Compared to Kutai, Wehea is an extraordinary breath of fresh air. This is the rainforest as you imagined it to be, in all its primordial glory. From atop its lone watchtower, you look over misty mountains that take you back to another Earth. The forest is home to many of Borneo’s most interesting species, including the clouded leopard, sun bear, Storm’s stork, grizzled langur, Bornean gibbon and orangutan. To date, 82 mammal species have been documented, of which 22 are vulnerable or endangered. Having said that, this is raw rainforest with few trails, making wildlife spotting difficult, and a good local guide essential.
Surprisingly, there is an excellent wooden lodge built by WWF, beautifully situated on a rushing river bend, with a generator, space for 20 people in private rooms, and a waterfall. The sounds of the forest and the river are priceless here. It takes some doing to arrange a stay, however, as the lodge is not permanently staffed. On the other hand, that’s why the forest exists in such a pristine state and why it is such a great opportunity to visit now, as an incongruous helo pad attests: the US Embassy flies in VIPs from Jakarta.
(forest guardians), a cadre of 35 to 40 rangers who keep it free from illegal activities such as poaching and logging. Their cause is assisted by Integrated Conservation (firstname.lastname@example.org), a small and highly-dedicated NGO run by Brent Loken and Sheryl Gruber, who have placed 75 photo traps on various wildlife trails to document the forest’s biodiversity. See the results on their website (http://ethicalexpeditions.ning.com).
. Prices are still being established, but advance enquires may be made by email (email@example.com).
Getting to Nehas Liah Bing is no small feat, however. First you must get to Muara Wahau, either by driving up from Sangatta by 4×4, or taking the bus (150,000Rp, three times daily). Either way it is six or seven hours on a notoriously bad road, one of the worst in Kalimantan. However, this Top Gear adventure has its rewards, at least in a 4×4, and the last two hours are very scenic. In Muara Wahau you can overnight in basic Hotel Aldi, which offers clean rooms with en suite mandi. To get to Nehas Liah Bing, take the main road from here to Berau, but keep straight when it curves to the right. Turn right on a small dirt road exactly 2km later, just past a post office (kantor pos). Continue on for 200m and follow the road as it curves to the left. After another 300m you’ll see the Wehea Conservation Center (also referred to locally as the ‘kantor PM’) on your left. At least one day’s advance notice of your arrival is key to avoid delays. Centre staff can also arrange a day trip to two interesting limestone caves at Kombeng and Gua Maria (250,000-400,000Rp).
Once your visit is arranged, you must still get to the forest. This requires a 2½-hour drive from Nehas Liah Bing down remote logging roads, which may be impassable during the rainy season (during our research trip a flash flood came in the car doors). This last leg creates a welcome sense of separation from the world, heightening your anticipation. You are really heading into the wild.
The other way to access Wehea Forest is to purchase a package tour from De’gigant Tours, the only regular provider of this itinerary. A four-day all-inclusive trip for two or three people, including round-trip transport from Balikpapan, is 6,372,000Rp. Compare rates, access and expertise with the above alternative. De’gigant frequently bundles Wehea with a trip to the Derawan Archipelago, combining jungle and reef in one itinerary. This involves coming down to Wehea from Berau, avoiding the drive from Sangatta.