Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tawau Hills Park 斗湖山國家公園

As a nature lover and an amateur macro wildlife photographer,
I regularly visit Tawau Hills Park which is the best place to look for wildlife in Tawau.
It is convenient to reach and affordable to visit too.
There are several webpages about Tawau Hills Park in the Internet
but none of them is similar to this blog post.
This is a very long detailed blog post that I have written containing information
about Tawau Hills National Park based on my experiences in the park
for all to read especially those who are planning to visit here.

Experience Nature in Tawau Hills Park today !

Tawau Hills National Park (Taman Bukit Tawau) is a forest reserve protected and opened
to the public as a recreation park and for eco tourism purposes.
Established in 1979, it has since become the most popular tourist spot in Tawau
where nature-loving tourists come to enjoy the natural environment and the
rich biodiversity while locals come mainly for picnics and recreation.
This lowland dipterocarp rainforest consist an area of 279.72 km² protected forest lands.

There are a lot of activities you can do in the park.
 Recreational Activities 
Forest trekking
Swimming (highly discouraged by the park officers due drowning cases in the past)

 Nature Activities 
Wildlife photography
Bird watching
Nature study

 Activities Locals Usually Do 
Singing and playing guitars
Play waters and somersaults
Children games
BBQ (highly discouraged because it causes air pollution)

-----  GETTING THERES ---------------------------------------------

First of all, the most important thing is getting there.
How to get there is not much of a problem if you are a local
but if you a not from around here, finding the way there might be difficult
as there is no proper map available showing directions to the park.
Furthermore,the road to the park is not shown under the GPS system nor Google Maps.

The park is located 24 kilometers from Tawau town.
It can be accessed with taxi services costing only RM30 from town or RM80 from the airport
directly to the park. Travelling in groups is much cheaper if you get to the park by bus.
Otherwise, most people choose to travel there by using their own cars as the road from
the town all the way to the park is in good condition.

For simple direction instructions:
Drive into Kuhara Road from town and
drive towards Kalabakan, Merotai or Maliau Basin.
Turn right when reached the garbage dump road junction.
There should be this signboard outside the road at the junction.
Just go straight and follow the long hilly road.
There will be another 2 road junction in the end of the road.
The right one leads to a small school while the right one will lead you directly to Tawau Hills Park.

With Google Satellite Map as a background, I have created a road label from the Airport through the town and towards Tawau Hills Park.

The park has opened new exploration areas and created many new facilities as the number of foreign tourists are increasing steadily over the years as the tourism industry here is blooming.

-----  ENTRANCE PAYMENTS -----------------------------------------

Upon entering the park, visitors are required to pay for entrance fee (conservation fee)
which is shown in the picture above.
It is a small amount to pay for each park visitor.
The fees are as stated below.

Below 18 years
MalaysianRM 1.00
Non-Malaysian  RM 6.00

Above 18
MalaysianRM 3.00
Non-Malaysian RM 10.00

The entrance ticket is a must for ordinary visitors but full-time researchers and
external workers in the park are given different kind of pass.
An entrance ticket only allows a person a day in the park
which is from 8am to 6pm - the park's visiting hours.
However, you could stay much longer in the park if you have paid for
accommodation to stay overnight in the park until the next morning.

-----  HIGHLIGHTED AREASS ------------------------------------------

These are the main tourist spots on the Tawau Hills Park map.

1) Botanical Garden
2) World Tallest Tropical Tree
3) Canopy Walkway
4) Sulphur Spring
5) Galas Waterfall
6) Mt. Maria
7) Mt. Lucia
8) Mt. Magdalena
Updated map of 2014


Entrance Fee (for Conservation)
Despite purchasing entrance ticket, you will still have to pay
extra conservation fees to visit some this Botanical Garden

Below 18
Malaysian RM 2.00
Non-Malaysian   RM 2.50

Above 18
Malaysian RM 4.00
Non-Malaysian  RM 5.00

Tawau Hills Botanical Gardens a.k.a. Lowland Gardens,
is a 5 acres land in the park housing a collection of
forest plants found in the park which includes orchids, arums and pitcher plants.

The garden was opened to public in 2006 mainly for students and those who are
interested in the botanical information of the park's fauna.
The garden is divided into zones, each displaying different types of plants.
The zones display these plant categories 
- Orchidaceae, Ferns, Araceae, Nepenthes, Hoya, Zingiberaceae,
Arecaceae, Begonia, Ethnobotani, Marantaceae 

There are trails and information boards in the garden for visitors to explore the garden themselves. 
However, visitors can also request to have a guide to tour them around the garden.
There are also several huts built around the garden for visitors to rest as there is
no limit to how long they can spend in the garden.

