Kuching Wetlands National Park

Only 15 km from Kuching (and 5 km from the Damai Beach Resort (where I have stayed three times while at the magical, annual Rainforest World Music Festival) is the Kuching Wetlands National Park (2002) in the estuarine reaches of two rivers.

It’s also where I have twice planted mangrove trees as part of the “Greening of the Festival” which Sarawak Tourism does with all the festivals it hosts, helping  offset the carbon I’ve spent getting to Malaysian Borneo.

getting down and dirty while planting young mangrove
getting down and dirty while planting young mangrove

The park is a mostly saline mangrove system of many waterways and tidal creeks connecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park.

An important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species and it also has a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of bird life, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shore birds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork. In 2005 Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance.

Lessor Adjutant Stork (Parit Jawa)
Lessor Adjutant Stork (Parit Jawa)

To explore this park you need to travel on the river and a number of tour operators offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park.

To read more about eco-tourism in Malaysian Borneo see my small book (A love letter to Malaysian Borneo or, can this travel writer be green) which has been entered in the Malaysian Tourism 2015 Awards.



Proboscis monkey: more endangered than orangutans!  I hope one day people will see  one in the trees I've planted
Proboscis monkey: more endangered than orangutans! I hope one day people will see one in the trees I’ve planted

One turtle arrives in the middle of the night

“You are lucky I’m a pacifist’ I tell Gustino, from the Sarawak Tourism Board, “if  not, I would slap you!”

“Don’t worry”, he tells me, “many will come tonight”.  I remind him of the old saying about birds and how one in the hand is worth two in the bush – and that that specific turtle was the one in the hand. He laughs, “don’t worry, you will see them tonight” he reassures me.


We leave Sematan town for the national park
We leave Sematan town for the two hour trip to the national park

We are on Talang-Satang Island National Park which  is part of the Tanjung Datu National Park the smallest in Malaysia’s largest state : the tonight he’s talking about is the island where we will be in a few hours, Talang-Talang. (all National Parks are managed by Sarwawak Forestry)

He, as our host, was woken at about midnight by the ranger who was patrolling the beach to watch for landings. Perhaps they thought we were exhausted (true) after a week at the Borneo Music Expo and the Rainforest World Music Festival but seeing turtles lay eggs has been on my bucket-list for ages and I’m scared I’ll miss out!

no lifeguards here!
no lifeguards here!

Anyway, miss out that night I did but this is what I’m told:

  • it was her second egg laying visit in 10 days
  • she laid 104 eggs (80 last time)
  • the eggs were transferred immediately to a safe area (the monitor lizards must hate the rangers)
the eggs are buried at the same depth as the mother did .. but now safe from predators
the eggs are re-buried at the same depth as the mother did .. but now safe from predators

Despite being disappointed I did hear gibbons calling early in the morning – they remained out of sight but it was thrilling to hear them again, my first time had been in Sabah last year.

After breakfast we boarded our fishing boat for a one-hour trip to the island where I’ve been told “you will see them.”

See my next blog to see if I was able to tick off one of my bucket list items or, if I had to abandon my pacifist leanings and slap my host!

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Here is a pictorial journal of our stay on the island.

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Turtles studied and protected in National Marine Park, Malaysia

I arrive on an island (Talang-Talang) to see where turtles are being studied and protected in the Tanjung Datu National Park,  Sarawak. Malaysia.

This is just a heads up to let you know I will write this story within the next 24 hours … it was a very special two days and included watching turtles laying eggs and releasing babies that hatched that evening.

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The kiwitravelwriter, (Heather Hapeta) arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarwawak, Malaysian Borneo. photo by Gustino from Sarawak Tourism Board, who hotested me)
The kiwitravelwriter, (Heather Hapeta) arrives on Talang-Talang Island, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Photo by Gustino, from the Sarawak Tourism Board who hosted me.

Sason Gir: home to the Asiatic lions

Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary (Gujarat) is one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries of India. It’s also the only known home of the world-famous Asiatic Lions in Asia.

It covers some 1,412 sq km, and in November 2010 I had the privilege of being hosted by Gujarat Tourism  to their first International Bird Convention,  (search for ‘Gujarat’ to see other blogs I’ve  and written about this fabulous State) and after that, thanks to RAO Tours I explored parts of Gujarat I hadn’t seen such as the Sasan Gir

Mainly made up of dry deciduous forests with short and gnarled teak trees, thorn bushes and grassland, it’s obviously a perfect home to its (approx.) 360 lions.

During the jeep tour, my guide tells me there are some 450 plant species, 32 mammals, 310 birds, 24 reptiles and over 2,000 species of insects. It also has nearly 300 Leopards , 30,000 Spotted Deer, Antelopes, Striped Hyenas, Jackals, Nilgai, Sambar, Wild Boar, Ruddy Mongoose, Jungle Cats, Indian Porcupine, Gazelles and Crocodiles to name a few. Most of these provide the meals for the carnivores!

