The Kinabalu Park
Malaysia's First World Heritage Site
and surrounding attractions
World's Highest Mountain Torq at Mount Kinabalu. Mountain Torq Via Ferrata, a mountain path (via ferraia is Italian for iron road) was opened at Mount Kinabalu, Sabah in early January. The Mountain Torq Via Ferrata, comprising rungs and cables embracing the mountain's rock face, is located at 3,800 meters of the 4,095-metre summit. It has also been certified by the Malaysia Book of Records as the world's highest and Asia's first mountain torq. The mountain torq, with various alternative routes, enables people of all ages to enjoy climbing Mount Kinabalu's rock faces, giving them a chance to view the mountain from different angles. The path allows access to scenic sections of the summit normally accessible only to rock climbers and mountaineers.
Mt Kinabalu, the majestic summit of Borneo is the focal point of the Park and the whole of Sabah. Such is the importance of this mountain that the state capital Jesselton was renamed Kota Kinabalu in 1964. The highest mountain between the Himalayas and the Snow Mountains of Papua Barat (New Guinea Island) this magnificent granite massif stands at 4,095.2m (13,435ft) tall.
Kinabalu Park is Malaysia's first World Heritage designated by UNESCO in December 2000 for its 'outstanding universal values' and role as one of the world' most important biological sites.
The Kinabalu Park and the Kundasang War Memorial situated just on the fringe of the Park were both established in 1962 as commemorative symbols for the 2,428 Australian and British prisoners of war who suffered and died at Sandakan and the 3 forced death marches from Sandakan to Ranau, and the local people who risked their lives to help the prisoners. It was the inspiration of Major G.S. Carter D.S.O (Toby Carter) a New Zealander employed with Shell Oil Co. (Borneo) and enlisted with the Royal Australian Engineers and parachuted into Borneo in 1945.
The Kinabalu Park covers a staggering area of 754 sq. km (300 sq.mile), from the Park Headquarters area all the way to Poring Hot Springs 40 Km (25 miles) away and northwards to Mandalon, almost reaching the Kudat Highway. It is bigger than Singapore island! Established as a state park in 1964, this botanical paradise is blessed with an astonishing variety of flora and fauna that ranges over 4 climate zones, from the rich lowland dipterocarp forest through the montane oak, rhododendron; the coniferous forests, to the alpine meadow plants ... and to the stunted bushes of the summit zone. Kinabalu Park has probably one of the richest flora collections in me world.
Highways and sealed roads have made the Park easily accessible. It's an easy two (2) hour scenic drive from Kota Kinabalu and is a popular getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city where visitors can enjoy the cool invigorating air. In 2004, more than 415,360 visited the Park with more than 43,430 climbers. While the focus of the Park is the mountain, about 80% of visitors don't climb all the way to the peak but come simply to enjoy the serenity of this place ...
Kinabalu Park Headquarters is situated on the southern boundary, at an elevation of 1,563m (5,000 ft). Most of the Park's facilities are located here including visitors' accommodations, restaurants, exhibit centers.
TRAILS OF WONDER
Step into Wonderland and follow any of numerous trails around Kinabalu Park. Even though it is the most explored and studied place in Borneo, new discoveries of rare and endemic plants are constantly being made here.
So take a map and set off on your own or follow Park Naturalists as they take you on guided trail walks and point out the various wonders. There are also audio-visual shows featuring rare flora and fauna found here. If you are a first time visitor, sign up for these shows and you'll be thrilled when you find yourself identifying the same denizens on your walks - or during your climb up Mt Kinabalu.
Mt Kinabalu Botanical Garden (Mountain Garden) - is one of the biggest attractions at the Park. Started in 1981 this 5-acre Garden is an excellent showcase of the diverse plant- life on the mountain, as flora from all over the Park has been replanted here. Many of these plants are not only lovely to look upon but have medicinal value too, as proven by the local Dusun community.
Climbing Mt Kinabalu can be done in 2 days but a more comfortable climb in 3-days is recommended to acclimatize to the altitude and fully enjoy the rich biological diversity - the exotic rare plants, orchids, birds and many more. While it does not require special skills to do the climb, you must at least have the basic fitness level. Park regulations require climbers have to engage the services of a registered mountain guide. The numbers of guides depend on the number of climbers. Porter services are available and recommended. Book and pay for your mountain guide and porter at the Kinabalu Park.
