Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Lost World of Kinabalu


A tropical, jungle-clad, cloud enveloped and rugged mountain terrain with multiple micro climates hosting mesozoic mosses, prehistoric fungi, Jurassic tree ferns, dwarf shrubs, colourful orchids, carnivorous primeval pitcher plants, gigantic parasitic flowers which stink of rotting flesh, a multitude of unique and uncategorized flora and fauna with mysterious rugged trails leading through dense and unexplored forests up to the towering heights of the massive mountain peaks and ridges. 

This could be the screenplay setting of a movie such as The Lost World or even Jurassic Park but in fact is a description of Mount Kinabalu National Park in Borneo. This UNESCO world heritage site remains once of the least explored parts of the world and is home to one of the richest and most bizarre diversity of animal and plant life you will find on this planet. It is indeed like entering a time warp which takes you back to the prehistoric days of dinosaurs or walking into the film set of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. As you walk on the many trails through this mystical environment you would not at all be surprised to stumble upon a Velociraptor or Stegosaurus popping out from behind the trees and bushes.



Dominating this whole area are the massive slabs of granite rock which soar over 4km into the clouds. The ragged skyline ridges of the mountain in many ways resemble the back of a Stegosaurus further exemplifying the Lost World analogy. Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia and Borneo and is also one of the youngest mountains, still growing at some 0.5cm per year. 


This is certainly one of the most formidable and commanding mountains you will see but for all of this, is easily accessible and can be climbed, or rather walked, with relative ease. I use the term "relative ease" lightly, as having walked the first 2km up the Summit Trail from the Mesilau Gate park entrance on the east side of Mount Kinabalu, it is no walk in the park! It is however one of the best trail walks I have done and one day I plan to explore more of this trail and perhaps even conquer the mountain itself. 












Also of interest at the Mesilau Gate entrance there is a short private trail walk you can take, known as the Nepenthes rajah Trail or Nepenthes Garden, named because of the proliference of these incredible pitcher plants. These carniverous plants range from tiny specimens no larger than your finger nail up to the large Nepenthes rajah species which can hold up to 3.5 litres of water and 2.5 litres of acidic digestive juices. These incredible plants have an ingenious hinge mechanism allowing them to close off when it is is raining to prevent the acidic brew inside the plant from diluting or opening up to allow unwary insects, frogs, lizards and even birds to fall into the attractive nectar scented trap. A unique serrated ridge on the underside of the pitcher plant urn prevents the trapped insects from escaping.








Close to the Mount Kinabalu Park is the small town of Poring where you can visit the famous Poring hot springs or walk on the elevated canopy walk high in the trees. Around this area it is also possible to see the largest flower in the world, the Rafflesia, named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. You will see signs on the roadside advertising flowering Rafflesia plants and for a small fee a guide will take you through the jungle to the place where the flower is blooming. Rafflesia arnoldii has the largest single flower of any flowering plant and is sometimes known as the corpse flower because of the rotting flesh smell exuded by the plant. The plant has no stem, leaves or true roots and is an endoparasite of the vines of genus Tetrastigma spreading its absorptive organ, the haustorium, inside the tissue of the vine. The only part of the plant that can be seen outside of the host vine is the five petaled flower. These plants flower over a period of only a few days and then decompose into a black mulch.



So whether you come to climb Mount Kinabalu, play golf on the highest golf course in South East Asia at Mount Kinabalu Golf Course or explore the trails at the lower levels of the mountain this park offers so much from the stark, rugged scenery of the mountain peaks, the incredible variety of flora and fauna and the fact that you are in a relatively unexplored part of the world. Who knows what you may find.







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