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Tuesday May 30, 2006

World’s smallest national park


THE jungle orchestra was playing in full force as we trekked through the Penang National Park recently. 

From gurgling streams to high-pitched crickets, this natural symphony orchestra gave a resounding performance, reminding us that we were not alone as we trekked through the park.  

Rainforest trees reigned supreme here while mangrove swamps dominated the jungle’s perimeter. 

It was a wondrous sight to see certain parts of the interior bathed in light while different shades of gree-nery cloak the woodland floor, perfuming the air with a faint fragrance.  

We were on a guided tour condu-cted by the Malaysian Nature Socie-ty to trek from the Teluk Bahang fi-shing village to Pantai Kerachut. 

This octagonal picnic table is one of the many facilities at the Penang National Park.
AS DUSK FALLS:Sunset at Pasir Pandak near the entrance to the Penang National Park.
STARTING POINT:The trek through the Penang National Park begins at the park's entrance at the Teluk Bahang fishing village.
It was amazing how our surefooted guides, Beatrice Teoh and Joseph Teoh, went up and down steep slopes, wearing flip-flops! However, they advised hikers against following their example. 

Along our three-hour journey to Pantai Kerachut at the other end of the park, Joseph pointed out the in-teresting flora and fauna at certain spots. 

“Good news! We don’t have to worry about leeches as this park is the country’s only leech-free rainfo-rest,” he said. 

The park, he said, was home to se-veral animal species including the mousedeer, spring hill tortoise, Asian terrapin, freshwater eel, ot-ters, king cobra and crabs, adding that there were occasional sightings of dolphins along the seashores. 

Joseph also showed us a rattan palm called ‘wait-a-minute’.  

“A group of trekkers including foreign tourists were passing by one day when one of them got caught by this clingy palm. He called out to his group members by saying: Wait a minute!” he said. 

A member of our nine-member group, Datuk Anwar Fazal, said the last time he visited the park was 20 years ago. 

“Today, I can see more facilities to cater for the increasing number of visitors,” said the 64-year-old foun-der of the Consumers Association of Penang.  

He described the park as a national treasure which not only contri-buted to the tourism industry but also to the education and research sectors. 

Throughout the trail, there were ‘monkey-proof’ thrash bins where visitors had to push a lever to open the hatch. 

Apart from such new features, oc-tagonal picnic tables were placed at strategic rest areas. 

At Pantai Kerachut, we saw the fa-mous rare meromictic lake which was unfortunately dry at this time of the year. 

A natural phenomenon, the lake was formed when the river mouth was blocked by sandbank resulting in fresh river water getting trapped within and seawater seeps through the sandbank to fill the lake slowly.  

The two layers of fresh and seawater never mix. The cool fresh wa-ter stays at the top while the warm seawater stays at the bottom, hence the name meromictic.  

Proper camping amenities make camping a luxury here. They include separate female and male shower areas, a covered multi-purpose hall and even a kitchen. 

Bird watching should not be mis-sed here. We spotted four pairs of white-bellied sea eagles circling the sky.  

This sandy stretch is also the nesting place of the Green Turtles (Che-lonia mydas) and Olive-Ridley Tur-tles (Lepidochelys olivacea). Occa-sionally the Leatherback Turtles are seen here.  

The 2,562-hectare Penang Natio-nal Park is currently the world’s smallest national park. Previously known as the Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve, it was gazetted as a national park in 2003.  

Since then, it has attracted an ave-rage of 3,000 visitors every month. Before this, there were only 800 visitors monthly here. 

Park development committee chairman Teng Chang Yeow, who is also state Tourism Development and Environment Committee chairman, said this pristine site harbou-red a wealth of 417 flora and 143 fauna species. 

“The park is unique as it contains several different types of habitat including the meromictic lake, hill and lowland forest, wetlands, mangrove forest, sea with coral reefs and turtle nesting beaches.”  

Trees and plants found here include Chengal, Meranti Seraya, Jelutong, Gaharu, Tongkat Ali and Bintangor, he added. 

 

Exploring the park 

As there is no road system into the national park, visitors can either trek through the jungle trails or take a boat from Teluk Bahang fishing village (from the north) or Kampung Pantai Acheh (from the south). The following are several interesting spots in the park:  

 

Pasir Pandak 

This is a shady camping ground. With civilization just around the corner, it makes a suitable venue for family outings. At the Teluk Bahang roundabout, continue straight towards the fishing jetty. This beach is easily accessible wi-thin walking distance from the jetty. The national park headqua-rters is situated here. 

 

Teluk Tukun  

It is about 20 minutes from Pasir Pandak. The trail is a clear and easy walk along the coast to reach Teluk Tukun beach. Camping grounds are built along Tukun River which flows into Teluk Tukun. A small island opposite is Pulau Tukun Tengah.  

 

Tanjung Aling  

It takes about 30 minutes to reach Tanjung Aling from Pasir Pandak. 

Tanjung Aling houses the Universiti Sains Ma-laysia research centre and the forest and coastal areas are being used for research on bio-techno-logy. There is a jetty to bring in supplies from town. The beach is easily accessible and it is a sui-table camping site for campers. 

 

Teluk Duyung (Monkey Beach) 

You can walk or take a boat (only during high tide) to Teluk Duyung. You can reach Teluk Du-yung about one and half hours from Tanjung Aling. Teluk Duyung is a beautiful bay protected by Muka Head’s cape. 

 

Muka Head  

Here stands a majestic lighthouse built in 1883 and a cemetery that is at least 80 years old that resembles those in Acheh. The peak of the lighthouse offers a panoramic view of the surrounding islands.  

 

Teluk Kampi  

Teluk Kampi has the longest beach in the park. Trenches found along the northern coast indicate that the beach was a defence post for the Japa-nese Army during World War II. From Pantai Ke-rachut, it takes a hike of one hour to reach this beach. 

 

Pantai Mas  

Formally a coconut plantation, it is now an overgrown wasteland. Accessing Pantai Mas with fishing boats is only available during high tide. Alternative access is through the trail either from the United Hokkien Cemetery at Teluk Bahang about 5km away (three-hour trekking) or Kam-pung Pantai Acheh in the south about 1.5km away (one-hour trekking). 

 

Things to bring  

hat/cap  

at least 1.5 litre of drinking water & food for lunch 

sunglasses & sun block 

insect repellent 

binoculars (for bird watching) 

ultra-light fishing tackle (for anglers) 

swimwear  

spare change of clothes with small bath         towel  

camera (optional) 

a pair of slippers (optional) 

 

Attire 

Wear comfortable walking shoes/san- dals; preferably light cotton T-shirt & shorts/ longs (do not wear jeans as they are too warm for the climate and get very heavy when wet). 

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