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New posts on the way:

Dunedin, New Zealand: lots of photos and blogs to come from there. (Visited January 2014)

MALAYSIAN BORNEO more blogs scheduled about jungle, orang-utans, proboscis monkeys & more!

Borneo Jazz Festival - Miri, Sarawak : attending May 2014

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Solace in the Wind – photo of the day

April 18, 2014

Solace in the Wind is on the Wellington, New Zealand, waterfront. Misty morning.


Tabin Wildlife Resort ticks all the boxes for me

April 15, 2014
Proboscis Lodge's manager kindly drops me off.

Proboscis Lodge’s manager kindly drops me off.

I’m dropped off (Thanks Proboscis Lodge) at the Tabin Wildlife Resort office beside the Lahad Datu Airport and head for what is considered Sabah’s ‘greatest wildlife sanctuary’  and which is amazingly twice the size of Singapore. The resort is the only accommodation in the area – I will stay for 2 nights and three days.

It’s on the Dent Peninsula, jutting into the Sulawesi Sea, and is an hour’s journey from here: once we get to the entrance it’s still another 10 km on an unsealed, lumpy road.  We’re travelling on roads with oil plantations on either side of the road and my heart sinks.  I don’t think there will  be much wildlife in this environment. How wrong I was!

I’m the only person being picked up at this time so can sit in the front for good views during the journey, including seeing a magnificent Mengaris tree. I later realise this must be the most photographed and tallest rainforest tree in the area.

Monitor lizards are sunning themselves on the road, and a raptor flies overhead: both animals are scavengers so I realise there is food around for them – confirming that some of my pre-Borneo perceptions about some oil plantations are obviously wrong.

If  I freeze they won't see me

If I freeze they won’t see me

The Tabin Wildlife Resort brochure says is ‘Borneo’s Birding & Wildlife Paradise’, and to reinforce the claim, all visitors are given a ‘pocket checklist’ for recording the creatures we see. It starts with the 260 species of birds recorded here. I ticked off about 25 despite not a being a ‘birder’ in the usual sense of the word – and saw more than I ticked!









Guests are assigned a guide when they arrive – I’ve just driven in, haven’t been given one or been shown my room when I’m told, ‘quick, come with me, gibbons just past your room.’ OMG.  My first sighting of something I’ve never seen before and it’s only a 2 min walk from the dining room, 20 seconds past my accommodation. I’m in love already.

Gibbons, it seems are silent except for an hour or two on awakening, and these are silent as they swing circus-like from branch to branch, just as you imagine all monkeys do (but don’t).  They’re hard to photograph because of their speed,  and their  hook-shaped hands and comically extra-long arms and long legs make them really agile and I ‘ooh and aah’ with pleasure as I watch them in  the tree canopy where they spend most of their time.  Lunch can wait.

Mum and baby gibbon

Mum and baby gibbon

Like tightrope walkers they use outstretched arms to help keep their balance and I’m amazed at how they leap across large gaps, from branch to branch and it’s not until they move on into the deeper forest that I go and check out my lovely unit that overlooks a small river – an ideal spot to relax to the soothing sound of water and watch many birds, butterflies and the mischievous macaque when they travel through the resort. Just sitting there makes me realise why Tabin is considered a bird-watchers paradise.

The next morning about the time I wake up, the same family (mum, dad, and 3 youngsters) announce their presence with territorial hooting calls, warning other gibbons to stay out of their ‘hood. This noisy display takes 1/2 hour or more every morning and is started by the adult female – it is also she who decides when to move on too I’m told by Palin my ‘Tabin Native Guide’.

Their haunting calls can often be heard for long distances and consists of a duet between the mated pair with the young ones sometimes joining in. Monogamous, and endemic to these dense forests, they are tailless with  coats that range from brown to nearly black, and with white markings on their faces and hands. Among the most threatened primates with their habitat disappearing at a rapid rate, they’re often captured and sold as pets or killed for use in traditional medicines. All but one species of gibbon are listed as endangered or critically endangered. This one, the Müller’s Bornean Gibbon (Gray) is endemic to the island of Borneo.

Seeing them so unexpectedly was just the first of many highlights in this small river valley and resort, in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve which is twice the size of Singapore.  The reserve is managed by Sabah Wildlife Department who, with the Sabahmas Plantation, also have a project in the area to encourage the Sumatran rhinos to breed: there are only 30 to 50 in the world.

Dominated by secondary growth, with patches of virgin forest, this area is largely surrounded by oil plantations which I now find makes it easy to see many creatures as they move between the plantations and forest for food – or even wander down the road. I believe the reserve and plantation share a 9 km boundary which means resort, the department, and the oil plantations have shared responsibilities for the flora and fauna of the area – an alliance that seems to be working for them all, and the animals.


