Danum Valley Conservation Area is a 472 square kilometer preserve, and a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers, and scientists. The untouched and predominantly lowland dipterocarp rainforest is home to over 500 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, and a variety of plants such as orchids, lianas, ferns, fungus and mushrooms.
Along the uneven road, recent and old elephant droppings teased us at the chance of spotting the majestic creatures on our way to Borneo Rainforest Lodge. We kept our eyes peeled and fought back the urge to let the long and bumpy ride rock us into a snooze. And before we even reached our destination, lady luck – and our very alert guide – offered us a glimpse of a pygmy elephant and her young baby in the bushes before they quickly retreated into the safety of the thick undergrowth. A good way to start off, I say!
The magnificent wooden lodge soon came into view, and once we entered the lobby, the lovely staff greeted us by placing fragrant pandan leaf wreathes around our necks before showing us to our room. Our view overlooked the river, and was ornamented by a lush hill. After dropping our bags, we joined our guide, Alex, for an early-evening walk around the lodge where he introduced us to the forest and told us about the various trails and activities. Along the way, he pointed out a scarlet-thrum trogon and a sleeping colugo.
Upon returning to the lodge, we cooled off in our room for a bit before settling in at the dining area for dinner. Rainstorms soon came and hampered our night walk, however Alex promised us that the heavy rain would be beneficial for our early morning activities.
True enough, walking through the magnificent forest at 6:30am the next day felt unreal as thick mist blanketed the foliage surrounding us. I was filled with apprehension and avgiddy excitement as I stared off into the seemingly opaque and mysterious distance.
Only available to guests who stay at BRL, the tree-top canopy walkway is 300 meters in length, and stands twenty-six meters at its highest point. Sadly though, the last tree that completes the connection was struck by lightning last year and the section was closed off until further notice.
The suspension cables swayed slightly against my footsteps as I made my way across, but I was rest assured knowing that they were secured between sturdy dipterocarp and mengaris trees. Designed to not harm the tress, the steel cables of the walkway made no direct contact with the trunks, and the spacious and sturdy octagonal-shaped platforms provided an unobstructed and close-up view of the jungle’s canopy.
I stood still up on the highest platform, and watched the rainforest wake up with the early morning choir of the canopy. Long-ranging gibbon calls echoed throughout the forest as piercing sun beams cut through the fog, catching birds at eye level as they welcomed the day. It was truly magical.
All together, there are thirteen trails surrounding the lodge, allowing you to venture deep into the primeval forest during the day. And for those who want to experience the nocturnal side of Danum Valley, there are night walks and 4×4 safari drives.
With three departures – 6:30pm, 8:30pm and 8:45pm – guests can sit on the back of a small truck for the night drive. As we made our way down the road, the spotter scanned the forest with a powerful spotlight to catch the reflective eyes of the animals, and informed us as to what we were seeing.
That night we saw a handful of flying squirrels, fireflies, and sambar deers. The next night, a last minute group had managed to catch active flying squirrels and a leopard cat – much to our envy.
Nestled around 2.5 kilometers from the lodge, and just below the View Point platform, lies the ancient burial site of the ‘Orang Sungai’ – the native Dusun tribe who resides by the Segama river. Carrying their dead in decorated ironwood coffins, the Dusun Segama would trek up the trail and bury the body inside the vertical rock face. Having been dislodged overtime by the environment, remnants of human bones can still be seen around the coffin.
At 300 meters above sea level, the View Point overlooks the lodge and river, and provides sweeping vistas of Danum Valley. We caught some more early morning magic as the mist tumbled through the forest glade before the break of dawn, the visuals enhanced by an auditory orchestra. It was another priceless feast for the soul. And then shortly before making our way to the waterfalls, we quietly observed a family of gibbons loudly waking up in a tree forty-feet away.
Jungle trekking for hours in a tropical rainforest is a serene marvel and a test of resolve in itself. Our journey was rewarded when we came across a section of the river where the water surged over a steep series of drops. From a distance we started to hear the rush of water over the shuffling of our feet on fallen leaves. Each waterfall we approached offered its own reprieve from the stifling humidity of the ancient forest.
The famous Jacuzzi Pool of Danum Valley has diminished in size due to a landslide last year, however the small fish occupying the waters weren’t deterred from excitedly nibbling on dead skin cells. Talk about a wild pedicure!
Fairy falls then offered a deep sense of tranquillity as the cool breeze continuously flowed through the gully. Hashtag tropical rainforests can get stifling. Hashtag thankful wind.
The Jacuzzi Pool may be the most famous, but Serpent Waterfall was definitely my favourite. This tremendous zenith was a worthy finale to our trekking in the 130 million year old rainforest. Catching our breaths by the plume of water vapor lifted our spirits as we ended our journey on the best of highs.
Thank you, once again, to Alex who guided us along this physical and very memorable adventure.