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My Maliau Adventures

(C) Forest Ang

......hope it will remain a logging-free conservation area....


Right at the heart of Borneo lays the last frontier – the last virgin jungle in this part of the world. Maliau Basin - the “Lost World” as being proclaimed, held many secrets waiting to be explored.

Like a huge basin, spanning 390 square kilometer, its perimeter is guarded by rising cliffs making accessibility almost impossible except the southern frontier.

Early this year, I read an article about Sabah’s Maliau Basin. I was motivated to make a visit someday. Within the same week, AirAsia advertised free flights to Kota Kinabalu from Penang. We (a gang of forest explorers) took the opportunity to get the tickets. And so our adventures began:

27 April 2007 (Friday)

We boarded AirAsia plane in the morning and landed at Kota Kinabalu airport at half past noon. We could choose to travel about 7 hours of rough terrain on 4WD to reach Maliau from KK. However, we decided to take a connecting flight from KK to Tawau with AirAsia. We managed to cut down the land transport by half (that was RM800) by taking the connecting flight. We reached Tawau in the evening and were driven on a 4WD to Maliau Basin’s Agathis Camp. We saw a mousedeer, a barking deer and an unidentified animal which we only had a glimpse. It was past midnight when we reached Agathis Camp.

28 April 2007 (Saturday)

Agathis Camp is usually the first camp for any visitor going on a round trip of the Maliau Basin. We woke up by the distant calls of gibbons and the chirping birds around the camp. We had our breakfast cooked by our rangers cum guides. Agathis Camp is beside a small river with rocky steps. Infact, the basin is geologically named as “Land of the Giant Staircase”. With so many “staircases”, rivers flowing down will drop vertically forming majestic waterfalls.

After our breakfast, we packed our haversacks and prepared our toughest hike from Agathis Camp (AC) to Camel Trophy Camp (CTC). The trails from AC to CTC were steeps. There were several cliffs of almost 90 degrees where ladders were provided. This reminded me of the trail to Pinnacles from Mulu.

The last part of the trail was through montane forest. There were some nepenthes to see. Our guides told us that there are more of the nepenthes during our journey to Ginseng Camp. We reached Camel Trophy Camp at 2.30 pm. At the height of 1005 m, CTC was a nice cool camp. In 1993, the Camel Trophy’s Teams and Staffs constructed the camp in appreciation of the assistance given to the Camel Trophy’s adventure. The building and a tree tower was donated for the ongoing conservation and the scientific research of the Maliau Basin.

At 30m, the tree tower looked tall and humble but climbing up the tree tower gave me a frightful experience. It was easy climbing up the vertical ladder. Half way, my hands began to ache. Looking down make me quivered. When we reached the top platform, the view was superb. We saw the crowns of huge trees from above. I hope it will remain a logging-free conservation area.

29 April 2007 (Sunday)

It was like 7.00 o’clock in the morning when I woke up at 5.30am. We took our bath from the stored water pumped from the stream beside the camp. Our cooking and drinking water was sourced from the rain water that was collected from the roof and channeled into drums.

That morning, we were to explore 2 waterfalls. We started our trekking at 8.10 am towards Takob-Akob Waterfall. We reached the upper Takob-Akob waterfall at 9.45am. The waterfall got her name from the Takob-Akob tree beside the fall. Our guides showed us the similarity of the Takob-Akob’s fruits with the mangosteens. We took a lot of pictures before descending to see the Takob-Akob waterfall from below.

It was a spectacular fall like what you will see in the National Geographic’s documentary. We were told that the drop was 38 meters. It was drizzling and we hurriedly moved to our next destination – Giluk Falls.

Giluk Falls was about 30 minutes away from Takob-Akob Falls of different river system. We had to climb up the ridge and down to the other side to reach Giluk Falls. Unfortunately, access to the viewing of the Giluk Fall was cut off by landslide. We only enjoyed the “terrace garden” at the upper tier of Giluk Falls.

After taking photos of the “terrace garden”, we headed back to CTC for another night. When we reached camp, another group of 13 hikers and some 10 porters and guides joined us for the night.

Viewing from the CTC down towards the helipad, one can see the disturbed ground. I was told the bearded wild pigs roamed the soft ground scavenging for worms.

That night, I had a better view of the civet cat that came to feed on the food remnants. I took many pictures of the “not-so-shy” cat. It was an interesting experience to see wildlife at close range.

