Exploring the Jungle on the Kinabatangan River in Borneo

We arrived at Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge about 3.15pm and had no time, other than to check in, get to our room, drop our gear, apply sun screen lotion, get a hat and we were out for the first of our adventure activities at 4pm. There were 38 guests (18 had just booked in) at the river lodge and we all piled into four different river boats and set off down river.

There had been a lot of monsoonal rain in the area over the past few months and the river was swollen and running very fast. Jonathon was our guide and piloted the boat. Jonathon showed enormous skill, most of the time, there were a few scrapes, to dodge around the numerous floating tree branches and other such flotsam being swept downstream.

One of the many logs on the river

We were in search of Orangutan in the wild, but seriously we never thought we would actually see one. Jonathan was very diplomatic about our chances and said, ‘I will try my best to find one’. There are about a dozen different lodges along the river and they all had their boats out on the river in search of the fabled wild beast, the Orangutan.

There was a sense of excitement as we slowly cruised down the river searching the trees along the river bank for, well for anything alive and moving really.

Cruising down the river

To our sudden astonishment Jonathon excitedly hissed, ‘there is a large male’ and he accelerated towards the river bank. This all happened so quickly that no one could get their camera into position to get the ‘money shot’, but we clearly saw a very large male Orangutan high in one tree and then, within a second, he scurried down the tree trunk and was gone. We were the only boat to witness this and we all had a sense of privilege for what we saw and appreciation for Jonathon’s keen eye to see it.

We were ready now for the next brief opportunity that may, or may not, come our way, and cameras were now poised. Whenever a monkey or a bird was sighted the lodge boats would all descend on the location and there would be a little jostling for the best camera positions. The Long-Tailed Macaque (monkey) was very prominent along the river bank and there were times when we would see more than twenty of these perched in trees or jumping from branch to branch. In fact there were times when we came across twenty or so of these Macaques sitting obediently in the trees watching the river below.

This gave me the sense that perhaps these Macaques were on a Monkey Tour themselves, having paid 30 peanuts (AUD$6.45) for the opportunity to view the humans. I could just imagine the monkey tour guide saying, ‘if we are lucky and very quiet, we may see a tin can come floating down the river with a troop of humans perched in the tin can. These humans will be multi-coloured, with blonde, brown, grey, red and even NO hair, they have varying skin colours, these humans like to adorn themselves with brightly coloured material even the males, they wear silly objects on their head and black bands around their eyes. They will all be holding a small object in front of their eyes which they appear to be continually admiring and praying to. Oh look, here comes a tin can full of humans now!!! How lucky are we to have witnessed them in their natural habitat!!!’ I can just imagine it!!!

Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you happy to see me? Haha

We all wanted to see a Proboscis monkey – well we did see them, lots of them. What the hell is a Proboscis monkey you are saying!!! Well a Proboscis monkey is no ordinary monkey, it is the superhero of the monkey world.  The Proboscis monkey is only found in Borneo. It is a very large monkey. The Proboscis monkey has several main characteristics; firstly, it has a pot belly. Secondly, the male has an extremely large nose and the female has a distinctive pointy nose.

Photo: Courtesy of AliExpress

With its large nose and beer belly the male Proboscis looks as though he would be right at home on the lounge with a beer, watching the footy!! The male Proboscis monkey reaches legendary superhero status due to the fact it has a bright red penis that is continually erect. I would love to know what leaves these guys eat!!

In full view!!! Photo: Courtesy singe nasique

The Proboscis monkey kept us entertained for hours – err, that entertainment had nothing to do with the erect penis, no the Proboscis monkey is very active and jumps incredible distances from branch to branch. There is a sense of showing off, males show off you question, as when one male hurtles from one branch to another, then another male will soon follow the leap but with a greater degree of difficulty. It is all very entertaining, getting a photo though of the nose and err, a Proboscis in mid leap is difficult.

A female with her baby

The Proboscis monkey also has a rather advanced communication vocabulary and appears to have different sounds, with different meaning, that the other Proboscis monkeys understand and respond to. They are also exceptional swimmers and can even swim underwater. The Proboscis monkey co-exists with the Orangutan.

We were cruising down the river when we saw practically all the river lodge boats squashed under one tree – yep, a female Orangutan had been sighted sitting peacefully high in a tree watching the river float by.

Let’s check this out!!!

What are you looking at ?haha

Now I agree we all want to see the orangutan in the wild and we should all have equal opportunity to see the said orangutan, but one river lodge guide pulled out a green laser and pointed it on the orangutan. I could see no reason to do this as the orangutan was clearly visible, it wasn’t moving and was content to have the boats circling below – so why shine it with a laser!!

