With a love for Attenborough programmes and a resulting curiosity in all wild animals, especially those closely related to ourselves, Borneo had been on our bucket list for a while. Not only for the orangutans but also for the bizarre proboscis monkeys that aren’t found anywhere else in the world.
Our tour into the Bornean rainforest was hosted by the team at Orangutan Applause, who guided us around the waters to see some of the world’s most incredible wildlife. How can you not fall in love with such adorable, human-like creatures?!
The main reason most people visit Borneo are these ginger haired apes. There are three feeding stations located within Tanjung Puting national park which are open for tourists to visit and catch a glimpse of these amazing creatures getting their fill of bananas and sugar cane.
We visited each of these once during our two day tour and every time were lucky enough to see quite a large group of orangutans, giving us the opportunity to get some phenomenal shots as they swung in the trees above us and clambered down to grab a stash of food.
A word of warning: get there early if you want a seat on the benches, but don’t be afraid to lose your seat if you can get a better view elsewhere. We visited in early September and the platforms were fairly busy but we could always get a great view. Arif, our guide, warned us that over 30 boats moor up to watch these incredible creatures in peak season!
Day 1 3:30pm: Tanjung Harapan
As our first encounter with orangutans in the wild, we will always remember seeing that first flash of orange fluff as we walked through the rainforest towards the feeding area at Tanjung Harapan. There were many more orangutans than we expected to see including a very large male! You’ll find yourself laughing at the amount of food they manage to stuff into their mouths and aww-ing at the adorable youngsters.
At this feeding station the platform is the furthest back from the viewing area so don’t forget your zoom lens. There are several trees which can obscure visibility; however if you can get the right angle they frame the photo perfectly.
Day 2 9am: Pondok Tanggui
This was our favourite feeding station during our trip. The platform is actually the most distant from the river (albeit still only 20-30 minute flat walk – no need for proper trekking gear) and a little more open than Tanjung Harapan, proving slightly better for those awesome photo ops.
Although we saw several at other camps as well, we were lucky enough to see lots of adorable mothers and babies here, however this was the only station we didn’t get a glimpse of a male.
At Pondok Tanggui was also where we learnt the importance of patience when observing wild animals. As after around 45 minutes we were about to wander back to the boat as it seemed all the orangutans had gone to shelter from the rain, but Arif knew better and suggested we should just wait a few more minutes. Most of the crowd drifted off, but on cue three or four mothers and babies reappeared, giving us an incredible few minutes with them and only a handful of other people around.
Day 2 2pm: Camp Leakey
Camp Leakey is famous as the home of the Orangutan Foundation International, founded by Dr Galdikas, the best mind on Orangutans, joining Diane Fossey (Gorillas) and Jane Goodall (Chimpanzees) as the ‘Trimates’ who led the study of the great apes. At the site of the original camp there is a small museum illustrating facts about the lifestyle of orangutans, the history of the orangutan project and the family trees of the local orangutan family. It’s well worth a visit before heading down to the feeding station.
At the other feeding stations, the rangers would have to call the orangutans as they brought their food. At Campy Leakey we soon learnt the orangutans have their alarms set for feeding time, as we were welcomed by a large group as soon as we arrived, patiently waiting for their lunch! There are also two other regular visitors to this feeding platform, large bush pigs who come to scrounge on the scraps left over by the orangutans.
It was also here that we spotted the silhouette of our second large male in the distance and as he slowly approached through the branches, we were in awe at his magnificence (a true King Louie). Eventually he lowered himself onto the platform, with the other females scattering, plonking into the middle of the feast and tucking into a bunch of bananas!
Whilst cruising along the river you can spot a wide variety of other wildlife, so when relaxing at the front of the Kelotok always keep your eyes peeled! We looked up in the trees to spot macaques and proboscis monkeys, up in the air to spy hornbills and down in the river to glimpse a crocodile.
Often featured on nature programmes for their odd-shaped nose and pot-bellies these monkeys can only be found in Borneo. There have been previous attempts to raise them in captivity however their very specific dietary restrictions requirements meant this was unsuccessful. Borneo is therefore the only place in the world you can see these bizarre monkeys.