Two (2) trails lead to the top, the Summit Trail and Mesilau Route. The 2 trails meet at Layang-Layang at 2,740m (or Km 4 from Timpohon Gate).
The Summit Trail is the well trodden main route taken by most climbers, since the beginning. Starting from the Park Headquarters, it used to be that climbers walk the 4_ Km up to the Timpohon Gate at 1,866.4 m where the Summit Trail starts. Today most climbers opt to take the shuttle transport. Interestingly, the climb actually begins with the descent to Carson's Falls, named after the first Park Warden of Kinabalu Park. From here onward, depending on your fitness level, it is about 4 to 5-hour climb for the day
The trail winds up a steep staircase of gnarled tree-roots to a mossy world of drifting clouds and orchid-draped trees, where pitcher plants and rhododendrons abound. There are several Pondok (or Shelters).
The first shelter is Pondok Kandis at 1,981.7m where on a clear day, a view of the road that links Kota Kinabalu to the Park can be seen.
The second shelter is Pondok Ubah at 2,081.4m, the area where one of Borneo's most unusual pitcher plants grows - the Nepenthes lowii, so do look out for these oddly-shaped plants.
The third shelter is Pondok Lowii. The trail continues up to the mossy forest of mixed bamboos and tree ferns. More rhododendrons are seen.
The fourth shelter at 2,515 m (8,251) is Pondok Mempening is reached with wild begonias growing nearby. Stops at these shelters give one time to observe the squirrels, tree shrews and birds that seem so unafraid of the climbers. You will also see the Layang-Layang TV station. Soon you will emerge to an open exposed ridge at Layang-Layang (previously known as Carson's Camp), at 2,702 m (8,865ft) this is where the Summit Trail meets with the Mesilau Trail.
At this point a band of ultramafic soil, distinguished by its orange-cinnamon color, crosses the trail and the vegetation changes dramatically. The forest becomes shorter and much more open and is dominated by the second species Leptospermum that grows on Kinabalu, L.recurvum, with its tiny grey leaves and Dacrydium gibbsiae, a very beautiful conifer, both found only with the Kinabalu Park. This is also the zone of the insect-eating pitcher plants for which Kinabalu is famous. Of the 30 species of pitcher plants recorded from Borneo, around 10 grow on the mountain and at least 3 species are found nowhere else in the world. These include the spectacular Nepenthes rajah, the largest pitcher plant in the world and the beautiful N.villosa. These plants are delicate and easily damaged by trampling feet. Please look carefully where you tread,
The fifth shelter, Pondok Villosa, at 2,690m (8,825ft) is situated at the top of an open rocky patch and soon the forest becomes even more stunted. Here are found the scurfy orange young leaves of the endemic Haviland's oak add a touch of color. Superb view can be seen of Mt Kinabalu towering above as you follow the trail upwards. More rhododendrons are seen, some species that are Kinabalu endemics. Schima brevifolia (a relative of the tea plant) with its young purple leaves and beautiful large camellia-like flowers is common from here.
At the top of this open area at 3,050m (10,000ft), a small track leads off to a helipad on the right and it is worth making this 5-minute side trip for the dramatic view of the towering peaks from the helipad on a clear day.
After the helipad junction, the ultramafic soil ends and the forest are again the taller trees covered with mosses and orchids cover the ground in between granite boulders. At this elevation, about 60% of the ground cover is orchids. Within a few minutes you arrive at the sixth shelter, Pondok Paka at 3,080m (10,105ft), named after Paka Cave nearby, made famous because it is here that the very first summit expedition led by Sir Hugh Low sheltered, rested overnight before J climbing to the summit on the morning of llth March 1851. The Paka Cave, on the edge of a small stream is nothing more than a large overhanging rock.
The thinning air makes it harder to breathe. Finally, the various accommodations for overnight stop is reached, at Waras Hut, Laban Rata, Panar Laban or Gunting Lagadan Hut. The most comfortable is Laban Rata which equipped with running water, electricity, a restaurant, indoor showers and toilets.
Panar Laban 'the place of sacrifice' was where Sir Hugh Low and his local guides performed a ritual sacrifice to appease the ancestral souls for their 'disturbance' to the spirit world and to seek safe passage. This same sacrifice is still performed each year and when there is a major expedition or event on the mountain.