Cruising along the river was outstanding. It was tranquil. We headed back to the Lodge straight into the setting sun, with Di’s camera was on overtime clicking away I thought it was going into meltdown.

The sky then did one of those strange auroras that the sky can sometimes do. There were these straight light blue streaks in the sky – it was all happening – WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We arrived at the lodge after dark and went straight to dinner, which was a lovely buffet. The nights’ fun though was far from over. At 8pm we had a night time jungle hike to endure. We were all warned that the track was muddy (monsoon rains to blame) and we should wear Wellington Boots (Gum Boots for you Australians) on the hike. The idea was that we would wander around in the dark and see rare animals at night. The reality was a lot different. The mud came up to the top of the Wellington Boots, you spent more time ensuring your boot was not sucked off your foot into the quagmire than you did looking up at the trees.

Before we departed on the night hike both Di and Dom came down with a strange case of ‘Muditis’ (a severe reluctance to walk in muddy water) and opted out of the night hike. John, Jane and I of course made the effort to struggle through the mosquito infested quicksand and emerge with a smile on our face and proclaim what a great time we were having. We saw NOT ONE bird or animal during the hours sludge walk. Jonathan tried his best to find something to distract us from the mud seeping over the top of our Wellington Boots, but all his efforts were in vain.

We made new friends in Alan and Lindsay and the five of us agreed that we deserved a beer or three for our efforts. After such a marvellous day the beer went down well. I stumbled back into our room after 10.30pm and Di innocently said ‘wow that was a long walk’ – ‘go to sleep Di’, as I sought the shower to try to get some of the mud, not only off me, but off my clothes – yep I showered fully clothed – did I make muddy mess in the bathroom that Di would be proud of in the morning, absolutely!!!!!!!!!!!

The next morning we all had to be up and at the jetty at sunrise for an early morning pre-breakfast adventure on the river again. The ‘neat freak’ Di, saw the muddy mess in the bathroom and I simply said I did not have enough words to explain, so she needed to move on and get over it. It is what it is.

Drying of the muddy clothes

Our cabin

The river was magnificent at this time of the morning, with monkeys still scurrying around in the tree tops and all the birds out in force seeking their breakfast. I, not being a ‘bird’ man, tended to see only a bird every time the others saw a Kingfisher, Hornbill or Darter, et al and took photo after photo.  The hours’ trip up the river was a perfect way to start the day.



A wonderful buffet breakfast followed and lots of Baked Beans on toast were consumed to enable us the firepower to make it through the long arduous day ahead. At 9am we had a three hour jungle hike scheduled to an inland lake.

Di and Dom seemed to have overcome their mystery bout of the ‘Muditis’ virus from the day before. When unfortunately, just before we set off on the hike, they were both struck down once again by this wicked virus and could not partake in the pleasure of trudging through the knee deep muddy boggy marsh for 3 hours in the intense jungle heat.

The trail we hiked didn’t have as much mud as the night before, but when the mud came, it was a sloppy sluggish challenge.

When slugging through the mud you could see the determination on each of our group, NOT to be the first to fall flat on your face in the mud. We had been split into groups, with our group being the ‘older’ group, and others in the younger group. There were only 18 people still at the lodge with another 20 or so checking in during the afternoon. The schedule is all very well run with the guests kept very busy, Di and Dom excluded, of course.

We didn’t see anything thrilling on the walk, though we did see mushrooms that the Chinese love to eat (the Chinese eat everything not nailed down), millipedes, spiders, some birds, ……….. and what may have been a monitor lizard, if you use your imagination. The mushroom was actually called the Lindsay Mushroom, so of course Lindsay was honoured. The lake was really good, what we could see of it. The problem was the jetty at the lake was damaged and we could not walk out to the jetty point to see the whole lake. Jonathan said an elephant feeding by the shoreline had broken the jetty – it made for a good story.

John and Jane with our guide Jonathon and David

Lindsay and Al with David and Jonathon

Jane is a musician and you know when someone sings a song and then it gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day, or days? Well Jane sang a song that stuck. ‘In the Jungle, the mighty Borneo jungle, the Orangutan sleeps tonight’, she sang. She then did the screechy catchy chorus part, ‘A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh…’ and for the hike we all could not stop ourselves from singing this over and over and over………………. Thank you Jane!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The best thing about hiking is eating lots and lots when you complete the hike. On our return to the Lodge, lunch was served and we ‘pigged out’ on another marvellous buffet meal. We then had three hours to kill whilst the next lot of guests booked in and then we were back on the river at 4pm. This was a perfect time for us hikers to catch up on some sleep or for Dom and Diane to wake up!!

I spent this rest period chatting to Alan and Lindsay, who were our neighbours at the lodge. These two are English but have lived in France for twenty years. They have both travelled extensively and I was enthralled to hear of their journeys, especially through the 1980’s, and you just learn so much from others.