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Birds fight over food – photo of the day

April 11, 2014

Birds fight over food near a fishing boat, Kaikoura, New Zealand.

Get out of my patch

Get out of my patch


Proboscis Lodge boat safari and wildlife viewing

April 8, 2014

Our boatman, a local tribesman employed at the Proboscis Lodge for his water and nature skills, is a skilled boatman and during our safari turns the motor off, or uses the quiet electric outboard motor, when we stop to watch wildlife.

Wildlife watching us watching them!

Wildlife (pig-tailed macaques) watching us watching them!


‘Look before you leap’ does not seem to be a saying that proboscis monkeys observe. They’re a noisy troop communicating with honks and groans and crash through the foliage, leaping from tree to tree and landing almost as a belly flop. A threatened species, they are a columbine monkey, which means they have enlarged, multi-chambered stomachs that has a bacteria which aids digestion, particularly of the hard-to-digest leaves they eat, and making them the only ruminant primate.

The clumsy and delightful Proboscis monkey (often called the Dutch Monkey because of the big nose and tummy!)

The clumsy and delightful Proboscis monkey (often called the Dutch Monkey because of the big nose and tummy!)

I’m told the babies have blue faces; all have webbed feet and can swim well; they only live about 13 years and need to range widely to find sufficient nourishment I love these comically long-nosed proboscis monkeys more than the world-renown man-of-the-forest the orang-utan and loved that we could sit in the boat and watch them living in the wild.

Twice I saw wild orang-utan in this area: I also saw people in a small electric boat. (They’re either NGOs or a University research team) Seems they often record all they see here, monitoring the animals – especially I think, as some Sepilok orang-utan have been released in the area.

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My journal is full of sightings; palm squirrels, long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques, and langur. A Storm’s stork, Serpent eagle, and Brahminy kite to name just a few birds. Up a side river, the Menanggol, an estuarine crocodiles, on the bank and in the water, eyes on us: these huge creatures, up to 8 metres in length, once prized for their hides, are now extremely rare. An optional extra, my night boat safari adds two civet cats and a couple of Buffy fish owls and the beautiful stork-billed kingfisher, the largest of kingfishers; this whole area, like Bako, is just another place on my revisit bucket list along with the caves here and in Sarawak.

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Borneo is young geologically and was once the huge land of Sundaland, a bio-geographical region of Southeast Asia, the part of the Asian continental shelf that was exposed during the last ice age. It included the Malay Peninsula on the Asian mainland, as well as the large islands of Borneo, Java, and Sumatra and their surrounding islands and when the ice-age finished, the sea rose and Borneo became isolated, the large island it is today.

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New Zealand week in Malaysia #travel #NZ

April 8, 2014

New Zealand week in Malaysia #travel #NZ #Sarawak #Malaysia

It’s all about jazz! Borneo Jazz Festival

April 2, 2014

Shortly I’m off to my favourite Asian country – Malaysia – in time to be at the Borneo Jazz Festival (9/11 May) in Miri, Sarawak. (Staying at the Park City Everly Hotel)

The Borneo Jazz Festival was suggested around 2006 as a way to  increase visitor arrivals to Miri and the northern region of Sarawak. I’m expecting a fun-filled and entertaining musical experience while also exploring Miri – I have only had 2 days there and as I had a cold I didn’t get to explore as I would usually. I’m also looking forward to Sarawak Laksa for breakfast!

All About Jazz  said “The Miri International Jazz Festival [now called the Borneo Jazz Festival] in Sarawak province Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, can lay claim to being the only jazz festival on the South China Sea. A long line of tankers and cargo ships stretches across the horizon like buttons sewn on a vast blue cloth and attests to Miri’s century-old history as an oil town. Located in the lush grounds of the Park City Everly Hotel, the stage facing the sea was the scene for two days of music, drawing artists from Thailand, Indonesia, the USA, Brazil, Holland and Switzerland. Now in its fifth year, the festival is the cultural jewel in the crown of the Sarawak Tourism Board, whose stated aim is to use the festival as a magnet to draw tourists to the province.” Read more on the All About Jazz website.)

Miri is the birthplace of Malaysia’s petroleum industry – oil was discovered in the early 1900s – and it remains the major industry of this city. With a population around 300,000 people, it is also a resort city and is near to the Sultanate of Brunei and Sabah.

The city is surrounded by four world-class national parks which is Gunung Mulu National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the world’s largest caves), Niah National Park (Historical and archaeological site), Lambir Hills National Park (diverse species of flora and fauna) and Loagan Bunut National Park (largest natural lake) – I hope to see at least one of them!