The Mesilau Route to the Summit starts from Mesilau Resort and leads to Layang-Layang (Carson's Camp). It was opened in October 1998 initially used mainly by scientists and researchers as it takes longer (about 5 to 6 hours to reach Layang-Layang, as compared to 2 - 3 hours, from the Timpohon Gate. Visitors who wish to take this Route must register and pay a small fee at Mesilau Gate. '
The trail is a good one for people who are more interested in plants and wildlife than in the actual climb to the summit of the Mt Kinabalu. Conifers, climbing bamboos, superb Agathis trees grow in the area. Near the ridge crest at about 2,000m (6,500ft) the forest becomes stunted, with rocks, tangled tree roots, covered in spongy mosses and liverworts. There are many delicate orchids and beautiful orange-coloured Rhododendrons.
Some little streams are crossed before reaching the Kipuyut Bridge across the swift-flowing West Mesilau River that cascades from the precipitous slopes. Near the 3 Km mark, a tributary of the river is again crossed. From here the trail follows the ridge, rising steeply and continuously, up and up and up in an almost never-ending series of steps for about 2_Km. From here another 500 metres of trail contouring around the massif bring you out to the Summit Trail, a little way above Layang-Layang. The whole Layang-Layang is 5.7Km (3 1/2 miles).
The Climb to the Peak
After a night's rest, most climbers leave at about 3.00am for the 3-hour trek (pending on fitness level) to the summit and to catch a magnificent sunrise, weather permitting. In the dark, you can see the beams of torch lights as the procession of climbers trudge higher and higher. There are ladders, hand railings and ropes to help you over the steeper slopes.
An hour from Panar Laban, you'll see the Sayat-Sayat Hut (3,668m), this is the highest shelter on the mountain for Park use only. From here, you will walk across the bare granite slabs that stretch endlessly ahead, in an eerie moonscape of stone. The vegetations are stunted shrubs and tough grasses in the crevices.
By about 6.00am, you reach your final destination; the highest point on Mt Kinabalu, the summit of Borneo at 4,095.2m is Low's Peak! As you wait in the cold, dawn gradually creeps over the horizon, illuminating the darkness with the light of a new day. In clear weather, you can almost see all of Sabah spread out below ...
From this vantage point, you'll also see a dramatic drop more than 1,000m down ... this is the Low's Gully. In 1998, a joint Malaysian-British expedition successfully descended into the Gully. Expedition members believe that it was not so much a 'conquering' of the Gully, as an acceptance by the mountain to let them through, perhaps due to the spiritual rituals before and after the expedition.
A chasm stretching 16Km in length, it separates the summit plateau into the Western and Eastern Plateaus. Other peaks on the mountain are Victoria's Peak(4,090m), Donkey Ears Peak (4,054m), South Peak (3,921.5m) and St John's Peak (4,090.7m) on the Western Plateau. On the Eastern Plateau, stand King Edward Peak (4,086m), Mesilau Peak (3,801.3m) and King George Peak (4,062.6m). These peaks are only for experienced climbers as it is a challenging climb. Special Permits from the Park authorities is required.
It can be very cold with strong wind at the summit. Hence, climbers are advised to descent as soon as possible. You may be lucky to have good mountain condition and able to stay longer. It is advisable to descent before the swirling clouds could obstruct visibility. It takes about 2 hours to descent to Panar Laban/Laban Rata. Check-out time is 1 Cam. The descent to Timpohon Gate takes about 4 to 5 hours. The slowest descend Record from Panar Laban to Timpohon Gate is 12 hours!
The Kinabalu Park, covering an area of 754 sq. kilometers including Mt. Kinabalu, Mt Tambayukon to the north and their foothills, was gazette to preserve the valuable natural heritage encompassed within the mountains and its natural environment. The majestic mountain, has a fascinating geological history. It began approximately a million years ago when the granite core lying beneath the earth's crust was solidifying. This granite massif was later thrust upwards through the crust to the surface. Subsequent erosion removed thousands of feet of the overlying sand and mud stone exposing this massif. During the Ice-Age, glaciers running through the summit plateau, smoothed it out but the jagged peaks that stood out above the ice surface, remained unaffected by these 'cosmetic' touches and retained their extremely ragged surfaces. This rugged mountain 4093 meters above sea level, and still imperceptibly rising, is the focal point of the National Park.