The proboscis monkeys tend to gather in trees near the river in the late afternoon, as the additional visibility here keeps them safe from predators overnight, meaning you can easily spot them from the boat. They sit high up in the trees in large troupes made up of one male, easily recognisable by his very large nose, and several females (why in the monkey world is it always the case that the man has many women!?)
At the end of our first day Arif took us night trekking near Tanjung Harapan to spot some creepy crawlies. As someone with arachnophobia, I wasn’t dying to get out and explore a world of bugs in the dark, however we saw some really cool insects!
We spotted a tarantula safely tucked away in his hole, several spiders laying in wait on their webs (I rapidly moved away from those), a scorpion, cicadas, bioluminescent mushrooms, a tree rat and many different types of stick insect, some of which were huge!
At one point we turned off our headlamps (kindly provided so no need to bring one) and were immersed in the sounds of the rainforest orchestra as all the insects came to life. One creature we were less happy to see were leeches, thankfully I escaped from their blood sucking jaws but Charlie was less lucky (gross). Long trousers tucked into socks might be a massive fashion faux pas but I recommend them for your night trek!
The only real way to explore Tanjung Puting national park is aboard a traditional wooden Kelotok as you glide along the Sekonyer river spotting wildlife on the banks, and mooring at the orangutan feeding stations.
Our life on the boat revolved around the main deck, which consisted of a dining area, upper sun deck, sleeping area and front sun deck. Plenty of space for the two of us!
At the back of the Kelotok was our bathroom – we were lucky enough to have a freshwater shower, although not all boats have these. The water isn’t heated, however the shower was pleasantly refreshing in the humidity of the forest!
On the front sun deck there are two sun loungers, perfect for enjoying the beauty of the rainforest and spotting wildlife from. This has to be where we spent most of our time when not trekking, we didn’t want to miss a moment of the magical jungle.
You will undoubtedly experience the rainforest’s namesake storms during your time in Borneo, so don’t expect to stay dry during your trip, especially if caught whilst out trekking! The Kelotok crew are well prepared and on hand to drop down the plastic rain covers on all sides of the boat when needed, and offer plastic ponchos for your jungle treks ensuring for the most part you remain dry.
In the evenings, the crew set up the mosquito net and prepared our bed, ensuring we weren’t disturbed by the array of forest insects that would have love to join us under the covers!
On arrival at Pangkalan Bun airport we were greeted by a member of the Orangutan Applause team who introduced us to our driver and helped us purchase an Indonesian SIM card (there’s a surprising amount of 3G in the rainforest!). We were quickly underway to the pier to start our rainforest adventure.
At the park entrance in Kumai, we met Dessy and Arif who own and run Orangutan Applause. They kindly showed us to our Kelotok and introduced us to our crew consisting of the captain, chef and a boat hand, all of whom worked incredibly hard to make our experience phenomenal. Arif also joined us onboard as our guide for the trip.
Arif previously worked for the orangutan research foundation in Tanjung Puting, and his knowledge of the forest and its wildlife was unparalleled. Whilst on board, he would join us on the top deck, looking out for primates and other wildlife, always keen to share his knowledge and tell stories of the jungle creatures.
On departure from Tanjung Putting national park we were treated to souvenir T-Shirts, postcards and keyrings – perfect mementos from an unforgettable trip.
Whilst on board you will enjoy not only three delicious meals, but also an array of local snacks prepared by chef throughout the day, you’ll never be hungry! Breakfast varies each day and may include banana pancakes, bacon, eggs, toast and fresh fruit.
Lunch and dinner consists of a local main meat or fish dish (look forward to the shrimps, they’re delicious!), noodles, rice, a local starch or protein such as tempeh (a type of fermented soy bean similar to tofu) and a selection of vegetables. Alongside your meal you can enjoy Coca Cola or cold bottled water, and dessert includes either fresh fruit or freshly baked cake.
Find Out More…
Orangutan Applause – http://www.orangutanapplause.com