We were up at 5:30am this morning for our pickup at 6am for the drive to Kinabalu Park to begin our two day trek up Mount Kinabalu.
The drive to the entrance of the park was ~1.5 hours or 86 kilometres into the centre of Borneo.
We were too early for the hotel breakfast so I snacked on some red bean cakes we had bought the day before at a 7/11.
We got to the park entrance at about 8am and met up with our guide, June, for the walk up the mountain.
And looking north to the daunting challenge ahead. The 4,096 metre tall mountain would be my highest peak after the 3,880 metre lookout at the Everest Hotel when I went trekking in Nepal.
After a short drive to the checkpoint at the start of the track, June gave us our official ID tags to check in with.
June explaining the route for us today. We were starting at Timpohon gate at an elevation of 1866 metres and finishing at Laban Rata guesthouse at 3,270 metres. Then continuing on tomorrow morning for Low's Peak at the top at 4,096 metres.
Rianda powering on ahead. She hadn't done any real hiking before, but was coping well with the seemingly continual and never-ending steps.
Nepenthes × kinabaluensis or the Kinabalu Pitcher-Plant. These carnivourous plants apparently survive on tasty insects and sometimes even rats!
Into the danger zone.
As we increased in height the clouds started to come in.
Stopping to eat our packed lunch at about 11:30am.
The vegetation gradually thinned out as we climbed higher and higher.
4.5 kilometres and 2898 metres into the trek and only 1.5 kilometres and 372 metres to go the guesthouse.
After the warm and humid temperatures in Kota Kinabalu, the relatively cool air up the mountain was quite refreshing.
And at Laban Rata guesthouse at 12:45pm, or ~4 hours after we set off from the start of the track.
We took it relatively easy with a slow but steady pace but didn't stop for breaks so were one of the first groups to the guesthouse.
We then lugged our bags up to our dorm room.
Inside there were three bunk beds for six people. Since we were the first in we picked the two beds nearest the window.
The colourful downstairs communal room with picturesque photo's and slightly corny but motivational slogans on the wall.
A very tasty chocolate and cherry cupcake from the cafeteria to refuel after the energetic morning.
While Rianda opted for a super-sized hot chocolate!
A collection of less fortunate climbers on the wall who had to be carried back down after injuring themselves.
At about 4:30pm they started serving dinner. I wasn't too hungry but we had to get to sleep relatively early to get enough rest until we started climbing again at 2:30am.
Quite an impressive spread given that everything had to be carried up on someone's back!
We enjoyed the tasty meal before heading to bed at about 7pm to get some rest for the early morning push for the top tomorrow.
After a restless sleep and waking up gasping a few times due to the thin air, we got up at 2am, had some supper and then met up with June at 2:30am to start our climb to Low's peak.
Although it had been raining steadily throughout the night, it had luckily stopped by the time we begun our early morning trek.
It was pitch black apart from the light from our headlamps. It made the climb a little easier though, since it made you focus on each step at a time, rather than the looming mountain and steep climb ahead.
At 7.5 kilometres and 3,800 metres and only 1.5 kilometres and 295 metres to go!
Just before 5am we made it to Low's Peak. It was still pitch black and after keeping up a steady pace, we were one of the first groups to arrive at the top. Rianda thought we had just stopped for a rest and didn't realise we had made it and had a bit of a breakdown! After I told her she had done really well and we were literally 10 metres from the top, she quickly composed herself and despite her complete exhaustion managed a bit of a satisfied smile.
Posing for a photo at the top before the other climbers arrived. I was still pretty hot with the physical climb so was comfortable in my short-sleeve shirt despite the cold.
Looking back down at the trail of climber headlamps as dawn began to break. At 3-4°C it wasn't too cold and there was zero wind which was really great.
Waiting for the sun to rise. Note the girl on the right who carried up a yellow teddy bear outfit! Unfortunately there was some cloud in the distance so we couldn't see the sun crest over the horizon.
And June taking a photo of us with the 3922 metre tall St. Johns Peak.
