Adventure Cruising in Sabah’s diverse & unique wildlife & natural wonders

Yachting destinations off the beaten path of Malaysia’s eastern coast and Borneo may be new cruising grounds, but they are rapidly developing as superyacht favorites due to the region’s unique natural beauty and adventure-tapped itineraries with an amazing array of wildlife viewing. 


While the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia is well traveled and documented among cruising yachts, the east coast, Sarawak and Sabah, Borneo, offer a much quieter scene. These cruising grounds award some of the most spectacular and beautiful waters, islands and wildlife experiences in South East Asia. 




Checking in at the capital city of Sabah Kota Kinabalu (‘KK’) is Sutera Harbou Marina and Country Club, famous among cruisers on the SE Asian route as one of the top best marinas in the world. Apart from its awesome facilities, (4 pools, gym, bowling alley, squash and tennis courts, cinema, library, etc.), the resort is filled with gardens, a golf course, entertainment and great service with stern-to mooring spaces for superyachts. 


New services at Labuan Shipyard and a new facility now operational near KK, reported by Asia Pacific Superyachts Captain Jean-Francois Cormerais, includes a 250T travelift and a 500T synchrolift, for maintenance for yachts up to 100 meters. 


KK is an ideal hub to explore the interior of Sabah, where visitors can option to view and/or climb Mt. Kinabalu, the highest peak in South East Asia.  Towering above Borneo, the views beneath are of virgin rainforest conservation areas that unfold with waterfalls, canyons, exotic wildlife, flora and fauna and a myriad of adventure and eco-tourism activities – all accessible as a day or overnight excursion from your yacht. 


The Heart of Borneo’s tropical forests are home to many well-known mammals, some less known and a steadily growing number of newly discovered ones. These forests provide food and shelter for mammals ranging from the large armour-plated Sumatran rhino and the pygmy elephant, to up to 13 species of primates. 


An itinerary along the Kinabatangan River is rich in wildlife, a unique home for great apes and orang-utans and the only place on earth for the proboscis monkeys. The Heart of Borneo is also home to the Borneo pygmy elephant (Elephasmaximusborneensis). The population is restricted to the northeast corner of Borneo, in an area extending from eastern and central Sabah into the Sebuku-Sembakung region of east Kalimantan (Indonesia).


The orang-utan is the largest tree-climbing mammal and the only great ape found in Asia. It’s estimated that around 1/3 of its population was lost during the 1997/98 forest fires that swept across Indonesia, including Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).  Among the most famed of its wildlife, the orangutans share Borneo’s forests with 12 other primate species, including 2 gibbon species, 5 langurs, 2 macaques, the tarsier (Tarsiusbancanus), the slow loris (Nycticebuscoucang), and the endangered proboscis monkey (Nasalislarvatus). 


Cruising the Kinabatangan River you’ll find an area rich in wildlife and marvel at extraordinary experiences. Another option is to make any of these trips in a day via helicopter to visit some of the natural land wonders. A brief flight can take you to the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre (after arranging for a “privileged” visit) to visit orphaned orangutans up-close and personal. 


Another option available is to depart Sandakan via helicopter or comfortable 4WD to the Borneo Rain Forest Lodge near Lahad Datu and experience the rain forest atmosphere for a 3 day 2 night stay at the exclusive 6 star jungle resort.


The Heart of Borneo’s tropical forests are home to many well-known mammals, some less known and a steadily growing number of newly discovered ones. These forests provide food and shelter for mammals ranging from the large armour-plated Sumatran rhino and the pygmy elephant to up to 13 species of primates. 


Several rivers along Malaysia’s east coast empty into the China Sea but the mouths of these rivers cannot be navigated due to silting up. Sailors of old who wanted to re-supply and fill their water casks had to turn to islands like Tioman, making this island very popular with early Chinese traders.  Tioman Island, with eight main villages, is a densely forested island, sparsely inhabited and surrounded by numerous coral reefs – making it a popular scuba diving spot whose gorgeous beaches were depicted in the movie, South Pacific, as ‘Bali Hai’.  


Apart from its diverse marine life, the inland rainforest area in Tioman Island is a strictly enforced nature reserve with several protected species of mammals on the island from a total of 45 species of mammals and 138 species of birds, including the majestic Frigate bird. Species endemic to its shores might be glimpsed, like the Tioman Walking Catfish. If lucky, visitors might view baby sea turtles being released to the sea by the ‘Sea Turtle and Sustainable Living Year-Round Volunteer Program’.


The unique wildlife and cruising itineraries of Borneo’s Sabah are receiving interest from superyachts throughout the world as it makes huge strides in its work force as well as expanding its facilities for major refit work, an important factor for those planning superyacht voyages.