Given the spectacular nature of the park and its biological significance, it is listed as Malaysia’s second UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gunung Mulu National Park is the largest national park in Sarawak.
Encompassing incredible caves and Karsts formations in a mountainous equatorial rainforest setting, Mulu has an exceptional level of biological diversity. At last count, over 3,500 species of plants have been recorded, supporting a large diversity of fauna species that include deer, monkeys, giant porcupines, civets and all of Borneo’s hornbills. The source of Mulu’s great biological diversity lies in its varied topography from just 50 m above sea level near Park Headquarters to the peaks of Gunung Mulu at 2,377m and Gunung Api at 1,710m. The geology, which consists of a combination of alluvial clays, sandstone and limestone formations, further adds to the variety and specialisation of the park’s biology. Intense rainfall, one of the heaviest in Borneo ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 mm annually, also contributes to the thriving vegetation. Staggering numbers aside, what elevates Mulu above the other garden-variety national parks, is its exceptionally well-equipped and rigorously maintained facilities. Mulu has 16 in-house park guides, well-lit timber boardwalks and painstakingly detailed signage to highlight key attractions, so that the visitors do not have to trudge anxiously through the forest’s steamy bracken with a machete to fully enjoy its stunning beauty.
Like all national parks, Mulu was established for two main purposes. One, to protect its significant natural features like the caves, the forest and the wildlife, and two, to provide an opportunity for visitors to enjoy and understand its significance. Park activities range from the more intensive adventure caving and ascent of the Pinnacles, to family-oriented activities like visiting the show caves, jungle trekking, rainforest exploration and river rafting as well as tubing. To many in the caving community, Mulu is a holy grail. The park has been the site of numerous international caving expeditions, resulting in the mapping of over 300km of cave even this vast number is passages, but thought to be less than half of the actual thoroughfares in existence.
There are four caves open to the in Gunung Mulu, each general public with its own unique characteristics. The four are Lang?s Cave, which is know for its limestone formations; the gigantic Deer Cave, said to be home to an estimated five million bats; Clearwater Cave, said to be the longest cave in Asia; and Wind Cave, famed for its unusual calcite formations. Caves aside, one of the best ways to appreciate Mulu’s diversity is by attempting the Canopy Walk. It is said to be the longest tree-to-tree skywalk in the world. Linking 15 trees together via pillared platforms, and suspended 304m above the forest floor, the 480 – metres skywalk promises a breathtaking view of the world’s oldest rainforests and its inhabitants.
FLORA & FAUNA
This area was miraculously unaffected by the last Ice Age which left it to continue with the evolution of its flora and fauna without any interruptions. This accounts for the extraordinary diversity of the plant life and wildlife to be found in its forests today. There are over 1,500 species of flowering plants, 170 species of orchids; and, 10 species of pitcher plants. The lush vegetation of the lower slopes consists of peat swamp, heath and mixed dipterocarp forests. An interesting feature of the peat swamp forest is the massive roots of the Strangling fig tree, a name derived from the fact that it had in fact “strangled” the original host tree to death in its bid to reach the top!
In the upper regions, the vegetation is characterised by limestone and moss vegetation and the stunted montane vegetation of the summit. There are 67 types of mammals roaming the forests; 262 species of birds. The latest addition to this group is the newly discovered Bornean frog with the beautiful name – “Rana ingeri”! Also to be seen swinging nonchalantly from the branches are the small tree dwelling Bornean gibbons. All this plus 281 varieties of butterfly and hundreds of insects and fungi make up the inhabitants of the park.
PLANNING AN ITINERARY
Plan for a minimum of two to four days stay at the park in order to fully appreciate all that it has to offer.
Day Trips To The Show Caves
These caves have been illuminated to focus on certain special features within its dim interior. Special paths enable visitors to move around easily and also protect the delicate geological structures from accidental damage. They are accessible from Park Headquarters via a 3km walk through the jungle on specially constructed plank walks.
Named after the man who first introduced speleologists to the cave in 1978, it features a variety of intricately sculptured stalactites and stalagmites, delicate and transparent helictites and spectacular rock curtains. Footprints embedded in the rocks at the entrance to the caves indicate that it was once inhabited by wild boars.
As its name suggests, these cave was in days long gone, a shelter for hordes of deer. It also served as a human burial ground. However, it has now been taken over by millions of bats which can be seen flying out in formation in search for food. as night approaches. You might get to witness this magnificent display of mass exodus on fine evenings. Other inhabitants include swift lets usually seen circling the entrance; and the earwigs, centipedes and cicadas. Its 160m wide mouth resembles a ‘colossal stone jaw’ earning it the distinction of having the largest cave entrance. Another unique feature is the ‘Adam & Eve’s shower’, a cascade of water falling down 120m from the cave roof.
Approached by way of the Melinau river, steps lead from the river bank up to the cave entrance. A refreshing breeze greets you as you approach the cave which perhaps explains the origin of its name. Within is the King’s Chamber with its magnificent display of stalactites and stalagmites of all shapes and sizes. The Chamber is said to be haunted!
Measuring over 100km, this acknowledged to be the longest cave in South East Asia and the 7th longest in the world. Moss covered stalactites greet you as you approach the entrance. Venture inside into Lady’s Cave with the stalactite resembling the Virgin Mary. 50 step lead down to underground rivers in a labyrinth of caverns and passages formed millions of years ago. The crystal clear water is said to posses mysterious powers to restore youth!
For something more challenging than admiring the evidence of nature’s intricate craftsmanship in the show caves, don protective helmets and miner’s lamps and follow a trail, away from the cement paths and electric lights, down into the depths of Clearwater and Wind caves, under Gunung Api! Crawl with the centipedes and earwigs and be prepared to come face to face to with other inhabitants of the cave floor!
The Pinnacles Of Gunung Api
Take up the challenge to view the pinnacles, located in a shallow valley 1,200m above sea level. The adventure begins with an exciting 2 hour boat trip over rapids. On days when water level get low, be prepared to help shove the boats over the rock strewn rapids. A 3 – 4 hour trek through virgin forests brings you to a Park hut on the bank of the Melinau river where you stop for the night. The next morning begins with a 4 hour climb, up 1000m via a steep path to a viewing point overlooking the pinnacles. The smooth razor edged pinnacles measure 20m wide at the base and 45m in height. Separated by deep fissures and low bushy mountain forest, they present a spectacular sight when viewed from above.
On The Trail Of The Headhunters
The trail once taken by the legendary warriors on their head-hunting spree in days long gone, goes through the lowland forests and down mighty fast flowing rivers. This is recommended for those with an unquenchable thirst for adventure and excitement. Follow the headhunters trail and live out your fantasies in the rugged terrain of the Sarawak wilderness.
The Mulu Challenge
If that is still not enough, there’s still the challenge of doing the Mulu summit. Take on the mighty mountain and scale its rough sandstone and shale heights to reach the summit. It may be lonely at the top but the view is fantastic!
Accommodation within the park is located on the edge of the rainforest by the Melinau River.The park headquarters can take in 80 people in a variety of accommodation. Rooms have facilities for making tea and coffee. The Longhouse Rooms with ensuite are suitable for two to four persons and are air-conditioned. Other rooms have ensuite and ceiling fans while the dormitory has 21 beds and shared bathing facilities.
These include mountain huts, public toilets and washrooms, a canteen, an information centre and video shows. Applications for permits and reservation for accommodation can be made at the National Parks and Wildlife Office, Miri.
Mulu is accessible by air from either Miri, Limbang or Marudi. It is also accessible by river. However, visitors wishing to make the journey by river are advised to liaise with a tour operator as there is no regular boat service to Mulu.