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Chasing Nature at Gaya Island Resort

Nature Walk at Gaya Island Resort

Brilliant Green Throated Lizards and more exotic creatures await you on Gaya Island Resort’s daily Nature Walk

Darren & I recently went on a getaway to nature’s paradise in the form of Gaya Island Resort, a newly opened five-star retreat located off the coast of Kota Kinabalu on the shores of Pulau Gaya, the largest island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Sabah/Borneo. Being nature lovers, this was the perfect location for us surrounded by untouched tropical rainforests and mangroves lovingly preserved for thousands of years complimented with the majestic view of Mount Kinabalu. Borneo is also home to many rare species including the orangutan, proboscis monkey and pygmy elephant.

We were thus naturally excited to go on the resort’s guided nature walks (9am daily lasting about 1hr; complimentary for guests) led by their in-house naturalist Justin Juhun – what an adventure! We couldn’t wait to discover the island’s distinctive flora and fauna hidden in the rainforest, and hear the stories he has to tell about them. We hear that a family of proboscis monkeys have been spotted in the jungle too, so we were even more eager to spot them on our walk.

Nature Walk at Gaya Island Resort

Get wild with Gaya Island Resort’s Resident Naturalist Justin Juhun
Born in Tawau, a town located on the south-eastern coast of Sabah, Justin was raised in a family of wildlife enthusiasts who owned an animal sanctuary in their backyard. Justin’s thus no stranger to wildlife as he has been hand rearing orphaned infants from an early age.

Nature Walk at Gaya Island Resort

On our way into the rainforest just behind the resort

Tips for surviving a jungle walk:
– Beware of commando-trained mosquitoes: wear a long sleeved shirt (I brought detachable sleeves) and pants, or prepare to be human buffet for the mosquitoes.
– Slather on insect repellent especially on the uncovered body areas.
– Keep your mouth closed. You’ll know why later on.
– Talk softly else you will scare away all the animals and insects, and your companions.
– Wear proper shoes as there may not be proper walking paths (we are in a real jungle, not theme park).
– Try to stay with the group or you may become the next Survivor wannabe – by yourself.

Nature Walk at Gaya Island Resort

In awe of nature’s sculptures

Nature Walk at Gaya Island Resort

Justin’s pretty much a modern-day bushman
He prances like a nimble monkey, crouches to listen to nearby animals like a leopard and mimics the calls of birds. Darren tried to do the same bird calls later, but all he attracted were mosquitoes.

Nature Walk at Gaya Island Resort

A man’s favourite plant – Tongkat Ali
Nature’s aphrodisiac was aplenty on the island; we saw one of these every five steps we took. The Tongkat Ali root has been said to boost male virility, although Justin said this is not scientifically proven. Instead, he has been using this as a medicine for cancer.
I learnt a trick on how to identify  a Tongkat Ali plant – the leaf texture is velvety, and it doesn’t break when crumpled unlike other plants.

Nature Walk at Gaya Island Resort

A butterfly (to-be) did this
Justin taught us how to identify wildlife by the traces they leave – poo, foot trails, half-eaten leaves and in this photo – the larvae of a leafwing butterfly (so named because their wings mimic dead leaves) rolling itself up in a leaf which acts as a temporary shelter. They secure the leaf with silk they produce.

Nature Walk at Gaya Island Resort

Husk of a molted cicada
Cicadas molt (shed their skins) on a nearby plant when they are about a year old and emerge as adults. The abandoned exoskeleton remains, clinging to the bark of trees or on leaves. There must be millions and millions of cicadas in the rainforest, cos’ they were noisy as hell.
And remember why I said not to open your mouths in the rainforest? Raise your head up and you will see romantic trails of water dripping from above. It is not morning dew. It is cicada pee.

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Close-up of a cicada

Nature Walk at Gaya Island Resort

The rainforest flora is as fascinating as its fauna

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Green Pit Viper curled up in the tree
Snakes apparently make home at a specific spot – Justin knew exactly where to find this fella. I was filled with trepidation as we trekked towards its location. I was honestly scared to death as I had never seen one outside of glass enclosures. It was quite happy to mind its own business while we ogled – or shrieked – from below.

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Termite hill

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Termite’s Recreation Centre
Termites do not stay in this ball-like structure – it’s sort of a recreation centre where they hang out to socialise and maybe date, and then move on to their housing quarters which is the giant terminate hill just below.

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Mini termite hills – nature does have its own humour

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Bioluminescent mushroom
Something tells me I shouldn’t eat this. Perhaps I should ask Justin to conduct a jungle gourmet tour since the greedy me kept looking around for things to eat :p

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

A really pretty lizard well-camouflaged by the tree bark
We would have missed it if Justin didn’t point it out to us. It seemed that the urbanites in us were blind to many things around us despite being so enthusiastic to spot wildlife. This walk actually me to slow down a little in life, to just quietly observe my surroundings. I have come to realise I see more now, and am able to give more creative ideas when I invest in few moments to really listen and think, instead of scurrying through life.

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Flying Tree Lizard

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

What a cutie!

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Banana Flower

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Fruit of the Nutmeg Tree
Finally something I can eat! Nutmeg is used for flavouring many dishes, in perfume and medicinal oils. An extremely useful plant to have around.

Gaya Island Resort

Reishi Mushroom, more commonly known as Lingzhi (ganoderma lucidum)
The jungle is full of medicinal treasures too! This tiny little lingzhi took about 2 years to grow, no wonder they are so expensive. Justin told us that he had spotted another piece nearby which is over a hundred years old, and its value would have been about US$45,000 a few years back.

