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.

Food, weddings & accommodation at “the Duke”

The Duke of Marlborough is one of the most historic hotels in New Zealand. Russell, (formerly known as Kororareka) was one of the first European settlements in New Zealand, and “The Duke” here in Northland has featured significantly in its colourful history including holding New Zealand’s oldest pub license. (NOTE Sept 2012 – The Duke has just won the Hospitality Association “Best Country Hotel’ )

Seems that may have come about by having friends in high places! Having lunch with the current Duchess, Jayne Shirley, I’m told some of the history:

It seems the Duke started out in 1827 as ‘Johnny Johnston’s Grog Shop” – Johnny was an ex-convict and his grog shop served the hundreds of whalers and sailors and who had upset Darwin with their lawlessness.  In a marketing exercise the grog shop was renamed after the richest man in the world – The Duke of Marlborough.

After the 1840 Treaty (of Waitangi) was signed New Zealand’s first government was formed lawlessness began to be controlled and grog shops licensed – with friends in high places, Johnny got the first one –the ex-crim is now respectable!

The “duchess” joins us for lunch

So, as the Dukes slogan and T-shirt says, they have been ‘refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827’. With such a beautiful building in gorgeous surroundings, I’m not all surprised to hear the Duke is a popular wedding destination too.

The hotel was owned by Johnny’s’ family  until  1878 and the current owners (2 couples) bought it from a Frenchman (Arnould Kindt) who had renovated the accommodation areas significantly and lifted its star rating. The current owners are continuing to not only improve the hotel, but also integrating it into the community.

The menu, designed by their award-winning chef, focuses on fresh seasonal produce – and my fish meal was wonderful.

Seems Jayne and the other 3 owners fell in love with the Duke and the area while they were holidaying from Otago University and they’re now living their dream in Northland – they recently celebrated their first two years at “The Duke”. (May 2012)

Another big ‘thumbs-up’ I would give this place is for their ‘no surcharge’ policy on public holidays: well done.

See some of my photos of the Duke (below) and check out their website for more information. They are also on Facebook and Twitter (@DukeofM) if you want to get in touch with them via social media.

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You may like to check out a little more of the history of ‘the treaty’ mentioned earlier in this YouTube clip I was sent on Twitter

yet more photos

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Tutukaka is special: so is the food at Schnappa Rock

I had the special of the day, Hapuka with Moroccan-style baby potato, beans and a capsicum jus: and within hours I was tweeting I’d just had the best hapuka I’d had in years!  Where was I? Schnappa Rock Restaurant & Bar  at Tutukaka half an hour north-east of Whangarei, Northland, New Zealand and the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve: from my table I can see the Perfect Day  boat I’ll be taking in the morning for my trip to the islands.

Around me, as in most marine resorts, are a mix of people.  A group of young backpacker-type travellers have just left on a bus, while other independent travellers are enjoying drinks at the outside tables. Opposite me are two couples, the women  well dressed with perfectly coiffured hairstyles – ‘the rock’ accommodates us – and overheard  conversations let me know the fish I’m eating is not the only great thing on the menu!

A dessert of orange and almond cake, with raspberry coulis and yoghurt, completes my meal: perfect.

Nick Keene and Esther Eves have had this restaurant for some five years and pride themselves in serving fresh, local and sustainable food. The fish is line caught, local and fresh.

They describe the setting as “sub-tropical escapism” – being surrounded by punga (NZ’s native tree-fern) and lush hibiscus certainly helps  as we escape our daily lives and sink into a relaxed, coastal, holiday, vacation, mood.

I wander back to my accommodation (Oceans Resort Hotel) on the first day of my destination, two weeks in Northland, knowing I’ve already escaped my daily routine and I’m looking forward my time up here – it’s been a long, long time since I was in this special part of New Zealand.


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