If you are looking for a place to see beautiful and exotic flowers,
this is not the perfect place for you.
Rather, this place is suitable for those who are interested in all kinds of tropical plants.
During flowering seasons, you might get a chance to see the rare Elephant Ear Orchid.

Here are some photographs taken in the garden :


Myrmeconauclea strigosa
Tiny pink flowers
Are there any flowers on this one?
Look closely


Standing at 88.32 meters tall, the world's tallest documented tropical tree and
also the tallest tree in Malaysia is found in Tawau Hills Park.
Though not as tall as the tallest redwood giants, this Shorea faguetiana still managed
to get itself a world record and Tawau Hills Park is proud to be it's home.

The area is much more difficult to access than the botanical park.
The tree is located 900 m away from the park headquarters.
Visitors who plan on visiting the site will have to travel on muddy trails
infested with thorny vines and leeches.

Once you have successfully reached the area,
you will be rewarded with the site of this majestic tree
which will make the largest adults appear tiny in comparison.
You will know that you have reached the right tree when you see this sign.

Furthermore, there is also a row of wooden fences surrounding the tree.
A wooden seating area is also recently constructed for visitors to rest.

It blends in perfectly with the foliage.


The canopy bridge is just a series of narrow suspension bridges
in the forest canopy layer suspending up to 40 meters above the forest floor.
This site is one of the newest landmarks opened to the public
so a lot of people are still unaware that this place exist.

The gate to the canopy bridge is always locked for security reasons
and will only be unlocked every morning by the ranger on duty there.
Many visitors spent half an hour to reach the destination but became
disappointed upon arriving when they realized the gate is still locked.
To prevent unnecessary misery, please inquire from the ticket counter or from the rangers
about the condition of the gate whether it has been unlocked or still remain locked.
Or you can just wait at the wooden seats below the first tower for the gate to be unlocked.

There are a lot of wildlife you can find endemic only to the forest canopy.
Here are some shots taken during a canopy exploration on this canopy walkway.

What lives on tree barks?
A swarm of termites.
A tree-trunk spider.
You can even encounter small bats resting under the ceilings on the way up the stairs.

The Sulphur Spring is one of the most amazing places in Tawau Hills Park.
It is also my personal favorite as the site has a wonderful and magical atmosphere.

This sulphurous spring is only a 3.2 km journey away from the park headquarter.
You might need a guide or a map because one can easily miss the trails to the spring.

One of the magical things you can experience here are the colorful ponds.
The ponds can appear in different colors though found in the same area.
The colors are due to the natural chemicals found in the waters.

 Some ponds are pearl white

Some are sky blue in color

Some ponds even appear rusty red

They may seem colorful but please do keep in mind that these are sulfur springs so
be careful of their high temperature and poisonous chemicals.
There is also a strong odour emitted from the sulfur waters so bringing a face mask
is advisable for those who cannot stand the smell of rotten eggs.

The heated waters ooze out from several geothermal vents around the river here.
As much as 11 hot springs are identified in this area.
Boiling eggs in hotsprings are discouraged as the temperature is far below boiling point.
Furthermore, the frequent heavy rains regularly dilute the spring waters.

The wildlife there has evolved in unique ways to adapt in this unusual habitat.

Bloodworms feeding on sulphur "mud"
Insect larvae thriving underwater

Brilliantly-colored damselflies sparkle under the sunlight 

Special type of flies feed on sulfur foams
while many larger species of butterflies visit the hotsprings for the mineral-rich spring waters.
The majestic Rajah Brooke's Birdwing Butterfly is one of them, making the place 
perfect for butterfly enthusiast.

The forest around the spring area has an ancient appearance that of
during the prehistoric carboniferous era where ferns thrive.
A wooden hut was recently built for visitors to rest while enjoying the scenery.


Also known locally as Air Terjun Bukit Gelas, the area is a
waterfall located 2.4 kilometers away from the headquarter.