Looking down into Low's Gully, a 1,800-metre deep gorge carved out by a glacier.
At about 6:30am we started the journey back down the mountain. In the light of day it was amazing to believe we had managed to scramble up the steep, sheer rock in the morning darkness.
The very picturesque St. Johns peak again.
Using the ropes to stop us sliding down the steep rock. Laban Rata guesthouse just visible in the distance.
And enjoying the amazing view we missed out on the early morning climb up.
We got back to the guesthouse at about 8:15am and had some fried eggs, french toast and tasty pancakes to refuel up before continuing the climb back down.
Just before 9am we packed up our bags and begun the long downhill trek to the park entrance.
Passing a porter carrying up a very heavy gas cylinder on the way up. We also passed a heap of guys each carrying building supplies with 30kgs written on them!
Rianda started to struggle with the constant downhill steps about 2 kilometres from the end. She kept protesting about my suggestions to carry her bag, so when we stopped for a break I emptied her bag into mine when she wasn't looking. June also got a walking stick for her to use to steady herself on the often rocky and slippery path.
And at the start of the track after our successful descent! We were both super exhausted but glad we had made it. An awesome experience and definitely up there with my favourite travel memories.
After catching the van back to the park entrance, we thanked June for his guidance, patience and the great trek.
We were both very tired but managed to stuff some food in at the restaurant at the park entrance.
After driving back to Kota Kinabalu, we asked the driver to drop us off at Jesselton Point so we could buy some tickets for our ferry tomorrow to Brunei.
Our legs were a little sore for more walking so we caught a taxi back to the Ming Garden Hotel. We had upgraded to a suite for our one night stay.
Dinner was at a local restaurant with more tasty curry and laksa.
Still hungry after all the mountain climbing, we went to a little cafe for some well deserved dessert before heading back to the hotel for a hard earned sleep.
After breakfast at the hotel we checked out and caught a taxi back to Jesselton Point to catch our ferry to the island of Labuan.
Our plan for today was to catch the 8am ferry from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan, and then catch the 1:30pm ferry to Serasa in Brunei.
Slumming it back in the economy lower-deck. There was a business class upper-deck but it was nothing spectacular.
They had a TV playing music video's and pirated movies which helped the ~3 hours go fast until we reached Labuan.
It was ~2 hours until we left on the ferry to Brunei so we walked into town to spend our last ringgit on a tasty lunch.
After the filling lunch we headed back to the ferry terminal to wait for the 1:30pm departure to Brunei.
About to board the 'Ming Hai' after passing through immigration and having our tickets checked.
The ferry took just over an hour to reach Serasa in Brunei. We then exchanged some money and then caught the $2 minibus into the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.
The minibus dropped us off right outside at our hotel, the Radisson Hotel Brunei Darussalam. We decided to upgrade to a slightly larger deluxe room with breakfast included as it was cheaper than just buying breakfast separately.
After freshening up, and although our legs were still a bit stiff, we went for a relaxing walk through the Capital.
The very picturesque Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque at dusk.
We then wandered through the city and down to the the riverfront to the Japanese restaurant, Kaizen Sushi, the #1 place to eat in Bandar Seri Begawan. Some great tasting sushi and the best I had had since our trip to Copenhagen.
And clockwise from top left, some black iced tea, the Gyu Tataki Maki, the Dragon King, and some Sake Tempura sushi. A great meal and the restaurant definitely lived up to its much vaunted reputation!
We then took a relaxing stroll back through the city to the Radisson for a good sleep before starting the journey to New Zealand tomorrow.
After a run around the city, we enjoyed a very good breakfast at the hotel.
We then set out to explore some more of Bandar Seri Begawan. First stop was the Kianggeh Market.
Some of the locals shopping for vegetables.
We then caught a water taxi for the short journey across the Brunei River for $2.
On the southern side of the river was the Kampong Ayer or water village.
Built entirely of stilt houses and wooden walkways, Kampong Ayer is a cluster of 42 villages housing more than 30,000 inhabitants.
