Borneo - Maliau Basin

Maliau Falls, Sabah, Malaysia, Borneo, Asia by Sabah Tourism© Sabah Tourism

 It is a faunal haven with over 1,800 species of plants and lots of wildlife including barking deer, banteng, sun bears, proboscis monkeys, clouded leopards, pythons and many species of birds including the rare Bulwer’s pheasant, crimson-headed partridge and peregrine falcon. 

A ‘protected forest reserve’ once open to logging, Sabah’s so-called ‘Lost World’, an enclosed 390km² basin up to 25km across, lies in south-central Sabah, about 40km north of the Indonesian border. The area is drained by tributaries of the Maliau River, one of which forms a stunning series of waterfalls, the seven-tiered Maliau Falls. It is a remarkable block of tropical forest – virtually the entire catchment of the Maliau River – almost encircled by a dramatic escarpment rising over 1,600m in height, insurmountable from most directions. The area was originally set aside by the Sabah Foundation and then formally upgraded to a Class 1 Reserve in 1995.

The basin has 12 different forest types, mostly Agathis-tree-dominated lower montane, dry heath forest and lowland and hill dipterocarp forest. It is a faunal haven with over 1,800 species of plant and lots of wildlife, including barking deer, banteng, sun bears, proboscis monkeys, clouded leopards, pythons and many species of birds, including the rare Bulwer’s pheasant, crimson-headed partridge and peregrine falcon.

Though there are signs of the area starting to open up to more tours, only a few operators are currently licensed to visit this challenging area. The difficulty of the trip also makes it very expensive (although prices seem to be dropping with easier access and increasing competition); four-day, three-night all-inclusive ‘taste of Maliau’ trips start from around RM3,000 and this figure is closer to RM5,000 for longer visits. Expect a tough trip sleeping out in tents or in dormitories, with no more than a stretcher or hammock for a bed, lots of leeches (including tiger leeches) and 06.00 starts. With long walking days in humid conditions, participants must be physically fit and mentally prepared.

The main tour operators that run this trip include Borneo Nature Tours and Sticky Rice Travel. Maliau treks start with a pick-up at Tawau International Airport, followed by a 5-hour drive in a 4x4 to the Maliau Basin Security Gate 180km away. The trip can also be done from Keningau on the west coast, with a 6-hour drive into the reserve. Those wanting to visit the Maliau Basin independently must get permits and written permission from the Conservation and Environmental Management Division of Yayasan Sabah.The remote Maliau Basin Studies Centre has a hostel, camping ground, exhibition hall, mini-theatre, conference room and library.

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