Wednesday, June 23

A ‘tail of Borneo’ adventure

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Pasir Antu Laut beach.

WITH Covid-19 still lingering around the world, it will be a while before Malaysians can renew their passports, take leave from work and travel overseas to unwind after a trying year that saw a raft of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to contain the pandemic.

But now that Malaysia has been able to secure more than six million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, it shouldn’t be long before the people are able to travel out of the country again.

Till then, not many people have even ventured as far as two or three states from home, what more to say across the South China Sea from the peninsula to Borneo, particularly Sarawak.

Being the biggest state in Malaysia, almost the size of the entire peninsula or about 124,450 km² but with only one-tenth of the population, much of Sarawak remains undiscovered.

Pasir Antu Laut beach. — Photos by Roystein Emmor

A huge part of Sarawak is still covered in green forests and to keep it that way, the government has gazetted 14 national parks across the state.

They are Bako National Park, Batang Ai National Park, Gunung Gading National Park, Kubah National Park, Lambir Hills National Park, Loagan Bunut National Park, Maludam National Park, Matang Wildlife Centre, Mulu National Park, Niah National Park, Santubong National Park, Similajau National Park, Talang Satang National Park and Tanjung Datu National Park.

thesundaypost recently visited Tanjung Datu National Park, said to be the smallest of the lot at just under 14km² but one of the most beautiful with some of the most pristine coasts and their white-sand beaches, lapped by crystal blue waves.

The SCF Tanjung Datu National Park office which also serves as an accommodation for visitors and tourists.

Located at Sarawak’s southwestern tip — or the “tail” of Borneo — Tanjung Datu is one of the state’s less accessible natural parks, yet it’s this relative remoteness that forms one of its main attractions.

Because of this, the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) has set up a campsite and its office there, originally for its staff but due to the potential of its natural beauty to boost the state’s tourism industry, the campsite has been opened to nature lovers for a unique outdoors experience amidst the unspoilt wilderness.

To get there, the first part of the journey involves a careful three-hour drive or almost 140km from Kuching to Kampung Telok Melano through either the Bau-Lundu road or Matang.

The Tanjung Datu campsite is accessible only by boat from Kampung Telok Melano across the South China Sea as building an access road might ruin its pristine surroundings. Depending on sea conditions and the weather, the boat ride takes around 20 minutes.

The campsite can also be reached on foot from Kampung Telok Melano but it is a tough hike through lush thick forests on an almost invisible trail, marked only with tags every 100 meters.

 

Facilities

At the SFC, the facilities consist of a forest hostel (four bedrooms with two single beds), forest huts and a campsite for those who want to sleep under the stars.

The campsite near the SCF Tanjung Datu National Park office.

There are no canteens or any other amenities, so it’s advisable to bring along enough food and drinks. Visitors can opt to stay in some home-stays at Kampung Telok Melano and visit the park by boat or on foot for a day trip.

The standard rules and regulations must be noted and strictly complied with at all times while in the national park. For example, taking out any samples or objects — even a piece of rock found on the beach — is not allowed.

Those who want to take photographs and videos must make prior arrangements or ask permission from the national park’s booking office before going on a picture-shooting spree of the fascinating wildlife and beautiful landscape.

At the campsite, depending on their supplies, visitors are allowed to cook or barbeque their meals at the facilities provided — a kitchen, a barbeque pit and meal areas.

 

Main trekking trails

For those wishing to stretch their legs, there are three main trekking trails, not counting the access the trail from Kampung Telok Melano.

The open-air-style forest hut at the campsite.

One is the 2.7km Pasir Antu Laut Trail which leads to a hidden white beach with crystal blue water less than an hour hike from the campsite.

Next is the Viewpoint Trail. Although short at about 500m, it is steep and leads to a viewing point at Tanjung Labuan Gadong, an 80m-high cliff which offers a panorama of the park’s entire shoreline.

Dolphins may be spotted frolicking in the shimmering blue waters, and on a clear day, the islands of Pulau Talang Besar and Pulau Talang Kecil, part of the Talang Satang National Park, some 18km out in the sea, are visible from the park.

The third is the 2km Belian Trail which beckons the adventurous with a challenging trek. Its mostly steep incline cuts through the mixed dipterocarp forest to the highest point in the park — the Gunung Melano peak, some 542m above sea level.

From Gunung Melano, there are spectacular views of both the Malaysian and Indonesian coasts around the cape with the international border just 200m away.

Along one of the hiking trails in the Tanjung Datu National Park.

Opportunities abound for viewing Tanjung Datu’s rich plant and animal life. If lucky, one might even see hornbills perched high on treetops.

Night hiking is also available, subject to the guide’s ability to read the contours of the terrain after dusk.

thesundaypost was lucky to have a seasoned guide who had brought numerous visitors and tourists to the park before.

A short night hike was arranged for us to experience nature at its most raw along a short 400m trail to Telok Upas, another access point from the coast to the campsite, occasionally catching glimpses of some nocturnal animals such as the Bornean bearded pigs. Unfortunately, there were no turtle sightings that night.

The SFC conserves turtles to ensure the sea-going reptiles lay their eggs in peace. It will remove the clutches laid to the designated hatching or nursery area near the campsite to prevent predation.

After a campsite barbeque dinner, we rested in the open-air-style forest hut with the gentle wash of waves providing a soothing lullaby.

The next morning we went for a hike along the 2.7km Pasir Antu Laut Trail to soak up the beautiful view of the white-sand beach and crystal blue waters before heading back to camp for a short brunch.

Our boats came in the afternoon to pick us back to Kampung Telok Melano where our tour van parked.

For more information, contact local tour agencies in Kuching. Experienced tour guides will be assigned to help you discover the most out of Telok Melano National Park.

Boats waiting to pick us up at the beach just outside of the SFC Tanjung Datu National Park office.