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Intrepid Journeys


Norm Hewitt: Borneo

Photogallery: Norm's trip to Borneo

Norm Hewitt tracks down some forgotten head-hunting tribes in this week's episode of Intrepid Journeys .

Norm Hewitt's Intrepid Journey takes him to one of the last places on Earth where you can truly go back in time - Sarawak, home of Borneo's head-hunting tribes. But even an ex-All Black can have reservations about tackling such a trip.

"I've never been in the jungle before, so I was a bit nervous about that," Hewitt admits. "Before I left home I threw a few extras into my pack. Just a few bits and pieces that could come in handy. A bloke can never be too prepared."

Being prepared to head into the jungle delivered the kind of rewards most people only see in wildlife shows - like getting up close to the organ-utans only found in Borneo and Sumatra.

"Just up to my right was a mother and a baby feeding. Over to my left the big plate-head male came down," Hewitt recalls. "There are 50,000 orang-utans living wild in Borneo's jungles, but they're under pressure as they're being squeezed out of their habitat by logging, mining and forest fires.
It's a real treat to see them without having to look through the bars of a cage. It's just amazing to watch. A very, very cool experience."

The wildlife certainly rolled out the welcome mat for Hewitt. He also enjoyed the company of the Probocus monkey, which is a rare experience indeed.

"You won't see any of these guys in any zoo around the world. For some reason they cannot survive in captivity, which made this experience even more special for me," he says. "So cool, seeing them in their own environment."

Getting to be so close to these kinds of animals gets the blood pumping but not nearly as much as the legends and legacy of Borneo's head-hunter tribes.

"Iban warfare was brutal and bloody - to the point of ethnic cleansing," Hewitt explains. "They were fearless, and many extinct tribes were wiped out at the hands of the Iban. Thankfully, that was a long time ago."

Given the bloody stories about their forebears, being told part of the trip involves staying in an Iban longhouse - the way the tribes now live - might seem like a scary prospect. But for Hewitt it was anything but that. He slotted into the daily routine and was keen to really help out.

"It is their way of life, and to be able to have a small part of that experience is something that has touched me deeply."