                  Perfect place for family outing
and a peaceful family picnic

To get there, you will have to get wet crossing streams
and also get dirty climbing muddy slopes.
The waterfall area is small with a single hut enough to shelter a small group.
Since the place is deserted most of the time, you can enjoy peace and tranquility.
The river there contains shy animals that spend most of their time away from humans
such as this

River Terrapin

Giant Water Skater

Green Damselfly Nymph

    For more information on 
    Please visit



For real adventures who are not contented with these places
and are seeking much more challenges and nature,
you can apply for permits to hike the 3 large mountains of Tawau Hills Park
- Mount Maria (1020 meters high)
- Mount Lucia (1240 meters)
- Mount Magdalena (1280 m)

These mountains are formed from extinct volcanoes.
They are off limits to the public so they are seldom ventured.
Those who are interested in exploring these areas can contact the
park headquarters  089-918827 
main office (KK)   088-486430 

Here are some necessary payments needed for hiking the mountains.

Hiking Permit

Below 18
MalaysianRM 5.00
Non-Malaysian  RM 10.00

Above 18
MalaysianRM 10.00
Non-Malaysian RM 30.00

GUIDE    RM 40.00 ONE WAY       RM 60.00 per day 
1KG RM 4.00  RM 5.00       RM 6.00 
1-10KG RM 40.00 RM 50.00      RM 60.00

Hiking Certificate   RM 10.00 

Copied from the facilities fees list of the park

In conjunction with the Tawau Hills Park Biodiversity Expo 2012, the park is providing
free accommodation at Mt. Lucia's hostels to attract people to the mountain.

Deepest apologies to my readers because I could not write much about these 3 mountains
as I have never visited them myself and I could not get information from anybody
who has visited these mountains. To those who had succeeded in venturing
into these mountains, please do share your experiences for all to read.

----  OTHER PLACES & FACILITIESS ---------------------------------

Ticket Counter
Located at the entrance gate.
This is the place where you purchase your entrance ticket before entering the park.

Headquarter Offices
It is just an office where the park management team works in.
You can visit the office if you have something urgent to tell the manager.

Services Office
It is an office room specially in charge of park services such as
accommodation, campsite and hut rental.
If you need to book a hostel room or a campsite space,
you can contact the office staff - Mr. Jeffrin Rumpadon
at 019-8139607, 019-8009607, 089-925719

It is more like a small cafeteria / canteen providing cheap and simple food.
Those who are planing to stay overnight in the park can make arrangement with
the restaurant staff to provide proper meal for dinner and breakfast.
The usual working time of the restaurant is 8 am - 6 pm.

Meeting Room
A meeting room where you can rent for RM150 a day.

You can also rent the hall, for RM 24 in the morning and RM 40 for an evening.

Audio Visual Room
Open for rental for RM 200 per day.

Washroom / Toilet
You can access the washroom building which is located just 50 meters away from the
ticket counter. The washroom is divided into ladies and gents sides.
There are toilet and shower rooms inside.

Prayer Rooms
There are prayer rooms (surau) for Muslims to pray throughout the day.

There are several rivers in the park so many bridges are built around the park.
Short concrete or wooden bridges are built over small streams.
As for wider rivers, long suspension bridges are built to cross them.

Many wooden and concrete huts are built around the park,
especially in places of interests for visitors and park rangers to rest.
The huts are usually equipped with wooden chairs, tables and a rubbish bin nearby.

There are several place you can spend the night in the park.
Most of the accommodation sites are located in the park headquarter area.

Magdalena Chalet

The Magdalena chalet is the most expensive place to stay in the park.
It is a single house building with 2 large rooms inside.
The whole chalet can be rented for RM 200 a day.
This method of accommodation is perfect for a group of researchers or photographers
who needs a large space for their tools and equipment.

Bombalai Jungle Lodge

The Bombalai Jungle lodge is the best way of accommodation.
There are 2 types of dormitory rooms in this lodge.
The first type of room has air-conditioning system and contains 3 single beds.
The room can be rented for RM70 per night.
The 2nd room type does not have any air-conditioning system.
It uses electrical fans and have 4 single beds.
RM 20 is charged for each bed.

Both the Magdalena Chalet and Bombalai Jungle Lodge are not far from each other.
There is another lodge nearby but it has been closed down.

The Lucia Hostel is located far from the park headquarters.
It is located on the way to Mount Lucia and Mt. Magdalena where hikers
can spent the night in the hostel for only RM 20 per person.

For those who prefer camping, you are in luck as there are campsites around the park.
First of all, you MUST bring your own tent !
You will have to pay only RM 5 to set up a tent in these campsites.
The main campsite is in the headquarter area but there are several more campsites
deeper in the jungle such as the Ulu Sungai Tawau Campsite near Mt. Maria.
There is another campsite in the Kerangas Forest located after Galas Waterfall.
For those who plan on hiking Mt. Magdalena can set their camps in the campsite near the mountain.

