Borneo is the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea, and is divided among three separate countries: Indonesia, Malaysia and the Sultanate of Brunei. The Indonesian portion of Borneo is known as Kalimantan and the Malaysian part is divided into two states, Sabah and Sarawak. Our trips are based in Sabah and Sarawak, the two Malaysian states. Borneo is bisected by the equator and rainfall in most areas is high, 4000 mm – 5000 mm per annum, falling generally during two monsoon seasons between October – August, although this rain rarely affects travel and activities.
This high rainfall, along with daily temperatures in the lowland areas of 30-32°C and near constant humidity, has created a treasure trove of natural wealth. With over 15,000 species of plant and equally impressive fauna diversity the island is quite rightly recognised as a world bio-diversity hot spot. In one mere 52 acre survey site in the Lambir Hills Park in Sarawak an incredible 1,175 species of trees were indentified, more than the combined totals of the whole of Europe and North America. All the latest evidence suggests that there is much still be discovered and classified. The forests are the oldest climatically undisturbed tropical forests on Earth and also the tallest with giant emergents rising up to nearly 90 metres.
It would be difficult to overstate the attraction of Malaysia for anyone who appreciates the natural world. Its primal forests, ranging from shoreline mangrove to mountaintop oak, are of the sort that most of the world now knows only in myth. Although Malaysia's size is similar to that of Norway, natural trees and forests cover almost three quarters of the land, an area equivalent to almost the entire United Kingdom. One can walk for hundreds of miles in Borneo under a continuous canopy of green, marvelling at an abundance of plant and animal species equalled by no other location in the entire world.
This endlessly varied environment shelters a host of the world's rarest and most remarkable animals: the Sumatran Rhinoceros, the Clouded Leopard and Malaysian Tiger, the Sun Bear, the Monitor Lizard, and the Orangutan, or "man of the forest," are just a few examples. Borneo's forests are also home to Southeast Asia's highest peak (Mt Kinabalu), as well as to the world's most extensive natural caverns in Mulu National Park. The forest itself is one of the most ancient on the planet, far older than the equatorial forests of the Amazon or the Congo. It has been the home of nomadic forest peoples for tens of thousands of years, and ancient civilizations have flourished as well as disappeared in its vastness. Legends abound, and archaeologists have only just begun their efforts here.
Its people are equally as diverse with nearly 200 local tribal languages and dialects spoken from the coastal areas to the forested interiors, and evidence has been found in caves of human existence on the island for 40,000 years. With only 16 million total inhabitants population density is low; despite this, few areas remain totally free of human influence, the exceptions being remote interior regions along the border with Indonesia and virgin forest reserves such as the Maliau Basin in Sabah. Once feared as head-hunting warriors, the peoples of Borneo are now peaceful and respectful and the island composes a diverse and tolerant number of religious faiths.
The locals of Borneo are some of the most trustworthy and welcoming you will meet in the world. It is unlikely anyone will give you the hard sell nor rip you off, though of course if buying at street stalls then a little bargaining is part of the experience. If you are stopped by a local, more often than not it will be a chance to pass the time and have a chat - most locals have at least a basic level of spoken English or want to simply practice – don’t miss this opportunity to engage yourselves.
Street crime and begging is practically non-existent but, like anywhere at home, be wary when leaving cash machines and normal levels of awareness should be upheld.
Borneo boasts the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea, Mount Kinabalu, and its flora and fauna is as diverse as its many tribal, religious and ethnic groups. Whilst the unrelenting march of deforestation and new oil palm plantations are a stark reminder of what could be the islands future, for now it remains one of the world’s great adventure and wildlife destinations.
Mt Kinabalu is a stunning mountain to climb, at 4095 metres. It is one of the youngest mountains in the world, only ten million years old, rising out of the grand-daddy of all rainforests. In actual fact Mt Kinabalu is a batholith, a vast mound of granite that rose through a crack in the surface of the earth, and it was once covered by glaciers and sheets of ice. Visiting the craggy peaks on the summit plateaux is an experience in itself, a rock climbing paradise of fluted granite peaks and gullies and scoured surfaces . Shaped like an enormous U, the great 1800 metre deep gully in the middle is called Low’s Gully and is one of the great expeditions in the world.
Two hours from Kota Kinabalu rises the majestic Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South-East Asia. The hundreds of square kilometres encompassed by its slopes, from sea level to the jagged stone edge marking its summit, form the Kinabalu National Park. Within this area of some 4300 square kilometres is found some of the richest flora in the world, ranging from lowland forest to the mountain oak, rhododendron, and conifer forests of the middle altitudes and eventually to the alpine meadows and stunted, windswept bushes of the summit.
Kinabalu's slopes possess a wealth of plant growth and a large variety of birds, and much of the climb's interest and beauty lies in tracing the transitions from one ecosystem to the next as one reaches ever higher altitude. For visitors with more time to spend in Kinabalu, there are graded paths leading through rich lowland forest to mountain rivers, waterfalls, and bat caves.