Jazz lovers from around the world will no doubt have a great time enjoying renowned jazz performances by the international jazz artistes and here are some of the performers:

Among the bands that will be performing will be Iriao, the eight-piece ethno-jazz band from Georgia. Iriao’s repertoire is based on Georgian authentic folk instrumental and polyphonic music, which has been recognised by UNESCO as being a masterpiece of oral immaterial heritage. However the band is not aiming to modernize the unique polyphonic Georgian music but to saturate and adorn it with Jazz elements. This is the first time that a Georgian band will be performing at the Borneo Jazz.

Another interesting line-up is Vocal Sampling, an all-male a cappella musical group from Cuba who are expected to be a hit at this year’s festival as they are a well-known band and crowd pleaser. Their album “Cambio de Tiempo” was nominated for 3 Latin Grammy Awards.

Other favourite Jazz bands listed for this years’ event will be Brassballett from Germany – the first and only show worldwide where musicians are dancers at the same time. They will perform a choreographed show on stage whilst playing their instruments.  Mario Canonge – a great virtuoso and showman playing creole jazz with West Indies rhythms from Martinique/France. YK Band from Indonesia who will feature Jazz with hints of Borneo flavour. Anthony Strong – hailed as “England’s new jazz superstar” from UK. He became No 1 on iTunes and No 2 jazz charts in the USA.

Local artist Diana Liu, the Sarawakian born artist plays pop, jazz, bossa nova, gospel and funk/soul and will represent Malaysia.


Will you be part of the crowd this year?


Travel the snake-like Kinabatangan River to the Proboscis Lodge

April 1, 2014

Snake-like, the Kinabatangan is a 560 kilometre river and after a road trip from Sandakan I’m picked up by boat to travel on it to the Proboscis Lodge where I’m staying 3 days and 2 nights.   Sabah’s longest river, this area of it is the 26,000 hectare Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, home to all 8 species of hornbill, as well as orang-utan, proboscis monkey, crocodiles,  pygmy elephant and many colourful tropical birds and many other species of Malaysian Borneo’s remarkable wildlife.

my transport arrives

my transport arrives

I love it when I learn something new and I join other guests on a boat to go to an oxbow lake. I thought it was a funny name for a lake, and it’s not until the next day, browsing in the Lodges library, that I realise exactly what it is we saw. They’re a unique feature of this unusual area, an area that’s influenced by tides as well as the flooding from heavy rains, and there are about 20 ‘oxbow lakes’ in the Lower Kinabatangan.  I learn they’re formed by large meandering bends in the river’s course that eventually get cut off from the main river by erosion on the bends; flooding then changes the river’s direction as the gush of water rushes directly towards the sea.  This eventually leaves a lake behind, cut off from the main river flow and the ‘oxbow’ refers to the shape of the wooden harnesses on oxen – and the only oxbow I’d ever heard of until now.


An invasive aquatic weed blocks one end of the ox-bow lake

An invasive aquatic weed blocks one end of the ox-bow lake

These occasional massive floods slowly change the river, and the lakes too are eventually claimed by vegetation: this process is speeding up by the invasive water hyacinth which has been in the area for about 100 years. Listed as one of the most productive plants on earth – it can double in size in 12 days and is considered the world’s worst aquatic plant. It forms dense mats that competitively exclude native submersed and floating-leaved plants and low oxygen conditions develop beneath them. Recent studies have shown it to be very useful in absorbing heavy metals from polluted water and here in Malaysia, this plant has also been used to feed ducks and pigs.

Travelling up the narrow stream that joins the lake to the river suddenly it opens out to a huge expansive lake: fascinating and peaceful. It’s a great spot for birders and fishers who mainly use nets for their fishing.

fellow-travellers enjoy a fish spa in the lake

fellow-travellers enjoy a fish foot spa in the lake … the fish nibble at the dead skin

I take four boat trips while at Proboscis Lodge and each one provides a different aspect to this scientifically, and historically, important region and I see one of the four tallest trees in the world, the Mengaris. Locals believe these trees, in which bees often form hives, have spirits living in them and that ill fortune will come to those who cut them.  Driving around, areas that have been cleared for oil plantations often have these tall trees reaching skyward, more I suspect for practical reasons than because of myths,  I’m told the tree has silica which soon blunts saws!




It’s in this region, in the ‘land of Hornbills’ that I’m finally seeing many hornbills although the Malaysia Nature Society says there are less around.  Like New Zealand’s native Kereru, the world’s largest wood pigeon with its distinctive swishing sound, I hear the hornbills in flight before I see them as they fly into a roosting tree at the lodge.  It’s for sights, and sounds, like these that I love to travel, and for my concern for habitat both here and in my country (NZ).

I could have, I wish I had, stayed twice as long in this magical place, and more blogs will follow!


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