30 April 2007 (Monday)

While the other group headed for Takob-Akob Falls, we trekked down to Ginseng Camp (GC). Some 15 minutes from CTC, the trail ascended moderately to the montane forest. Trees were stunted, mosses were everywhere and nepenthes were hanging from the trees. Some nepenthes were growing from the ground too. Our guides told us there are 5 species of nepenthes around this area.

I saw a plate hanging from a tree with the words “Jalan Babi”. According to research, the Bearded Pigs used the trail regularly migrating from the health forest near the southern rim towards the coniferous-oak forest in the basin to nest and feed on the acorns. (Secrets of The Lost World, 2002, Yayasan Sabah)

We reached a river crossing just past noon. On exploring, I saw a deep drop. It was the Ginseng Waterfall. Another spectacular fall of at least 40 m in height. A further 5 minutes from the fall was Ginseng Camp (GC).

Later in the afternoon, we trekked to the Upper GC waterfall some 500 m away. It was smaller that the earlier fall but the view was as interesting as the previous.

At night, we went to the small stream near the camp for frogging. There were at least 3 species of frog and a toad that was lifer to me. I even had a chance to video a cloaking frog.

1 May 2007 (Tuesday)

Happy Labour Day. It was a day of hard labour for us. We will trek to the famous 7 tiers Maliau Falls. We started about 8 am trekking to another mountain ridge before descending to the center of the basin where the Maliau River flows. Maliau River is the only river that flows out of the basin where it joins Kuamut River before mating with Kinabatangan River, the longest river in Sabah.

We passed through Lobah Camp (LC). It was a camp at the top of a small hill on the ridge. The camp was neglected and needed renovation. At the top of the hill was a helipad. From the helipad, our guides pointed Mt Lusong to us and another yet to be named highest peak of Maliau Basin.

From the highest point at the LC’s helipad, the trail head down steeply towards Maliau Falls. Some 20 minutes from the helipad, we saw the blacked Rafflesia tengku-adlinii and a small bud on the ground.

As we proceeded, we heard the thundering falls from the distance. It was half an hour later that we came to see the mighty Maliau Falls. We were standing at the last or the 7th fall. We took many pictures of the 6th fall. We had our packed lunch and descended to see the 7th fall.

Our trek back to GC was a steep climb to LC and then through long trail before coming to GC. That night we saw a “headless” bird on a tree branch. It was later identified as Chestnut-naped forktail. It slept with its head buried under its wing.

2 May 2007 (Wednesday)

We have come to the end of the loop. We departed from GC to Agathis Camp to complete the round loop. It was a smooth long trail of 9 km. We started early and reached Agathis Camp at 12 noon.

We had ample time to wash ourselves and repacked our haversack. We had requested to be transferred to Studies Center for the night. We left Agathis Camp at 4.00 pm using 4WD. On the way we saw many tall Tualang trees with honey combs hanging from the branches.

Then we came to the Maliau Observation Tower. From the tower, we could see the rim of the basin and the Maliau Basin Studies Center below. Next our guide took us to the Bridge Skywalk and Belian Camp which was officially opened on the 26 April 2007, a day before our arrival at Maliau Basin. The Belian wood is the hardest wood in Borneo and the wood used for the Skywalk came from the Belian tree.

We checked in at the newly constructed hostel with new furniture sponsored by IKEA. We had our sumptuous dinner before going for a night walk under a full moon. There was movement at the edge of the road. I saw a porcupine hurriedly scrambling out of sight. Wildlife was plentiful there. Prints of sambar deers, wildboars and banteng were seen on the soft laterite path.

3 May 2007 (Thursday)

We slept very well that night. To catch the AirAsia at Tawau, we set out early at 7:50 am from Studies Center to Tawau. On the way out, two sambar deers were seen running away from our 4WD. The male managed to slip away from the road while the female kept running with our truck following behind. Finally, she turned into the forest.

Then our driver stopped to show us the elephant’s footprints on the ground. There were Banteng’s prints too.

It was an interesting journey by 4WD from Maliau Basin to Tawau. The government is building a tarmac road to Maliau Basin. On the way, we saw several Indian Darters on pockets of stagnant ponds caused by the road building.

We finally took our return flight with AirAsia back to Penang via Tawau and Kota Kinabalu.

At the visitors’ log book at Camel Trophy Camp, I wrote, “If there is one National Park that you want to come to in Malaysia. This is it! Best of all!”


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