The birders in the group were thrilled with the bird population, (see Alan McBride ‘s diary) and even I, a non-birder could tick off a number in my book of lists!

The jeep safari’s almost guarantees a lion sighting – although, as I was in the last jeep, I was upset not to get good lion photos. However, like many missed photos, the image of the original remains firm in my memory.

I stayed at the Vanvaso Resortand loved it so can well recommend them: it has been built with care and attention to detail – combining nature with luxury accommodation . I loved my bedroom and the bathroom was a combo  of indulgence and the jungle ambiance.

I also visited the Lion Safari Camp where I had a tasty BBQ meal and was fascinated with the Siddis who trace their ancestry to Africa. They are believed to have come to India as mercenaries, slaves and labour. Here in Gir, there are villages of the Siddis, who are well-known for their dances and ability to live with the lions.

Ranjit Sinh Parmer ( CEO Palaces of India) joins us on the jeep

Enjoy this slide show of some of my photos from the area: as always, copyright to all my photos are owned by me

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Southern Alps of New Zealand – Arthur’s Pass

braided riverSouthern Alps Magical National Park.

It takes me less than three hours to travel from plains to mountains; sea to snow-fed rivers; city to village; from current time to the ancient forests of Gondwanaland. (The Jurassic period super-continent from which New Zealand separated some 85 million years ago.)

Unlike the pre-European Maori who walked or early settlers in Cobb and Co. coaches, I travelled by the TranzAlpine train to Arthur’s Pass -the train that leaves Christchurch daily for the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

Sharing the carriage were tourists from many parts of the world. Some were ready to test their stamina and muscles in the Arthur’s Pass National Park, while a family group were day-tripping, with five hours to explore the village, and me, looking for some rest and recreation.

Two popular walks near the village are The Devil’s Punchbowl and the Bridal Veil Falls.

The Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall with its impressive 131-metre drop is an easy one-hour return journey through stands of majestic white-limbed mountain beech trees. As you approach the waterfall, clouds of spray rise like mist, just as one might imagine the devil’s steaming cauldron does.

The other easy, yet even more beautiful walk, takes you to the Bridal Veil Falls. Although the falls are viewed from a distance, the walk itself is wonderful. Colours abound; crisp greys to soft emerald, or lime greens nestle alongside bright reds and orange. Numerous native ferns, lichens, trees, and shrubs seem to invite one to stop, admire, and record their beauty, while the piwakawaka (fantail) that accompany you are an absolute joy.

All through the village, population 55, and surrounding areas, are the sounds of birds. Bellbirds with their dulcet tones are so different to the kea with its loud calls as it glides loftily above all, displaying its orange under-wing plumage to us. The occasional gull calls from overhead too, reminding me what a narrow land New Zealand is.

Walking beside beech trees it is easy to believe that the forests of Gondwanaland looked just like these South Island beech forests. Fossils of beech found in Antarctica and descendants that survive in Chile, Australia and Papua New Guinea support this theory.

Brothers Arthur and Edward Dobson rediscovered the pass in 1864. Maori had used it as an east-west route to collect or trade Pounamu, the greenstone from which the south island is named, Te Wai Pounamu. The brothers named it Bealey Flat and finding the route made it easier to travel from coast to coast.

Some sixty years later travel became even easier with the railway and Otira tunnel, signalling the end of the coach era. Tunnellers huts, from early 1900’s, remain in the village linking past to the present. Originally unlined, austere dwellings, they were sold on the tunnel’s completion in 1923.

Some of the pioneering characters of Arthur’s Pass who bought these cottages includes the family of Guy and Grace Butler. One of New Zealands’ foremost landscape artists, Grace has works hanging in many places including the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch. Along with Guy who, according to his granddaughter Jennifer Barrer “gave up his legal practice to carry his wife’s easel,” Grace ran what was the first hostel in the village. Now called the Outdoor Education Centre, its front lawn was the site of the first skiing in the area!

I was fortunate to meet Jennifer who showed me through her ex-tunnellers holiday home that still has many pieces of the original furniture. Jennifer, an author, including a book about her grandmother, told me of her early days in Arthur’s Pass. They used to travel from Christchurch in a Ford V8 to restore the cottage her parents had bought; she treasured her times there. Jennifer loves alpine plants and had a magnificent flowering clump of the wonderful alpine daisy on display.

Arthur’s Pass National Park, created 1901, has 114,357 hectares within its boundaries and both tourists and locals appreciate its variety of tramps and some 28 public huts. If you plan to stay in some of the remote huts, tickets, or an annual hut pass, must be purchased from the Department of Conservation before your trip.