It is also reputedly the world's largest water village.
People have lived in Kampong Ayer for over 1300 years. When the Portugese visited in 1521 it was dubbed the "Venice of the East".
Amongst the older wooden stilt houses were some much more modern concrete two-story houses built recently by the Brunei government.
We then caught a water taxi back to the northern side of the river and retreated into an airconditioned café for some iced coffee and tea and for much needed recaffeination and rehydration.
And a welcome respite from the tropical asian heat.
Next stop was the Royal Regalia Building Museum. We had to remove our shoes and wear special slippers. They were also very strict about taking photo's too. When I tried to take a photo with my cellphone I was promptly escorted to the lockers where I had to leave it along with my camera.
We then walked back to the hotel and chilled out in the lobby to wait for the 30 minutes until we had to head to the airport. On the hotel wall was a beautiful, large painting of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque we had seen the previous evening.
Outside departures Brunei International Airport for our flight to Kuala Lumpur.
And air-side after checking in. I had been to the airport while transiting on my way to/from New Zealand several years ago on Royal Brunei Airlines. It had since undergone quite abit of refurbishment but alot of the shops and restaurants were still closed. We managed to get some water and a chicken pie at a small café though.
We had a few Brunei dollars left so I bought some durian chocolate. It was 95% chocolate with very little durian though so will have to wait for another time to taste this infamous fruit.
Our Air Asia A320 ready for boarding. The turn-around time was amazing quick, with boarding starting less than a minute after the last passengers from the previous flight having disembarked. Very impressive!
The view just after take-off.
Uncle Chin's chicken & rice and the Pak Nasser's Nasi Lemak we had pre-ordered.
Flying over some of the many islands of Indonesia.
And some of the other AriAsia A320's on arrival at Kuala Lumpur Airport.
We had 5+ hours until our evening flight to Auckland.
We went to the lounge which was only 105 MYR each and included a nice hot shower.
While Rianda did some Skyping I helped myself to the buffet and a diet coke from the fridge.
Our AirAsia X A330 just prior to boarding.
It was my first time seeing nine-across on a A330 but the legroom was pretty good and we managed to pass out soon after take-off.
Our AirAsia X A330 on the ground at Gold Coast Airport (OOL) where we had a brief ~1 hour stop to let off passengers and take on some more for the trip across the Tasman sea to Auckland, New Zealand.
The roasted chicken with stuffing & cranberry gravy and chicken satay we had pre-ordered. Again quite impressive given the $10 it had cost.
We arrived at Auckland Airport on schedule at 4pm. There were three EK A380's (flying to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and onto Dubai) and one EK 777 (non-stop to Dubai) on the ground as we arrived so it almost felt like a mini-Dubai airport! After immigration we met up with Mum & Dad to begin the drive down to Cambridge in the Waikato.
After a good sleep and a bit of a run in the morning, we took George, the family dog, out for a walk. He had aged abit since I last saw him when I was home, but he still managed to get excited and wag his tail when I got his leash out of the cupboard.
Myself, Rianda and Mum then headed out into the countryside in Mum's little Suzuki to pick-up the cake for my sister's wedding tomorrow.
The cake was pink, with a fruit cake base and chocolate cake on top. We managed to securely put it into the rear seat of the Suzuki and wrap the seatbelt around the box it was in, and then gingerly drove back into town while trying to avoid any speed bumps or potholes.
At the wedding venue all three of us managed to carry the cake inside without dropping it. I then used Mum's phone to text my sister and jokingly wrote that we managed to put a crack in it while driving over a pothole. She immediately rung Mum in a mild panic but quickly told her the cake was still very much intact!
Below is a photo of the cake from the official wedding photographer.
In the evening my sister and her fiancé, Dan, were having a few drinks with both families at a local pub called the 'Five Stags' (and yes there were the mounted heads of five stags along the wall behind the bar). I had met up with my sister Victoria (centre) in July last year in Vietnam, but this was my first time seeing my soon to be wedded sister, Annie (left) in over 2 years, and it was great to see both of them again.