For rooms and campsite reservation, please contact
Mr. Jeffrin Rumpadon at 019-8139607019-8009607089-925719
or email www.info@koktastravel.com

Bird Breeding Centre
This place is shown in the park map.
The place is real but unfortunately it is not opened to the public yet.

Exhibition Gallery
The exhibition gallery (information gallery) is not well known but that
does not mean that it is uninteresting. On the contrary, it is a wonderful place.
It is the best gallery and museum you can find in the entire town.

Inside the gallery are exhibits of stuffed animals in their artificial "habitat"
with many information boards displayed containing information about the
stuffed animals. Other matters about the park such as it's history, management
and interesting facts are also recorded in the gallery.

Bombalai Hill
Mount Bombalai, at 531 meters high, is Malaysia's highest volcanic point.
Though not located within the park fences,
this low volcanic cone is still part of the park.

The forest trail is not long so one could complete the trail as quick as 30 minutes.
Since the hill is not advertised by the park, it is seldom hiked.
To get to the hill, do not enter the park gate.
You should follow the road to the right outside the park entrance instead.
The road will lead to the forest trail up to the peak of Bombalai Hill.
Please inform the park ticket counter staff before hiking the hill
to prevent unnecessary troubles such as being suspected as poachers.

----------  WILDLIFES ---------------------------------------------

This is my favorite part.
Visit this link to see what type of life forms are found in the park.

-----  WHAT SHOULD I BRING ?S ---------------------------------------

What to bring to the park depends on your motive or purposes in the park.

Every time I visit the park, I have only one intention,
that is to document the wildlife species in the park,
especially focusing on the diverse group of invertebrates.

So here is my inventory checklist on what I bring whenever I visit the park.

Backpack - keep it light so you can carry it around the park
Water bottle - trust me, I do get really thirsty after all those trekking
Camera - always ready to photograph amazing wildlife experiences
Extra batteries and memory cards - for the camera
Mobile phone - sometimes I need to call for emergency help in the forest.
Tissue papers or Handkerchief - it is a jungle out there so prepare to get down and dirty
Monocular - handy for bird watching and other arboreal creatures
3 n 1 flashlight - this is my favourite tool, my flash light can produce 3 types of lights
                          - white light to see in the dark, UV light to look for scorpions at night,
                            and a red laser to point at distant objects.
Long ruler - helpful in measuring small animals and plants.
Notebook - to record important data.
Pens, pencils - you know what those are for, right ?
Raincoat - to keep my bag of equipment dry rather than myself during rains.
Extra clothes - I can always change if I get really wet.
Foods - such as biscuits or chocolates whenever I get hungry.
Wallet - enough said

If you visit the park just for recreation, you might want to bring these.

Tents - for camping
Swimsuits - for swimming
Extra clothes for changing if you get wet or spend the night there
Foods and drinks - for picnics or for dinner because the restaurant closes at night
Cooking sets - gas, stove, cooker, pan, wok, spatula for cooking

Special things to bring for those who are afraid of the forest creatures.

Salt - helpful in removing leeches. Use it for self defense, not for intentionally harming them.
Mosquito repellent - to ward off mosquitoes and other blood-sucking flies.
                                    Remember, use an insect repellent, not a pesticide spray.

----------  RISKS  -------------------------------------------------

There are dangers everywhere you go.
Tawau Hills Park is no exception.

Know the dangers you are facing and know how to overcome it
to prevent injuries and even death.

This is a real danger which has claimed few lives.
During heavy rains, the river waters will be raging wildly
and will be causing a great threat to swimmers.
That is why some dangerous river parts are sealed off while
the park management team has declared "swim at your own risk".
Records of the exact number of drowning cases are hidden from public.

Please be always alert as old branches might break and fall to the ground at any time.
Branches weighting as much as 20 kg falling from a height of 30 m can cause serious damage.
Several signboards are erected around the park reminding you of falling branches.

Plants such as rattan contains large spikes that can easily pierce through
layers of clothes and skins causing deep puncture wounds.
They are not lethal but may cause great pain.

There are venomous animals and poisonous plants in the park but
so far no fatality has happened yet.
Just watch your steps and don't try to handle venomous creatures.
Beware of the macaques too. They can get close when there is food around.
They may not be venomous but their bites can cause
infectious diseases so do not try to make them feel harassed.

On the other hand, no risk is to large to be an obstacle if you are a real adventurer!
Do not worry too much and just enjoy the natural wonders.
I have been to the park many times but I am still alive with only leech bite marks on me.


Pictures from
Chun Xing Wong (blog owner)
Wong Fook Yee