Borneo is an island escape filled with wildlife wonder

Hinava - traditional raw fish salad with lime, birds eye chilli, shallot and ginger
Hinava - traditional raw fish salad with lime, birds eye chilli, shallot and ginger

Filled with unexplored jungles and breathtaking wildlife encounters, the island of Borneo is an off-the-beaten-track escape of exotic adventure and stunning natural scenery – think wild rainforest meets crystal-clear coastline.

Administered by three separate countries – Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia – Borneo is a melting pot of cuisine, traditions, and over 200 culturally distinct ethnic groups.

For more intrepid travellers, Malaysian Borneo on the northern side of the island is where to head for once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experiences.

Ancient rainforest

Borneo’s rainforest jungle is one of the oldest in the world and is estimated to be about 130 million years old. Trek through Danum Valley Conservation to witness the extreme diversity of tropical flora and fauna, including Bornean orangutans, gibbons, mousedeer, clouded leopards and over 270 bird species. For incredible views head to Mt Kinabalu, one of the highest peaks in South East Asia.

Swing high above the treetops and see life from the top. Pic: Borneo Eco Tours, Danum Valley Conservation

Swing high above the treetops and see life from the top. Pic: Borneo Eco Tours, Danum Valley Conservation

Out of this world diving

Part of the Coral Triangle, Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park in Malaysian Borneo is home to some of the greatest underwater biodiversity on the planet. Home to more than 75 per cent of species known to science, you’ll be swimming through hard coral reefs with green sea turtles, clownfish, orangutan crabs, lion fish, whale sharks (November through to May), reef sharks and manta rays.

Taste sensations

Drawing on all three cultures that make up the island, there’s something to be said about the unique Bornean local dishes that combine indigenous, Chinese, and Malay flavours. Rich in fresh local produce like seafood and tropical fruits, there are also endless varieties of crowd-favourites like roti and laksa. Suss out the local food markets to try bambangan (wild mango), hinava (similar to ceviche), sweet sago, sayur manis (local leafy vegetable similar to Morning Glory) and crunchy salted terubok fish.

Gaya Island Resort

Gaya Island Resort

Authentically Sabahan resorts

Tropical islands like Borneo attract some of the most luxurious resorts on the globe, and just off the Borneo coast is Gaya Island Resort, a private beachfront property built high up in the jungle nestled among mangroves. An authentic Borneo experience from start to finish, the resort is inspired by the natural scenery of the island’s landscape, incorporating local Sabahan architecture to create elegant and eco-focused villas. The resort has its own marine park and onsite wildlife centre led by the resort’s resident Naturalist, Justin Juhun. Guests can discover the surrounding botanic reserve, diverse wildlife and a rare, undisturbed mixed-dipterocarp forest only found on Gaya Island.

Fly into Kota Kinabalu International Airport before transferring to the Gaya Island Lounge at Jesselton Point for a speedboat arrival at the island resort.

Mother orangutan hangs from a rope with her baby in the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Pic: BlueOrange Studio, Shutterstock

Mother orangutan hangs from a rope with her baby in the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Pic: BlueOrange Studio, Shutterstock

Very wild wildlife

There’s a reason naturalists and conservationists around the world flock to Borneo to study and investigate the untamed rainforests. Bornean wildlife is some of the most diverse on the planet, where you can say hello to Labuk Bay monkeys, baby-faced pygmy elephants and the world’s smallest bear.

The island is also one of only two regions in the entire world where humans can come face-to-face with Orangutans in their natural habitat. Considered one of the world’s most intelligent primates, the ‘humans of the forest’ have been known to learn sign language and use tools. With populations declining by more than 50% over the past 60 years, Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre near Sandakan hopes to educate people about these beautiful creatures while rehabilitating orangutan orphans to be returned to the wild. There are twice-daily feeding sessions for guaranteed sightings.