Mulu Mountains Borneo
9 Jun

Exploring Borneo’s Giant Cave System

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Mulu Mountains BorneoBorneo, a sizable island in South East Asia is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia, and is the home to what may be the largest cave system in the world. Nobody can say for sure because the full extent of some of the biggest, longest, and deepest contenders is not yet known. Explorers and surveyors just haven’t got that far, and it’s hard to blame them. Clearwater Cave runs for at least 177km (110 miles) and getting that far along a cave system is no easy task.

Let’s get an idea of the setting first. Most of Borneo’s great caves are well away from major towns and cities in the middle of the jungle. The light-aircraft flight to the tiny airstrip that serves Gunung Mulu’s surprisingly luxurious cave resorts is not for the faint of heart but it does give visitors a wonderful view of a lush, dark green carpet of rainforest broken only by winding brown rivers. The rainforest seems to go on forever, but all of a sudden vertical white limestone walls rise straight up from the jungle floor. Spectacular isn’t a strong enough word.

The paths that take you to the cave mouths are usually boardwalks set slightly above the surface. It’s obvious that real efforts at sustainable eco-tourism are being made, and as you walk towards the cave of your choice you’ll almost certainly see huge butterflies in blue, white and green (don’t try to photograph them- you’ll waste hours and they’re very good at flitting away at the last second), countless rainforest birds, lizards, and insects. Lucky walkers might hear or even see monkeys, hornbills, and otters by the rivers.

The massive cave chambers are favorite daytime haunts for several species of bat. Deer Cave could comfortably accommodate about 40 747 aircraft but instead it’s home to about a million bats. It’s well worth walking up to the viewing platforms outside the cave mouth to see them spiralling skywards at dusk, hunted by hungry birds of prey.

Borneo Cave InteriorYou can walk through some of the caves yourself- Deer Cave is open to the public- or take a more adventurous guided tour through one of the wild caves- no non-slip stairs and even boardwalks here. Some of the wild trips involve swims through pools, scrambles up and down rock faces, squeezes through narrow passageways and every underground challenge an adventurous caver could hope for. A trip to River Cave is highly recommended. You’ll be taken to the cave mouth in a local river boat and explore the first part of a rushing underground river that flows for more than 100km under the mountains.

The giant cave systems of Borneo are only just being deeply explored. They’re quite new to science, but in most cases the efforts to encourage tourists are refreshingly sympathetic to the needs of the local population and the rainforest. It may be because the developments are so new. The tourist operators don’t have decades of bad habits to break and the boardwalks, in-cave lighting, and other facilities were installed with the latest and best understanding of cave ecosystems. Whatever the reason, visiting Borneo will let you see caves that are some of the biggest and most awe-inspiring in the world and also the most pristine.


About The Author: Jess Spate is a keen caver and rock climber. She works as a consultant to websites in the travel industry, most recently with  Marriott timeshare points resale resources and Wyndham timeshare for sale sites.  She travels frequently in Europe, South East Asia, and Australia, but her experience in Borneo ranks as one of the best holidays she has ever taken.


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