I must admit that I’m a bit bias when I come up with this list of Seven Natural Wonders of Borneo.
Firstly, I’m a Sabahan and I haven’t travel extensively to Sarawak, so naturally I know more about Sabah’s natural attractions than Sarawak’s.
Secondly, I’m a Malaysian, so I know more about the natural wonders of the two Malaysian Borneo states — Sabah and Sarawak — than Kalimantan’s, the Indonesian side of Borneo. Also, I don’t have many information on the natural wonders in Brunei, the tiny Sultanate sandwiched between Sabah and Sarawak.
Starting the wonder ball rolling
With this entry, however, I hope to start the “wonders” ball rolling, encourage discussion and hopefully sometimes in the future, there will be organisations that will come up with a definitive list of the Seven Natural Wonders of Borneo.
You can also suggest several other natural wonders of Borneo and if there are too many of them, maybe we can have a poll to choose the seven wonders.
Without further ado, here they are, the Seven Natural Wonders of Borneo, in no particular order:
1. Kinabalu Park (Sabah)
Sabah’s Kinabalu Park, with the omnipresent 4,095.2-metre Mount Kinabalu as its central piece, is a natural choice and I can’t imagine anyone would want to dismiss the park from the list.
Mount Kinabalu panorama. Picture by Arthur Lee.
The park was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco 2000 for its “wide range of habitats, ranging from rich tropical lowland and hill rainforest to tropical mountain forest, sub-alpine forest and scrub on the higher elevations.”
Kinabalu Park, established in 1964, is one of Malaysia’s first national parks. It covers an area of 754 square kilometers (approximately 117 sq km larger than Singapore) and has been designated as a Centre of Plant Diversity for Southeast Asia.
Unesco says the park “is exceptionally rich in species with examples of flora from the Himalayas, China, Australia, Malaysia, as well as pan-tropical flora.”
Among the criteria for its incription into the World Heritage Site:
a. The altitudinal and climatic gradient from tropical forest to alpine conditions combine with precipitous topography, diverse geology and frequent climate oscillations to provide conditions ideal for the development of new species.
b. The Park contains high biodiversity with representatives from more than half the families of all flowering plants. The majority of Borneo’s mammals, birds, amphibians and invertebrates (many threatened and vulnerable) occur in the Park. [Source]
2. Gunung Mulu National Park (Sarawak)
If you can appreciate the grandeur of Mount Kinabalu from afar, the true wonders of Gunung Mulu National Park, with the Mulu Caves as its central piece, can only be appreciated up close and “up inside”, for want of a better phrase.
Announcing the Gunung Mulu National Park into the World Heritage Site in 2000, Unesco said:
“Important both for its high biodiversity and for its karst features, Gunung Mulu National Park, on the island of Borneo in the State of Sarawak, is the most studied tropical karst area in the world”.
[Api Chamber, Mulu. Source]
The 52,864-ha park contains 17 vegetation zones, exhibiting some 3,500 species of vascular plants. Its palm species are exceptionally rich, with 109 species in 20 genera noted.
The park is dominated by Gunung Mulu, a 2,377m-high pinnacle karst, which is said to be the most cavernous mountain in the world.
At least 295km of explored caves provide a spectacular sight and are home to millions of cave swiftlets and bats. The Sarawak Chamber, 600m by 415m and 80m high, is the largest known cave chamber in the world.
The park is famous for its caves and the expeditions that have been mounted to explore them and their surrounding rainforest, most notably the Royal Geographic Expedition of 1977 - 1978, which saw over 100 scientists in the field for 15 months [Source].
3. Sipadan Island (Sabah)
If the Mulu Caves’ grandeur can be appreciated “up inside”, Sipadan’s beauty can only be appreciated by going down below.
Sipadan Island should be inscribed into the World Heritage Site. Period. I’m not a diver but reading what divers from around the world have to say or write about Sipadan, convinced me that the resort island really is one of Planet Earth’s best diving spots.
So, if it is one of the very best few, shouldn’t it be recognised as a world heritage?
PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, certainly thinks so. And it is delighting to know that the government is aware of it and looks set to make a bid for the inscription.
According to Wikipedia, Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia, rising 2,000 feet or 600m from the seabed. Oceanic islands are ones that do not sit on continental shelves. They are volcanic in origin.
Located in the Celebes Sea off Semporna in the east coast of Sabah, Sipadan was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone that took thousands of years to develop.
Sipadan is located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, the centre of one of the richest marine habitats in the world. More than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this ecosystem.