For the 4pm river boat expedition those of us who had been at the lodge for 24 hours felt like seasoned jungle veterans as we strolled down to the jetty to our boat, the new arrivals were all unsure what to do you see – follow us we said!!!

The afternoon was perfect again with the sun shining and a slight cooling breeze. We again saw lots of Macaques, Proboscis and loads of birds. We had been cruising around for a while and a male Orangutan was sighted in a tree near to where the female was sighted the previous day – it appears love is in the air. The male sat quietly eating and he had built a ‘nest’ in the trees nearby. At first the female was not seen but later she was seen off in the distance – perhaps preparing for her date.

The Orangutan is predominantly a tree dweller and only rarely ventures to the ground below. They can build two or three nests in the trees each day. The nests are basically branches, twigs and leaves, pretty much like a bird will make. I felt blessed at being able to witness these magnificent creatures in the wild. ‘A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, in the jungle the mighty Borneo jungle, the Orangutan sleeps tonight’!!

We returned to the lodge just as night was falling and a cloud cover had descended. Dinner was very satisfying again and the dirty ‘Muditis’ seemed to have spread throughout those who were in their second night at the lodge. The rain fell softly and all the new arrivals at the lodge had their Wellington Boots on, their rain jackets, hats and flashlights and waited eagerly for the guides to take them on the 8pm night hike. Where were the seasoned two night jungle veterans you ask? In the bar of course!!!!!!!!!!!

The beer tasting great with Jane, Dom, Al, Lindsay, me and John.

As the new arrivals set off on their night hike we did encourage them on their way with tales about all the wonderful creatures we saw the night before. An hour later the ‘first dayers’ came lumbering back, they were wet, they were muddy, they saw absolutely no wildlife, but just like us the night before, they were so happy they had the experience – ONCE! The bar closed and we talked on about all things travel, you do meet some wonderful people travelling.

The next morning I heard the gong sound calling us for the sunrise river cruise. Di rolled over and said ‘is it raining?’ ‘A little’ I said. ‘I’m not going’, she responded and rolled back over. I just grabbed my rain jacket and traipsed down to the jetty. All the first dayers were there, but there were no ‘second day jungle veterans’, not even the tenacious Jane – my own kind had abandoned me!!!!

There was just Jonathon and I and off we went on a first class private tour. Jonathan asked if I wanted to go looking for crocodiles – ‘struth of course I did, ‘Dundee’ is my middle name.’ Amazingly we had cruised about five minutes from the lodge when Jonathan pointed to the water and said ‘watch.’ I gazed at the water near the river bank where he pointed and I saw the water ripple. I continued to stare and then a crocodile snout broke the surface and then submerged again. We continued to follow and then the snout, head, body and tail broke the surface. The snout and a lash of the tail were next. The crocodile was then gone.

Jonathon said that when the river was lower, the crocodiles can be seen easily, as they sun themselves on the river banks. With the river being so swollen there were no river banks. This made it hard to see the crocodiles. Many of the crocodiles do not like swimming against the strong currents all the time, so they seek the calmer waters of the lakes during these periods. In my sleepy rise from bed that morning all I took with me were my sandals and my rain jacket – I took no camera, as Di usually has hers, so no photos were taken.

Jonathon and I then searched around every part of the river bank looking for another crocodile – without success. The irony though is that when we were cruising along happily, Jonathon started to laugh. I turned around to look at him and he pointed to the sky and said ‘see those two birds flying above us? Well they are, (I forgot what the birds were called but they were a type of stork) Storks. These Storks are rare and are only found in this part of Borneo. Bird Watchers from all over the world come here in the hope to see one of these Storks. If they do see them it is usually standing in the water and rarely flying. Now, here you are with no interest in birds and having the rare and unique opportunity to see ‘TWO’ in flight and all you see are two birds and have no camera’. He shook his head and laughed more. I smiled and said, ‘those two birds?’

Well at breakfast I calmly recalled, to the ‘sleeperinners’, my confrontation with the ferocious crocodile. This was followed with a graphic account of the two rare birds I saw, even though their name completely escaped me – I was truly the King of the Jungle, at least in my own mind!!!!!

‘The King of The Jungle’ protecting all creatures!!!!

Sadly we were now departing the lodge. To be honest I would have loved to have stayed another night at the lodge. Di made it across the river without falling in again. We all said our goodbyes to Alan and Lindsay. Dom, Jane, John, Di and I had one more jungle adventure with Jonathan to conquer and it was a doozy!!!!!!!!!!

Let the glorious adventure continue ………………………………………

1 Comment

  1. Margot and John

    It all sounds a wonderful experience. Enjoyed the ‘monkey business!


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