The world is tranquil at the top of the Kalimantan lookout. Swirling mist envelops us in an eerie silence, occasionally breaking up to reveal swathes of lush jungle below.  Electric blue dragonflies hover on fragrant orchids. Wild deer bark their calls in the dark rainforest around us.

 We have struggled over an hour along a muddy, slippery, leech-infested path that runs along the border between Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo.

Even if you could veer off the path into the impenetrable jungle, you would lose your bearings within a few metres.

 Few travellers venture to this part of Sarawak. We are the only guests at the Borneo Highlands Resort which advertises itself as a golf resort and nature lover’s paradise, only ninety minutes from the capital Kuching.

Wildlife spotting is big here. Sarawak’s forests are some of the most biodiverse on the planet with a mind-boggling variety of plants and animals including the rare clouded leopard, the civet cat, bearded pig, monkey, hornbill, pit viper and scaly anteater. About 70% of Borneo remains forested although logging, mining and palm oil plantations are ongoing threats.

 

Sarawak’s pristine 750 km coastline also offers incredible wildlife-watching opportunities. Head down to the Damai Peninsula and Bako National Park to find dense jungle tumbling onto soft, sandy beaches and the sparkling waters of the South China Sea. 

We embark on a sunset mangrove cruise in the Kuching Wetlands National Park – a network of rivers near the ocean. The backdrop is the foreboding Mt Santubong where a thick cloud seems to linger permanently on its 810 metre high peak. It is a warm, balmy evening with dramatic indigo-coloured storm clouds gathering overhead. Our guide warns us “if the lightning gets too close we will have to abandon our expedition”.  I wonder if being hit by a lightning bolt is covered by our travel insurance?

As our boat chugs along the edge of the mangrove forest, armies of shiny blue crabs scuttle across the mud flats. Without warning, a cheeky crab-eating macaque monkey darts from behind a mangrove tree to grab and chomp on an unfortunate crab. Above us sea eagles soar in the thermals while rare Irrawaddy dolphins dive for fish next to the boat. 

Our eagle-eyed guide points urgently and whispers “Look it is the Dutchman” – the colloquial name for the comical Proboscis Monkey with his huge red nose and rotund belly.  The Proboscis Monkey is one of the world’s rarest primates and only found on the island of Borneo. This large male sprawls nonchalantly only metres from us in a low mangrove tree, chomping on leaves and emitting the occasional honk. Youngsters bound and crash in the tree- tops around him, to his obvious disdain. Our cameras work overtime.

As darkness falls we see the glowing eyes of crocodiles stalking their prey and iridescent fireflies flashing on the water’s edge. Just as our boat returns to port, the heavens open with sheets of lightning, crashes of thunder, swaying trees, and rain that lashes our skin. We crouch together under a tarpaulin, relieved that we are no longer out on the open water.

If it’s the “Man of the Forest” you want to see, then your best bet is the 650-hectare Semenggoh Nature Reserve, forty minutes south of Kuching. This forested sanctuary is home to twenty-eight endangered orangutans, some of whom have been rescued from the wildlife trade or from the destruction of their rainforest homes.

 Visitors are permitted to walk to the feeding platforms at 9am and 3pm where tropical fruits are left out for the orangutans to eat.

When we arrive we are mesmerised by the antics of an orphaned baby swinging off a vine with one hand, and eating a banana with the other hand. His older sister watches protectively over him, occasionally ambling down to gorge herself on the colourful fruits. 

Orangutan sightings are not always guaranteed but it is still worth visiting the sanctuary. You can wander through the jungle and browse the informative museum that follows the progress of each orangutan born or rehabilitated at the reserve.

 It is our last day in Sarawak. The lure of the jungle entices us to book an 11km kayaking trip along the Semadang River which meanders through forested limestone hills an hour from Kuching.

Our enthusiastic local guide, Beko from Paradesa Borneo Tours accompanies us as we paddle and glide under the shady rainforest canopy. After heavy rain overnight, the swollen river carries us gently along. The jungle is alive with the throbbing of cicadas broken only by the occasional ear-cracking quarrel of monkeys high in the tree tops. In the muggy heat we marvel at thick bamboo stands, hidden limestone caves, giant rainforest snails, little villages and rope suspension bridges dangling high above the river. We peer into carnivorous pitcher plants and jump under cold waterfalls. Brief but challenging rapids leave us soaked but exhilarated.

With my jungle dreams fulfilled I know I can always return to this unexplored corner of Asia.  There will be no shortage of breathtaking peaks to climb, secluded beaches to discover, shy wildlife to encounter, meandering rivers to explore and laid-back locals to chat with. If you yearn for adventure and tranquillity amongst natural beauty then I may see you there.

 

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Liz Noble is a Sydneysider with a passion for photography and a love of nature, dogs and adventure. Her favourite trips include exploring Africa, caravanning around Europe, backpacking in India, sailing the Aegean and immersing herself in Asia. Despite travelling to more than 50 countries, Liz is always planning her next escape – usually somewhere hot and exotic!

She runs a blog, TheEntranceTravel.com, which showcases the beautiful coast north of Sydney, Australia.