Sunday, November 11, 2012

The crown of Lambir Hills

About 30 minutes south of Miri along the Miri-Bintulu Road, a forest-covered crown of irregular shaped hills engulfs motorists as they speed south. Many do stop to visit the Lambir Hills National Park. The main attraction is Latak Waterfalls, an easy 20-minute stroll from the park headquarters, but this astounding park is much more.

It is an oasis of biological diversity; it is a reserve of the giants of the mixed dipterocarp forest that once covered much of Sarawak. It is a place to reconnect with the natural world … it is a place of peaceful beauty.

Lambir Hills National Park encompasses 6,952ha of relatively rugged, mainly sandstone hills, that can be clearly seen from a distance. Lambir means the crown (comb) of a rooster and this is an apt description.

Latak Waterfalls, a popular destination for weekend visitors, was our introduction to the park. As we strolled on the flat trail along a shallow stream in the Latak Valley, we embraced the coolness of the lowland mixed dipterocarp forest and the vast array of the plants. Unseen insects and birds serenaded us and other visitors.

Some plants just cannot be missed and one is the dramatic shaggy red-barked selunsor in Malay (Tristaniopsis sp), which has bark that peels off leaving a mound at its base. This tree is a member of the myrtle family, Myrtaceae, with a wide distribution ranging from Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Australia.

The shallow stream flowed over the sandstone, which in places were like steps creating mini-waterfalls. The water seeped through the ferns that carpeted the stream bed – nature at its best. A distinctive Rajah Brooke’s birdwing butterfly (Trogonoptera brookiana) with black wings and startling lime green markings, flitted past as we stopped to admire the waterfalls. It is a Cites II species and thus international trade is restricted.

Latak Waterfalls, a favourite bathing spot, is shaded and cooled by the forest – a truly lovely place. The water plunges 25 metres in a deep pool that is perfect for a swim.

However, we decided to explore a small part of the rest of the park and thus we returned to the cement stairs and slowly climbed the thousand steps (a slight exaggeration) as we started along the Pantu Trail. This 2.2km trail continues along high ground through the forest. The closed canopy of the large trees allows very little light to get through, thus the understory there is relatively clear.

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