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Borneo, jungles, beaches and wildlife; a photographers dream. And we are expecting an experience like no other.

Borneo, the world’s third largest island. About 3 x size NZ and headed-off by Greenland and New Guinea. It is best known for its ancient 165 million years they say), bio-diverse  rain-forest (15,000 plant species) , home to and incredible array of wildlife  (over 1,4000 animal species) including the man of the forest, orangutans. But that is only the start.

Leaving Auckland incurs about a 40 minute  delayed departure on 8 May. That’s traveling for you, and the first of a series of minor hiccups.

We arrive on May 8th. The Tawau forecast is for thunder storms, we fly though and above cloud  and mist from KL the predicted weather does not eventuate.

Looking down on expanse of oil palm plantation through a break in cloud as we arrive.

Our bags though decide they want a holiday on their own and head off  somewhere else. We’ve sent the search party out hoping to find, apprehend and return asap. Let’s hope, at least I have my cameras.

We are met by Zahari our naturalist photographer guide at airport 40 minutes late, but he turns out to be the nice guy we expected. He gets us to the Shervinton for or first night. A “flash on-the-outside but rough-as-guts on the inside joint”. Guess that’s the standard for the next 3 weeks but we didn’t come here for the hotels.

Tawau is a typically Asian city but with less motorbikes. The 3rd largest city in Sabah – Malaysian Borneo.

Earning a living. Row of umbrella protected shoe repair and second hand sales operators on street in Tawau and in local food market below.

From Tawau we head to Semporna and our first resort. Lato Lato is a built on stilts resort that looks spectacular as we approach by boat. It touches no land but the shallow coral seabed where the stilts made out of slim tree trunks (I’m told they are ironwood, never rot and as hard as hell, but never-the less a little spindly looking) a bit like old fashioned fence post.

Through the chalet window at Lato Lato looks relaxing and wonderful, but this belies the underlying story.

We check in and head to our room. Kind of unprepared for this we were. The room is rustic, but without charm, the bathroom has a dunny, no seat, a bucket and ladle as a substitute for a shower. a  tap, a shower-head for appearances sake cos it ain’t plumbed. But something even more interesting, as we walked the gangplank, so to speak, to get here I noticed the external plumbing and wondered where the waste went. Looked specifically at ours and it appeared to terminate about where the tidal level then. We did a wee test, flushed the loo, and voila into the tide she flowed.

Hmm, went back to our guide and explained that we would not stay in that room and explained the environmental concerns we had. All denied, until we said we would photograph another test. Change of mind occurs, oh yes you right comes an admission, the tradie hasn’t quite finished comes the excuse, we’ll shift you.

Mattered not really, because it wasn’t long before someone else was checked into that room. uuggh. Temps are about 30+f, humidity about 500 and only a fan to cool us during any time we spent in our room.

Tall palm trees on one of the Semporna islands we visit.

Children of sea-gypsies we pass visiting some minute tropical Semporna islands see us approach and paddle out in their little boats in hope of receiving some gifts.

Sea-gypsie mother and two small children peer out at us from window of their boat off a Semporna Marine Park island.

Decided to check out a day early from this place, the Lato Lato Resort.

Idyllic tropical sunrise from Lato Lato Resort, on the morning we leave, Sabah Borneo,

Our guide had to find somewhere else. we end up at  an expensive but very nice Hawag Danum Valley Resort in the middle of the jungle.

It’s expensive, but lovely. aircon and a nice clean room. It’s a package deal, so we get their guides to handle us for our stay. Sagely, we’re advised to buy some leach socks.

Dumb Kiwi’s that we are we put these big baggy things on, as you do, under your trousers, then to to meet our guide who asks if we have leach socks. proudly we say yes, pull up our trouser legs and display them. Laughs from our guide, and no doubt others standing around as its explained you put them on the outside and tie them below the knee, well we had that right).

Off we set, very soon to learn the importance of these things. By the time we get home the blood sucking leaches had beaten the socks and found ways to attach themselves all over us. Deprived of lots of blood and being in a place with no alcohol (that’s a blood substitute I’d always believed) we had to re-calibrate our expectations.

Although we spend 2.5 days being leached every which way (and i mean that) this was to turn out to  be a beaut experience.

Dinner then a night drive. Bumping along a dusty on back of a ute with a couple of spotlight wielding spotters and our guide we look for critters under the trees, in the trees and flying about.

Venomous wrangler pit viper in Borneo in rain-forest, Sabah.Danum Valley.

Brown wood owl high in tree in Borneo Rainforest, Danum Valley, Sabah

File-eared tree frog in Borneo rainforest at in Danum Valley, Sabah.

There’s a long story to be told here, but that best left for a separate blog, or another time. It involves our guide, a few lies, and the police. enough said, but it becomes important to dump him.

Withe the help or a very nice Linda at Borneo Refugia, we are put in touch with  www.bikeandtours.com , Simon and Tisha. Our luck changes. More on that next blog.