STUNNING FLORA AND FAUNA
Kinabalu Park is Borneo's botanical paradise. It is home to about 1,200 species of orchids, 26 species of rhododendrons, 9 species of Nepenthes pitcher plants, over 80 species of fig trees, over 60 species of oaks and chestnut trees, 100 species of mammals, 326 species of birds - the list goes on! The Park has continually attracted top naturalists and botanists from around the world and been proclaimed an area with the richest diversity of flora and fauna.
FLORA The park is known for the abundance and diversity of its plant life, within one of the most ancient vegetations in the world. There are over 1,200 species of wild orchids and 40 varieties of oak in its forests, not to mention the countless varieties of rhododendrons with blooms ranging in hue from deep red to pale pink and white! Masses of moss and ferns weigh down the trees of the Montane oak forests of the upper regions. Flowers are to be seen everywhere-on the trees, in the shrubs, along the banks on the forest floor and even peeping out of the rocky crevices of the summit. Orchids such as the white necklace orchids are as delicately beautiful as their namesake.
The forest of Kinabalu are some of the richest in the world with an estimated 5,000 flowering plants, and this does not include the innumerable mosses, ferns and fungi. Wild orchids grow in abundance and range in size from a pinhead to huge stems over 2m. in length. Look out for the beautiful Slipper Orchids, which command much commercial interest with the Rothchild's Slipper Orchid so preciously coveted it is considered the "Kinabalu Gold".
The world's largest pitcher plant can also be found in Kinabalu Park, The insect-eating Rajah Brooke's Pitcher Plants have pitchers that can hold up to 3.5 litres of water! 19 species of the beautiful Begonia plants have been documented, with probably half that number being endemic. The Begonia Chongii, a rare Begonia plant found on the west side of the mountain, is a recent discovery. It was named in honour of the then Chief Minister of Sabah, YAB Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat in recognition for hi enthusiastic support for the natural environment, conservation and protection of Sabah's Parks.
FAUNA The Bornean mountain ground squirrel Dremomys eve are often spotted scampering about in the scrub vegetation while the mountain tree shrew Tupaia montana are easily spotted along the mountain trails. You may even come across a red-necked keelback snake sunning itself along your path. The variety of birds range from mountain black eye, mountain black bird, Borneo eye bright, Euphrasia borneensis, and the now 'not-so-friendly' nor so easily sighted Friendly Kinabalu Warbler.
This Wonderland features some of the most amazing creations of nature. Since animals are not easily seen, patience is virtue — that you will be blessed with rare and captivating sights!
A stroll past the road-side lamps at the Park Headquarter on dark wet nights or at dawn will reveal moths, beetles and other insects in all shapes, sizes and colours. Some are camouflaged in delicate mossy greens and greys, while others flaunt bright contrasting colours or red, black and white. There are 'twigs' that walk and 'leaves' that fly! Look closer and you'll find that they are actually insects.
This abundance of insects and plants play a big hand in supporting a thriving bird population. Over 300 species have been recorded in the Park. There is the Grey Drongo with white eye-ring and forked tail, and the heavy, long-tailed Malaysian Treepie are two of the commonest at the Park Hq. Higher up, you will find the small green Mountain Blackeyes and the larger red-breasted Mountain Blackbirds.
PORING HOT SPRING
A visit to the Kinabalu Park is not complete without a jaunt to Poring. "Poring" is Kadazandusun word for the bamboo species growing in the area. Situated 40 Km (25 miles) away slightly northeast of the Parks HQ, Poring is in the lowlands, a complete contrast to the Parks HQ. Soak away the sores and aches of muscles in the hot sulphuric minerals of this spring, claimed to have curative powers and very popular with the locals.
BUTTERFLY FARM Here you will find several species of colourful and striking butterflies. Borneo's first, this farm features a garden, nursery and hatchery for purpose of research, education and the preservation endangered species.
PORING ORCHID CONSERVATION CENTRE
With 1,200 species of orchids found with Kinabalu Park, the Centre has the largest live collection of the Sabah Orchid and rare endemic wild orchids.
Mousedeers and deers relax under the gaze of colourful birds in the aviary.
PORING CANOPY WALKWAY
A must-visit! Stroll amidst the canopy of the Menggaris tree - the King of the Forest. The Walkway is 157.8m long and 41m high!
The world's biggest flower, Rafflesia is one of the hardest to find. Fortunately, Sabah is known to have the largest concentration of the Rafflesia population. This rare and exotic flower takes up to 15months to bud but only lasts 7 days in bloom. The Park will post a Notice to announce a Rafflesia in bloom or bud.