Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sematan - Hive of activity at Sarawak's tail


An hour before dawn, before the rays of sunlight pierce the sky, the beach of Sematan along the South China Sea shimmers beneath the moonlight. Here, on the western end of Sarawak, it is difficult to tell where the sand ends and the water begins. Then as sunlight nudges the horizon, the beach comes to life, as it has for centuries.

Each August since time immemorial, turtles have been coming to lay their eggs at the Talang-Talang Islands about 20 minutes' boat ride from Sematan. Designated a turtle sanctuary in 1957, the islands -Talang-Talang Besar, Talang-Talang Kechil, Satang Besar and Satang Kechil, were gazetted as the Talang-Satang National Park in 1999 and is managed by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation.

A fishing village about one-and-a-half hours' drive from Kuching, Sematan has long been a meeting place for traders from the Malay Peninsula and Kalimantan due to its close proximity to the Indonesian border. Even until today there are still boats laden with merchandise from around Borneo coming to this township to trade.

Besides being a market place, it is also a popular destination for seafood lovers. An array of eateries here offer delectable seafood such as garlic prawns, fresh chilli crab, steamed fish with ginger, grilled stingray and more.

The Sematan Palm Beach Resort is the focal point in the area. It has a stunning landscape of coconut palms and flowering shrubs as well as 600 metres of sandy beach ideal for diving, kayaking and other water sports. There are chairs at the other end of the beach for people to sit on in the early evenings, especially on weekends, and watch life go by.

One evening, I decided to explore the rugged Cape Belinsah which begins at the edge of the beach. As I climbed higher, the scattered rocks along the seashore look like giant hippopotami lying in water, their thick hides glistening as waves lash against them.

You can sit here to do a little meditation in the early morning or evening. Keep an eye on the tide though, especially during the monsoon season between November and March. There are trails created for the more adventurous who want to trek up or around the hill.

Visitors may also rent bicycles and venture out to the local attractions. Sebat Waterfall is just a half-hour bicycle ride from the resort. Along the way, enjoy the beautiful village scenery of paddy fields and pepper farms.

Another excursion from Sematan is to Teluk Melano, a picturesque Malay fishing village sitting in a beautiful bay. This is only possible in the dry season (March- October), as the rest of the time the seas are often too high for boats to safely negotiate.

Further along the coast is Tanjung Datu National Park. The only way to get there is by boat from the jetties in Sematan and at Teluk Melano.

Situated in a mountainous region close to the Kalimantan border, the tiny park offers splendid rainforest, swift clean rivers and isolated bays. The main draws are its dazzling beaches and shallow unspoilt coral reefs perfect for snorkeling and only a short distance from the shore.

The west coast of Sarawak is called the "sleepier coast", which suits the fishing village of Lundu, about 25km north of Sematan. Nobody is in a hurry, and time seems to be measured by seasons. For the energetic, the local tourist board here can arrange trips to the Gunung Gading National Park well known for its waterfalls, bird-watching and the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin