Hot Springs where everyone can enjoy the comfort of geothermal waters to soothe sore muscles before transferring by bus to Celyne Resort.
  • Perched like an eagle nest on a high ridge overlooking two spectacular valleys, Celyne Resort offers some of the most dramatic views of Mount Kinabalu to be found.
  • Following an excellent dinner buffet, we will enjoy an evening of local music in the open-air pavilion of the resort.

Overnight: Celyne Resort, Kinabalu

Study Focus: Geology, Flora and Fauna of Mount Kinabalu

  • The highest mountain between the Himalayas and the snow-capped peaks of New Guinea will be the view that unfolds from the morning mist as we look out from the private balconies of our rooms today. After enjoying a wonderful breakfast buffet we pack up and set off for the base of the mountain.
  • The summit of Mt. Kinabalu stands at 4,095 m (13,435 ft), but there is no need to climb all the way to the top to experience the wonderful natural features the mountain has to offer. We will instead explore the lower base of the mountain where the greatest concentration of life is found.
  • Kinabalu National Park is Borneo’s botanical gem. It s home to 1,200 species of orchids, 26 species of rhododendrons, 80 species of figs and over 60 species of oaks and chestnut trees.
  • Of the 30 species of pitcher plants recorded from Borneo, 10 grow on the mountain and 3 species are found nowhere else in the world. These include the spectacular Nepenthes rajah, the largest pitcher plant on earth.
  • Our focus for study and adventure today will be in the Mesalu region of the mountain, far removed from the throngs of trekkers that clog the main trail to the summit.
  • We will first climb the Nepenthes Trail for spectacular vistas of Kinabalu’s granite-spire summit and to view plants found nowhere else on earth. The spectacular Nepenthes raja is found here in abundance – a pitcher plant so massive it has been know to trap and digest frogs, jungle rats and pygmy squirrels!
  • Students more keen on animals than plants can discover along the Mesalu Trail some of the park’s 100 species of mammals and 326 species of birds that display little fear of humans.
  • The Mesilau Trail is a longer route to the summit of Kinabalu, so we will only trek the first 3-4 km of the trail in order to take in the rich biodiversity of the forest. Crossing several suspension bridges along the way, we can reach a viewpoint for a stunning panorama.
  • After returning from the hike for a wonderful lunch at the charming Mesalu Restaurant, we will board our bus for the final two-hour drive through the Crocker Range to the bustling capital city of Sabah – Kota Kinabalu.
  • KK, as it is locally known, stands in sharp contrast to the Borneo we have seen so far. Our hotel is a 12-storey, 4-star complex with an outdoor pool where students can enjoy their own private pool party before dinner.
  • A special feast and awards celebration in the hotel grounds will mark completion of an extraordinary adventure together.

Overnight: Beverly Hotel, Kota Kinabalu

Departure

  • Following a very large buffet breakfast, students will be transferred to Kota Kinabalu International Airport for the return journey home.
  • If the flight departure is scheduled for later in the day, there are a number of interesting half-day trips to take in not far from Kota Kinabalu
Contact Us