Kayaking in Borneo

use IMG_3599 (1)Kayaking was not on my to-do list for my East Malaysian travels!

I’m not a skilled paddler as anyone who has read my book knows: the last chapter is about me having to be rescued while kayaking around Pulau Perhentian Kecil  off the northeastern coast of West Malaysia .

However this is on a river, with a guide, so after visiting the orang utans at the Semonggoh Centre I’m back in the van with Nikki from SEABackpacker heading for a river and some rainforest kayaking – starting in the little Bidayuh village of Bengoh.

McKenzie, our Semadang Kayaking guide ( his father started this family run business) is waiting for us and with our life-jackets on we go down a few steps to where our boats await us: our Diethelm Travel guide is coming too and he’s happy to be out in the country. We all have our own kayaks: McKenzie points out to me they are New Zealand-made.

The water is low and a few times my boat scrapes the bottom as we glide down this bush-lined tributary at the start of our five-hour, 12-K trip. It’s not long  before we reach the Semadang River which is where we may experience some grade 1 rapids – sometimes they are grade 2 but not this week! Grade one suits me just fine!

‘Look, there’s a crocodile’ say McKenzie – he’s teasing us. There are no crocs in this river and its a baby monitor lizard he’s pointing at. who ever says the bush is quiet and peaceful have never kept quiet enough to listen to the noise of birds in the lush vegetation.  We see many including kingfisher, swifts,  black and white wagtails, along with silent dragon flies and butterflies that hover around.

McKenzie our guide

McKenzie our guide

A couple of times we find rapids and both Nikki have our canoes spin around and briefly travel backwards but we stay on board! Our land-guide was not so successful and tipped out once. Mackenzie took these action shots – and gave us a CD with the photos at the end of the journey 🙂

Partway into our trip we stop for lunch in Danu village – a wonderful meal cooked by our guides sister. “She has been married for two years but no babies yet so she helps us ‘ he says.

As we wait for lunch we explore the village gardens with pepper and many herbs and fruits growing.

Pepper drying in the sun
Pepper drying in the sun

Lunch is great and provides my first taste of midin which I’d been told was a must-taste food. Pronounced “mee deen” it’s a jungle fern that only grows in Sarawak and remains crunchy when cooked. The thin, curly shoots are delicious and it’s often stir-fried with garlic, ginger, shrimp paste and chili – I’m instantly a fan.hh IMG_7619

Back on the water we pass more rainforest, sandy beaches and limestone hills that tower over us and all too soon we reach the family’s home village of Semadang. My back was sore from sitting in one position for ages but it was still sad to finish such a great journey.

use IMG_3654 (1)At this end-point we meet their grandmother whose home is the base for this family company and its good to know that money is being left in the villages along the way . . . perfect eco-travel.

Tutukaka: a perfect day at the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve

What a great name to go with the wonderful weather and destination: I’m booked for a day out with A Perfect Day. (And what a great topic for my 1002nd blog post on this site!)

I have taken a tablet for motion sickness but suspect it was not needed – but once you have had a couple of days with your head in a bucket on a yacht you, or rather I, am always cautious!

My Northland road-trip pauses for this day of cruising on the ocean – out to visit the Poor Knights Islands on the east coast of New Zealand’s Northland.  A marine reserve, these islands are  25km (15 miles) off shore and  have been rated by the famous Jacques Cousteau as one of the top-ten dive sites in the world.

The National Geographic magazine (Nov/Dec 2011) after looking at 99 coasts around the world, rates the Tutukaka coast as “top rated” which they say means ‘excellent shape; relatively unspoiled, likely to remain so” – praise indeed and from what I’ve seen, well-justified. (The other NZ coast rated was the Great Barrier Island)

The water is known for its clarity and an abundance of sea life, and with visibility of up to 30 metres underwater divers, and we snorkelers, will be able to see rich and diverse marine life.  I’m looking forward to putting a wetsuit on and checking it out once there. (I really only like the very warm sea water on the equator – so now you know what a baby I am!)

I’ve lost my voice over the past few days and, laughing at the pathetic little voice I have left, one of the staff suggests I may find it in Riko Riko, the world’s largest sea cave – 40% of it is below the water level. This claim has been lodged with the Guinness Book of Records and it’s an amazing 7,900,000 cubic feet with over a hectare of sea surface area inside the cave itself.

But back to the office and jetty where our journey starts:  I love the humour and laconic, laid-back kiwi-style to telling us how to be safe on board and at the islands – it’s this way of delivery that makes me remember it all easily.

The 24k-trip out to the islands at latitude 35.38 S, longitude 174.44 E doesn’t take long, and we’re soon helping zip up each other’s wet suits as we watch a huge floating island of gulls off the top end of the main island we’re moored at.

I slip into the water off the back of the boat and I’m soon enveloped in a school of fish who just part as they go past me. As this is a marine reserve they have no fear of people nor do they expect food from us – we are just another non-threatening creature in their salty environment. I love the sting ray that glide past … all the fish trapping their prey against the underwater cliff for easy catching.

When I’m back on board I name the fish I’ve seen in the various books they have in the library: terakihi; blue maomao; goat-fish; and trevally with their beautiful  yellow tail and markings – to name just a  few.  It’s not long before I head back into the water, just floating on the surface, watching my nature show.

On land (no-one can land on the islands) the Buller’s Shearwaters burrow in the side of the slopes to create their nests, and around the corner the beautiful, Cleopatra-eyed gannets are raising their young.

This has been a perfect day with perfect weather and for me, perfect snorkelling, while others used kayaks and as always on days such as this, it all goes too quickly – just another place to add to my I-must-go-back-to list.

It seems Captain Cook did not explain his choice of name for the island but we hear an interesting possible account involving a popular pudding!  We also hear some history of Maori occupation of the islands and information about the islands flora and fauna.

And no, I didn’t find my voice in the cave – and once back on land I return to my rental car and head for my next stop on this Northland road trip – maybe my voice is further north!

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