Tommys Place at the Tip of Borneo

In Sabah, Malaysia,  I head further north, 3-hours by public transport, to Kudat,  for a couple of nights at Tommy’s Place at the  tip of Borneo to spend time on the beach – my first time since I was at the Damai Beach Resort with its lovely sunsets.

The Tip of Borneo
The Tip of Borneo

Although it’s advertised as basic accommodation I stayed in one of their excellent villas, on the rise behind the restaurant and the simpler rooms.  The food too is unassuming which is exactly what’s needed at the beach, and they are proud of their eco-credentials which concentrate especially on water conservation and energy reduction.

Tommy says they’re hoping others can see what we are doing and copy it for their homes, resorts or business. In addition to having chlorine-free water, which uses lots of energy to transport it there, they have reduced their water energy waste down to zero by using rainwater collected in two huge tanks.

I'm in villa with a great view
I’m in a villa with a great view
view from my room
The view from my room

One disadvantage this small resort has is its position on the long curved beach: the wind and current deposit rubbish right on the beach in front of their accommodation.  This is the same wind that encouraged Tommy to build the units as he’s a keen windsurfer and he has them, surfboards and canoes for hire.

I tell the desk staff that I will help with a beach clean-up if they arrange one and the next morning they are waiting for me with bags and rakes ready. Although proud of a certificate for cleaning the beach that’s on the wall, and their eco-practices, it seems they rarely find time to clean the beach. We remove about 4 large bags of food wrappers, kids’ lollipop sticks, plastic, straws, butter containers and lids and the ever-present water bottles we leave behind. Rubbish removal can be difficult in small, remote places and I suggest weekly clean-ups like this are needed as guests always see the trash but don’t see the water savings.

Tommys beach clean-up team!
Tommy’s fabulous beach clean-up team – eco heroes!

Twice I take the 10-mins walk to the Tip of Borneo, the draw card of the area, enjoying the birds and monitor lizards on the way. A snake slides off the warm pathway as I walk back and I return to the spot three or four times to see if I could photograph it, with no luck – a monitor lizard proves more photogenic.

The tip has a beautiful globe, and a huge flagpole, as well as the stunning scenery here at the true top of this huge island. The British gave this area the romantic name of ‘The Parting of the Pirate Ways’, however I didn’t see any pirates as I sat and watched the swirling tides of the South China Sea collide with the  Sulu Sea.  This wave action has created a dramatic headland carved into the stone cliffs and it’s a great spot to just relax in the sun.

I found Tommy’s Place is a great place to chill for a few days – others used it as a base to explore more of the area.

Meeting the world’s biggest flower … the rafflesia

Although I had this plant in my Borneo bucket- list, I knew there was no guarantee I’d see one.

In Sarawak I could have seen one but I had a booking to go to Bako National Park and the flower was already on day three (jt only lasts 3 or 4 days) when I saw the Forestry announcement about the bloom. I also heard it was a two-hour hike to get to that flower, so in the heat I was sort of relieved I couldn’t go.

These flowers are not something you can grow in your garden, unless your garden is a tropical rainforest in Malaysia, Sumatra, Thailand, or the Philippines, or here on Borneo. It also needs to be near the Tetra Stigma vine which, as a parasitic plant, it attaches it’s self to. I didn’t know all this, I just knew I’d seen photos of it, and heard Sir David Attenborough talk in awe of it in his Borneo adventures. And, let’s face it, this is an awe inspiring island.

So it was in Sabah, on a day trip to Kinabalu National Park and Poring Hot Springs that our guide said a flower was able to be seen in Poring. I immediately sais yes and while the others were in the pools, I went on private trip, through a local tribes orchard, past durian, star fruit, ginger, and more of my favourite fruits to arrive at a crudely formed pathdown a bank to the fenced-in, protected plant.

As this one was in local tribal lands it meant the fee went directly to them, not the tour company, which of course is one of the ways to be an eco-traveller: leave as much money as possible in the communities you visit.

Posted from WordPress for Android

eco travel and carbon footprints

Eco travel and a recycled column: first published a couple of years ago (altho the photo is only a week old! Siam Safari on Phuket in Thailand)

Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher rate of passports-holders some 80% compared with the fewer than 20% of Americans.( the most recent figure I can find) I’m a travelophile; like Asians need rice, Italians need pasta, British their curry and we Kiwi crave our fish and chips – I need to travel.

When I travel I feel great, and as a traveller and freelance writer means I visit where I want to go to – looking for both stories and fun – I don’t want to go to the flavour-of-the-month, or be ticking off some list of must-go-to-places. However with global warming and our position here at the bottom of the world, means we use more carbon to get to our holiday destinations (and this is a burgeoning problem for our tourist industry with Europeans now being told to holiday at or near home – specifically saying Australia and NZ are too far to travel. So what can I do about the carbon footprint I leave whenever I travel?

Well to start I reduce my use of carbon at home. I haven’t owned a car since 1995 and use our big red buses, a bike, and my feet. Living in the city means I can walk to a supermarket and catch the eco-friendly free, yellow shuttle bus home with my backpack and the more eco-friendly reusable shopping bags. I also recycle all I can.

However this doesn’t clear our carbon emissions but we can help by using eco bulbs, energy efficient frigs and washing machines and when we travel take as little luggage as possible. The more we carry the more fuel the plane needs and of course the more emissions it produces … so leave that extra pair of shoes behind and take a paperback not a hardcover book.

Theoretically, we can also offset our personal carbon footprint by buying carbon credits – this has been in practice for a few years but you need to check them carefully to know it’s not just a dodgy company that wants to build a fortune. Air NZ is considering ways to collect carbon credits from their customers and I have no doubt that their scheme will be a good way of salving our conscience for the pollution we produce.

We can also support genuine eco-tourism companies and practise the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism? Briefly, it’s an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the community it’s in. Independent travellers are more likely being eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country – while those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home- giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge infrastructure costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.


Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience. Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful – a great eco experience. Yes the natural sights and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does remain with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave – taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws abound.

We think of New Zealand – and market our country – as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground. And are we really conservation minded or is it just the low population that produces less rubbish? What about visual pollution? Have we have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sights they must see, activities they should participate in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound has with Buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes so they can see wonderful pristine sights. It this an oxymoron? It’s not only a New Zealand problem. At Lake Louise in Canada, I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However I know that beside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

More recently I was shocked at the air pollution at the fabulous Taj Mahal. The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on some unimaginative travel agents and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in specific areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. What can I do about global warning and travel? Both at home and abroad I shop at locally-owned places; support companies that practice high standards; (e.g.  in New Zealand support Kiwi Host, Green Globe, YHA,) and don’t change my towels daily in motels or hotels.

Combining the universal codes of ‘ pack it in pack it out’ and ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’ along with getting off the well worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

%d bloggers like this: