Sabah high­lands fling

Kin­a­balu Park, a Unesco World Her­itage Site, and the nearby val­ley of Kun­dasang en­chant Riza­ud­din Ibrahim with their flora and fauna

New Straits Times - - Jom! Go -

THE sight of Mount Kin­a­balu in its whole mas­sif from Pekan Na­balu is sim­ply ma­jes­tic. It’s a nice wel­come to this small town af­ter a long wind­ing drive in our rented car, on the moun­tain road from the cap­i­tal, Kota Kin­a­balu.

Pekan Na­balu, the small town known for its long wooden shops and rows of open air stalls that sell knick-knacks, crafts and lo­cal prod­ucts, is lo­cated in the high­land re­gion dubbed Sabah High­lands or that slightly over­rated ti­tle of Bor­neo High­lands, home to the ma­jes­tic moun­tain.

That evening we ar­rive at Kin­a­balu Park and check in into our lodg­ing at Li­wagu Suite, a loft unit that has a bal­cony over­look­ing the vegetation. It’s cold moun­tain cli­mate as Kin­a­balu Park is lo­cated at a 1,500-me­tre el­e­va­tion.


Our ex­plo­ration of the Sabah High­lands starts with Kin­a­balu Park as it is right at our doorstep. Our ex­pec­ta­tions are high as the park is a Unesco World Her­itage Site. And we are not dis­ap­pointed.

First, there’s lively birdlife. We even can closely ob­serve ch­est­nut-hooded laugh­ing thrush, as it sings and frol­ics in trees near our bal­cony. Kin­a­balu Park is a renowned spot for bird­watch­ing and this is con­firmed with the num­ber of bird­watch­ers we meet dur­ing our stroll at the park. They make a ma­jor­ity of park vis­i­tors; they’re eas­ily iden­ti­fied with their binoc­u­lars, tele­scopes and long-lens cam­eras, and their habit of con­stantly star­ing into tree­tops.

We then head to the Nat­u­ral His­tory Gallery. It is a mu­seum on the na­ture, ge­ol­ogy and ethnog­ra­phy of the re­gion sur­round­ing Mount Kin­a­balu. What we like most is the dio­rama dis­play of stuffed an­i­mals in the na­ture sec­tion. While in the ge­ol­ogy sec­tion, the ex­hibits in­clude rocks of var­i­ous colours and tex­tures, as well as tools and mu­si­cal in­stru­ments made from bam­boo and rat­tan in the ethnog­ra­phy sec­tion. For the wealth of in­for­ma­tion pro­vided, it is worth a visit as an in­tro­duc­tion to Kin­a­balu Park.

Strolling around the park, we can­not help but no­tice a plethora of flow­er­ing plants. Ei­ther planted as or­na­ments or wild, the tem­per­ate cli­mate makes for an abun­dance of flow­er­ing plants.

Part of eight in­ter­con­nect­ing trail net­works, the Si­lau Si­lau Trail is quite easy to hike. It has board­walks to ease the hike. We trek into the lower mon­tane for­est where trees are cov­ered with lichen and mosses. The en­tire length of the Si­lau Si­lau Trail is 3,057 me­tres but we don’t hike through it all. In­stead, we de­tour into the con­nect­ing Botan­i­cal Gar­den Trail, a loop trail with plenty of flow­er­ing plants along it.

One of the main rea­sons peo­ple visit the park is to climb Mount Kin­a­balu. For th­ese climbers, they will head to Tim­po­hon Gate, which is the main en­try to the trail. It is lo­cated 4km fur­ther in­side the park. There stands the Tim­po­hon Hut, where climbers’ de­par­tures and ar­rivals are recorded.

Above the hut is a view­ing deck that pro­vides a view of Mount Kin­a­balu’s western ridge. When we lounge on the deck, squir­rels ap­pear from the bushes. En­demic to this moun­tain re­gion, the Bornean black­handed squir­rel has ha­bit­u­ated it­self to be­ing fed by hu­mans and are ea­gerly ex­pect­ing some morsels from us.


The next day we drive out to Kun­dasang, 6km from the park. Sit­u­ated in a high­land val­ley, Kun­dasang is known for its veg­etable farms. Veg­etable cul­ti­va­tion is thriv­ing here due to the cooler high­land cli­mate.

We visit its fa­mous fruits and veg­etable mar­ket lo­cated along the main road of Jalan Ranau-Tam­paruli. Apart from veg­eta­bles, there are straw­ber­ries and colour­ful or­chids, chrysan­the­mums and poin­set­ti­asin pots for sale. There are also pots of pitcher plants.

To get closer to the veg­etable farms, we leave the town and drive on Kun­dasang Kauluan Road and later onto Cinta Mata Me­silou Road. It is a scenic route with views of veg­etable farms on hillyter­rain.

Af­ter 6km, we come to Desa Cat­tle Dairy Farm. The view changes into grass meadow with graz­ing black-and-white cows. The view on this high­land plateau of Me­si­lau has be­ing dubbed lit­tle New Zealand. In fact, the cows, the Hol­stein Frasier breed, are im­ported from New Zealand as they are suited for tem­per­ate moun­tain climes.

The farm cov­ers 199 hectares. Apart from the view, vis­i­tors can­take part in var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties. Milk­ing is at 3pm daily but we miss it. Nonethe­less, we man­age to watch the milk be­ing packed, through a glass win­dow at the cafe­te­ria lounge which also of­fers re­fresh­ments and light meals, es­pe­cially dairy prod­uct­s­like yo­gurt, ice­cream and ge­lato.

In the next build­ing, which is the pen that houses the calves and goats, vis­i­tors can­bot­tle-feed the calves and feed the goats. It is an ex­pe­ri­ence that any kid will love.

Back in Kun­dasang, we visit Kun­dasang War Me­mo­rial, built to com­mem­o­rate the Aus­tralian and Bri­tish sol­diers, also the na­tive peo­ple who helped them. They died on a forced­march from San­dakan to Ranau by the Ja­panese dur­ing World War 2. It came to be known as the San­dakan Death Marches.

The me­mo­rial, which stands ona hill over­look­ing the Kun­dasang Val­ley and Mount Kin­a­balu,con­sists of four gar­dens.

Aus­tralian Gar­den, English

Rose Gar­den and Bor­neo Gar­den rep­re­sent the home coun­tries of the vic­tims. The biggest gar­den, Con­tem­pla­tion Gar­den, which is perched on the me­mo­rial’s high­est point, is a per­gola deck with ponds and rows of col­umns. The mar­ble wall pan­els of the per­gola are in­scribed with the names of the vic­tims.


To­day, we take a longer drive, about 42km, to visit Sabah Tea Gar­den, a tea plan­ta­tion that pro­duces the fa­mous Sabah Tea.

Cov­er­ing an area of 2,480ha at 692m el­e­va­tion, lush green­ery greets us. There is a small sec­tion of the plan­ta­tion where vis­i­tors can walk through the tea shrubs. From the vis­i­tors cen­tre, we fol­low a down­hill path and come closer to the Camelia Si­ne­sis shrubs, i.e. tea trees.

As the day gets hot­ter, we lounge in the restau­rant, en­joy­ing the view of the plan­ta­tion. But our tea ad­ven­ture is not yet over. There is a long list of in­ter­est­ing tea-based dishes — pan­cakes, scones and waf­fles. We or­der all of them for brunch.

Just a short drive away from Sabah Tea Gar­den is Kam­pung Luanti Baru which is known for its nat­u­ral fish spa — Ta­gal Sun­gai Moroli Fish Spa. It is a fish spa ex­pe­ri­ence like non-other. Not like those tiny fishes in the tanks of­fered by fish spas in the malls, the vil­lage’s spa treat­ment has big fresh­wa­ter fish which can weigh up to 3kg to do the job in the cold, re­fresh­ing river!

But a visit to this vil­lage is more than about fish spas. It is more to wit­ness and laud the tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tion method done by vil­lagers in pre­serv­ing the fish. Called ta­gal (means en­forced fish­ing), the method is done in the clear wa­ters of Sun­gai Mo­rali that me­an­ders through Kam­pung Luanti Vil­lage. The ban is only lifted on spe­cific dates of the year and at the cer­tain por­tions of the river.

Thanks to the ta­gal prac­tice, the fish breeds in large num­bers. They be­come so tame that peo­ple can wade into the river to ex­pe­ri­ence the mas­sage sen­sa­tion by let­ting the fish nib­ble away dead skin on their feet. It is a lit­tle tick­lish.

Next, we drive 20km to Por­ing Hot Springs. On the way there, we see a ban­ner an­nounc­ing “Raf­fle­sia Bloom­ing Now!” erected at the road­side. Are we lucky to chance upon this op­por­tu­nity to see a raf­fle­sia in bloom, even at a fee of RM10 each?

It is Raf­fle­sia kethii, the biggest Raf­fle­sia species in Sabah. What­ever the species, see­ing it is rare op­por­tu­nity for most peo­ple. This is be­cause this par­a­sitic plant, which has no stems, leaves and roots, can only grow in cer­tain con­di­tions.It only blooms for two or three days be­fore it de­com­poses.

We then carry on to Por­ing Hot Springs. Un­like Kin­a­balu Park and the area around it, the spring is in the low­lands. But it is not the cold moun­tain cli­mate that peo­ple are here for. They are here for its sul­phuric hot springs. Im­i­tat­ing the Ja­panese on­sen, the hot sul­phuric wa­ter is chan­nelled into a series of tiled bath­tubs.

Por­ing is a Kadazan­dusun word which

refers to a cer­tain type of bam­boo. Per­haps it is the bam­boo grove in the Bam­boo Gar­den which is lo­cated along the path to the spring and pool area. Ob­vi­ously, each stalk of bam­boo is big­ger than the usual type.

Other than hot springs, this na­ture re­serve­has at­trac­tions like a but­ter­fly aviary, orchid gar­den, canopy walk­way and a trail to wa­ter­falls. As we spent too much time on the raf­fle­sia ex­cur­sion, we only have time to linger around the hot springs and pool area.

But Por­ing Hot Springs is enough to com­plete our short fling in the Sabah High­lands, be­fore we head back to the city to catch our flight home.

The ch­est­nut-hooded laugh­ing thrush. Pan and the Sab

ncakes, scones d waf­fles at e restau­rant in bah Tea Gar­den. The Hol­stein Frasier cow breed in the Desa Dairy Cat­tle Farm in Kun­dasang. A path through the tea shrubs in the tea plan­ta­tion of Sabah Tea Gar­den.

Vis­i­tors en­joy­ing fish mas­sage on their feet in Sun­gai Moroli at Kam­pung Luanti Baru.


Ref­fle­sia kethii in bloom at Por­ing.

Straw­ber­ries and veg­eta­bles on sale at Kun­dasang Mar­ket.

Flow­ers in pots and pitcher plants at Kun­dasang Mar­ket.

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