4. Danum Valley (Sabah)
Danum Valley, a 43,800 hectares of virgin forest is one of the world’s most complex ecosystems, is the largest protected lowland dipterocarp forest in Sabah.
With towering tropical trees, Danum Valley is where you can see nature in its original, pristine state, undisturb since time immemorial.
It is home to Sumatran rhino, Asian elephant, Orang utan, Western tarsier, Flying lemur, Leopard cat, Yellow barking deer, Mouse deer, Sambar deer, Bearded pig, Malay civet, Long-tailed macaque, Slow loris, Clouded leopard, Giant flying squirrel, Malayan sun bear, Smooth otter, Proboscis monkey [Source].
Apart from its flora and fauna heritage, Danum Valley is also home to ancient burial of the Orang Sungai where the dead are left inside caves in their timber coffins.
Among attractions in the area are night safari on open jeep, seven-tier pools in Sungai Purut, which can only be reach by trekking through the jungle for about four hours.
The area is managed by the Sabah Foundation for conservation, research, education and physical training purposes.
5. Maliau Basin (Sabah)
Maliau Basin (satellite image, left), is considered the Lost World of Sabah as its existence is only recorded relatively recently.
Legend has it that in 1947, a pilot flew from the west coast of Sabah to Tawau had a shock of his life when he almost crashed into a wall of steep cliffs emerging from the misty jungle.
As it turned out later, the wall was that of the Maliau Basin exterior perimeter which resembles and overturned basin, hence the name Maliau Basin.
The 588.4 sq km (58,840 hectares) Maliau Basin Conservation Area encompasses the whole of Maliau Basin itself (390 sq km), plus an additional 198.4 sq km of forested land to the east and north of the rim, including the fabled Lake Linumunsut, formed by a landslide blocking a small tributary of the Pinangah River.
The saucer-shaped Maliau Basin is distinguished by its almost circular perimeter, sharply delimited on all sides by cliffs or very steep slopes, making it insurmountable on foot from most directions.
According to the Sabah Foundation, which managed the conservation area, the highest point of the basin is on the north rim, at over 1,675 m in elevation, but has yet to be accurately surveyed.
It was only 10 years ago that the area was truly discovered when in 1988, a first major scientific expedition was organised by the Sabah Foundation and WWF Malaysia.
6. Niah Caves (Sarawak)
If the Mulu Caves are awe-inspiring for its size and biodiversity heritage, the Niah Caves, also in the Miri district, are an important prehistorical site where human remains dating to 40,000 years have been found [Source].
“This is the oldest recorded human settlement in Malaysia’s Borneo. Painted Cave, situated in a much smaller limestone block of its own, some 150 meters from the Great Cave block’s south eastern tip, has rock paintings dated as 1,200 years old.
The caves are also well known for the birds’ nest (Swiftlet) industry. It is a popular tourist destination in Sarawak”.
The park was first gazetted as a National Historic Monument in 1958, gazetted as National Park on 23 November 1974 and was published to the public on 1 January 1975.
According to the Sarawak Forestry Department:
The park’s main claim to fame is its role as one of the birthplaces of civilisation in the region. The oldest modern human remains discovered in Southeast Asia were found at Niah, making the park one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. [...]
Niah’s important was first realised in 1957. The curator of the Sarawak Museum, Tom harrison, led an archeological dig at the West Mouth of the Great Cave. The exavations revealed plenty of human settlements in the area; tools, cooking utensils and and ornaments, made of bone, stone or clay.
7. Bako National Park (Sarawak)
I had thought long and hard about which natural attractions should make up the seventh natural wonder of Borneo. While the other six are an obvious choice, choosing a seventh is not a straight forward exercise.
I had first listed the Tip of Borneo, also known as Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, but thought that the Bako National Park in Sarawak should triumph over the northern-most promontory of Borneo in Sabah.
While the Tip of Borneo is the central piece in the Marudu Bay, the Bako National Park, on the other hand, has a much richer landscape.
Gazetted as a protected area on 1 May 1957 and was published to public on 4 may 1957. Bako is Sarawak’s oldest national park, covering an area of 2,727 hectares at the tip of the Muara Tebas peninsula.
“It is one of the smallest national park in Sarawak, yet one of the most interesting as it contains almost every type of vegetation found in Borneo. [...]
“With its rainforest abundant wildlife, jungle streams, waterfalls, interesting plant life, secluded beaches and trekking trails, Bako offers visitor an excellent introduction to the rainforest of Borneo. [Source].
There you go, my list of the Seven Natural Wonders of Borneo.