When on any walk in New Zealand mountains, remember to fill in an Intentions Card and leave it at the local DOC office, don’t travel alone, take extra food as well as everything you need to ensure your safety.

Other activities in Arthur’s Pass include skiing at Temple Basin, while the village itself is a good base for exploring Cave Stream Scenic Reserve with its 362-metre cave and interesting limestone outcrops.

Accommodation ranges from the YHA, backpacker hostels to motels, holiday homes, or bed and breakfast. Food covers the same budget to moderate price range. (See your local visitors’ information centre for details)

So whether it’s the proximity to ski-fields and terrific tramps, (the kiwi word for hiking!) or just a place to chill out with your holiday reading, Arthur’s Pass must be added to your holiday destination list!

great resort in thailand

Indigo Pearl. Nai Yang Beach and National Park Phuket

I stayed here in February 09 – an experience as rare as an indigo pearl – which is evidently very, very rare!

The architecture and the ‘found art’ is inspired by Phukets’ mining past and built in an old tin mining area.outdoor bath indigo pearl

Attention to detail stunning: toothpicks in a bolt-shaped container, blackened stainless steel and brass rivets; metal tables or metal covered in the ‘tin mine’ restaurant with cutlery open-ended spanner, staff aprons like blacksmiths one

my breakfast is being prepared -- yummy
my breakfast is prepared — yummy

Large open walled restaurant and no matter how many in it seemed spacious with lots of seating areas off the ‘main’ one  different theme each night as well as the usual fare

The pools are salt water, a great conservation on an island that has little fresh water.

more details from  www.indigopearl.com



indigo pearl pool

mountain biking New Zealand in a national park

Mountain biking starts on Abel Tasman National Park track

Date:  30 April 2009

Abel Tasman National Park’s Gibb’s Hill Track this week becomes the first Nelson national park track that can be mountain biked with mountain bikers able to ride it for 5 months from Friday, 1 May.

Mountain biking is being trialled during the winter visitor season, 1 May to 1 October, over 2 years on the track that runs across the park between Totaranui and Wainui Bay. Monitoring will take place to determine whether or not mountain biking should be allowed to continue on the track beyond the 2-year trial period.

The move follows a change to General Policy for National Parks which now allows mountain biking in national parks on routes specified in national park management plans. Mountain biking provisions were included in a new Abel Tasman National Park Management Plan that came into effect late last year.

DOC Golden Bay Area Manager John Mason said mountain bikers could just ride the 10-km Gibbs Hill Track or make a 23-km round trip by also cycling on roads between Wainui and Totaranui. 

“We hope mountain bikers will enjoy this first riding opportunity in Abel Tasman National Park.

“Mountain biking is only permitted in the off-peak winter season when fewer people are walking the track. Mountain bikers need to adhere to the mountain bikers’ code which includes requirement to show respect and consideration to walkers.

“Monitoring during the trial period will assess mountain biking impacts including environmental effects and any impacts on other people’s use and enjoyment of the track. If the impacts are found to be minimal and acceptable then mountain biking will be allowed to continue on the track.”

The Department is also reminding mountain bikers that biking is not allowed on the Heaphy Track and other Kahurangi National Park tracks.

“Mountain biking is illegal on the Heaphy Track and elsewhere in Kahurangi National Park under park bylaws now in place. People can be prosecuted under the bylaws for mountain biking in the national park.

“Options for mountain biking in Kahurangi National Park are presently being considered in a partial review of the park’s management plan. What mountain biking can take place in the park won’t be established until the review is completed and a new reviewed management plan is in place specifying the mountain bike access allowed.

“The public will have the chance to comment on proposals for mountain biking in the park when a draft reviewed management plan is released for public submissions, expected to be before the middle of this year. Public submissions will be taken into account in preparing a final draft reviewed plan for consideration by the Nelson/Marlborough Conservation Board and then the New Zealand Conservation Authority.”

Additional information

Gibbs Hill Track can be cycled in either direction. It is graded as an intermediate-level mountain biking track. No more than eight riders are allowed in a group. Mountain biking is not allowed on other tracks in the area.

Mountain biking is also now allowed year-round on a short section of another Abel Tasman National Park track. The Moa Park Track can be cycled, between the turnoff on the Rameka Track – which is legal road and currently used for mountain biking – and the Wainui Track turnoff. This section of track links with a mountain bike track being developed in the adjoining Canaan Downs Scenic Reserve, providing a round trip.

The current Kahurangi National Park Management Plan came into effect in 2001. Under the General Policy for National Parks in place at the time, mountain bikes were categorised as vehicles which were prohibited in national parks except on formed roads. MORE INFO 

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