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Even the birds came to sing

Gaya Island Resort nature Walk

Chat with the bushman
We were fortunate to have lunch with Justin after the walk and got to know him better. It was intriguing to hear him talk about his lifelong interest in wildlife, and about his ambition to start his very own wildlife reserve and conduct more research on flora and fauna’s useful properties as well as conservation.
While he was really serious and alert as a panther on the walk, he was very chatty during lunch, and almost like a little boy when talking about his future wildlife reserve. He was the one who set up the jungle walking paths at the resort, and I could sense his eagerness to get back into the jungle after lunch for more exploration. He shared that he is building an observation tower near a family of proboscis monkeys he discovered so resort guests will be able to see those precious creatures during future nature walks. I want to come back!!

Gaya Island Resort Nature Walk

Discover nature’s wonders for yourself
We had an enlightening experience – and an awesome good workout (Darren was dripping sweat and showing too much through his white linen shirt, not that I mind haha) during the nature walk. It is definitely an activity that I would recommend going for when you are at Gaya Island Resort (and it’s complimentary for goodness sake!) I think it may change the way you look at things.For a more exclusive exploration of the forest (or if you want to do a walk in the nocturnal evening), Justin can be booked via the resort at RM150 per person in the group, and the walks can tailored to varying difficulties and distance to suit one’s ability and interests. And I am looking forward to the day the bushman finally has his very own jungle. 

More on Gaya Island Resort:
Gaya Island Resort – Romancing Sunset
Gaya Island – Private Paradise at Tavajun Bay
Gaya Island Resort – Finding Zen at the Spa Village

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Henderson Waves “Hello!”

Henderson Waves

A Southern belle at the entrance of the Marang Trail, part of the Southern Ridges

In an attempt to stay healthy and escape the craziness of the urban concrete jungle, chum D and I venture out to explore nature whenever we can afford the time. Being avid photographers, we went on the Southern Ridges Trails as we wanted to capture sunset from Henderson Waves, Singapore’s highest pedestrian bridge at 36 metres above ground. The Southern Ridges comprises 10 km of green, open spaces that connect Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, HortPark, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve. We started our walk from the Marang Trail near HarbourFront train station, made our way up to Mount Faber, and finally roosted at Henderson Waves to wait for sunset.

Henderson Waves

Afraid of wild monkeys? I brought my own gorillas to protect me. I just hope the monkeys don’t come and mate with my shoes instead! Shoes from Jeremy Scott x Adidas S/S 2012 collection.

Henderson Waves

And here’s the big monkey who would scare away all the wild monkeys. Cute eh? LOL

Henderson Waves

Off we go on our nature adventure!
We ‘trekked’ through 0.8km long of secondary forest on the Marang Trail, keeping our eyes peeled on any interesting wildlife that we could capture – on screen, that is.

Henderson Waves

It was a lovely sunny day. Good for photography, not so good for the heat. Sunscreen!!

Henderson Waves

Is D looking for a spot to do a toilet break? Cannot! I dun wanna see!

Henderson Waves

Nah, he’s just taking photos of fauna. D’s got a really good eye, something so very common can look so special through his lens.

Henderson Waves

The sun continued to say hello through the foliage

Henderson Waves

HOT. HOT. HOT.

Henderson Waves

At the top of the Marang Trail is Mount Faber where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the harbour/Sentosa and the Southern Islands.

Henderson Waves

Bird’s eye view of the Singapore housing landscape. This is what most Singaporeans live in. And then we continued on our way to Henderson Waves…

Henderson Waves

D must be delirious from the heat…simply too cute. Puke. Haha.

Henderson Waves

And then my turn to pose.

Henderson Waves

We finally reached Henderson Waves after another 30 minutes of walking. This 274 metre-long pedestrian bridge that spans Henderson Road to connect Mount Faber Park to Telok Blangah Hill Park is noted for its artistic, distinctive wave-like structure consisting of a series of undulating curved “ribs”. These “ribs” also double up as alcoves providing shelter to the public. Slats of yellow bakau wood, an all-weather timber found in South-East Asia, are used in the decking.Joggers, couples and families are a common sight on Henderson Waves during weekends, in addition to wedding couples posing against the scenic skyline. The bridge takes on a different look at night, with the wave-form illuminated with attractive LED light from 7pm to 2am daily. 

Henderson Waves

View from Henderson Waves. It was really nice to see a sea of greenery and the blue sea beyond.

Henderson Waves

D shows us how you can do your exercise while taking photos. No wonder he’s so fit!

Henderson Waves

Trying to be Spiderman on the timber deck…I think I look more like a garden snail.

Henderson Waves

We were rewarded with a surreal sunset.

Henderson Waves

As the sun slowly bade its good-bye, it was also time for us to leave and reward ourselves with a nice dinner. It was a relatively easy and relaxing walk that even my mum could do. It would be nice to come back here again. Sunrise, perhaps?

Getting to Marang Trail
By train: Alight at Harbourfront station Exit D. The trail is just behind the exit.
By Bus: Take bus service number 10, 30, 57, 61, 65, 80, 93, 97, 100, 131, 143, 145, 161, 300, 408*, 646 or 855, alight at bus stop in front of Seah Im Food Center at Telok Blangah Road
By Car: Car Park is available at Seah Im Food Center

Getting to Henderson Waves
By Bus: Take bus service number 131, 145, 176, 408*, or 648 and alight at bus stop along Henderson Road, take the staircase up to Mount Faber Park.
By Car: Parking is available at Mount Faber Car Park D (17 lots) and Telok Blangah Hill Park Carpark 1 (17 lots) & Carpark 2 (total 39 lots).
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