See the world’s largest flower (the Rafflesia), and frolic under stunning crystal-clear waterfalls, surrounded by lush rainforest. Stick to the boardwalk for an introduction to the rainforest, or hike to the top of the mountain to camp for the night.
After leaving our boat, the path lay through a jungle of fruit trees; but as we ascended the mountain, these ceased. In about an hour we came to a deep ravine, where the thundering noise of water gave notice of the presence of a cataract. This is by far the finest I have seen: the stream, tumbling down he sides of the mountain, forms a succession of noble fall: the first we saw dashed in broken masses over the rocks above, and then descended in a huge pillar of foam into a deep, gloomy basin , while on the other side of it rose smooth rocks, crowned with lofty trees and dense underwood, that threw their dark shadows into the pool… One view, where six hundred feet of fall was at once visible, is extremely fine: the water now gliding over the smoothest granite rock, then broken into foam by numerous obstructions, then tumbling in masses into deep basins, – the deafening roar, the noble trees rising amid the surrounding crags, the deep verdure, the brightness of the tropical sun, reflecting from burning polished surfaces, the deep shade and cooling air. This varied scene is indeed worth a visit.
This description of the waterfalls at Gunung Gading was given by Spencer St John in 1862. It is still well worth a visit.
Gunung Gading National Park is located about two hours drive (80km) west of Kuching, near the coastal town of Lundu. It was gazetted in 1983, mainly to protect the endangered Rafflesia flowers which grow there, and for which the Park is famous. However, Gunung Gading National Park’s 41 sq. km also cover some beautiful rainforests, mountain peaks and gorgeous clear creeks and waterfalls. These make for great trekking.
The comfortable Gunung Gading Park HQ is also a very pleasant and quiet spot to spend a couple of relaxing days, even if you’re not planning on tackling any of the longer trails.
There are a variety of trails available for visitors to Gunung Gading to explore, ranging from a short stroll along the well-labelled boardwalk, to more challenging overnight hikes over the summit og Gunung Gading to the old Communist base camp at Batu Bekubu; or to the summit of nearby Gunung Perigi.
The easiest walk at Gunung Gading is the loop-trail along the Rafflesia Boardwalk and back to the HQ. This well-made boardwalk follows and criss-crosses a pretty little creek up through some attactive vine-draped rainforest. About 60 trees along this boardwalk are labelled with scientific and local names, providing a good opportunity to learn about the trees of the rainforest, and to see how rich and diverse the rainforest is.
Download a PDF file providing information about most of the labelled trees along the Rafflesia Boardwalk —> Here (81kb)
This fantastic walk takes you past the enchanting (and enchanted?) waterfalls of the upper Sungai Lundu. Although steep in parts, and requiring a bit of scrambling, the trail is not too long, and the waterfools and pools are well worth the effort. If you go on a weekday, you’ll probably have the pools to yourself.
Other trails include the climb past the former British base, up and over Gugung Gading, along to Batu Berkubu, the site of the former Communist Guerilla base camp; and the View Points Trail, which provides some vantage points for views out to Lundu and southwards along the coast.
Gunung Gading National Park covers a small group of beautiful rainforest covered mountains. The highest of these is Gunung Gading itself (965m), followed by Gunung Perigi (955m) and Gunung Lundu (823m).
The people living on and around Gunung Gading were originally (and are still primarily) Salako Bidayuh (Land Dayaks), with Malays nearby on the coast. These groups had a number of legends about the mountain, some of which are recounted below. Iban also live in the Lundu area, mainly on the Kuching side of the Sungai Lundu ferry crossing; and like most towns in Sarawak, Lundu has a population of Chinese merchants, traders and coffee-shop owners.
Myths & Legends
Myths and legends about Gunung Gading abound, and it’s easy to see why when you experience it’s enchanting forests and magical waterfalls.
According to one story, the Gunung Gading derived its name from one of three mythical princesses who liked to bathe in the seventh waterfall. These were Puteri (Princess) Gading, Puteri Sri Guar, and Puteri Sri Geneng, each of whom was a guardian for one of the three main peaks. According to other local tales, if you are very lucky, you might see a fairy or a mermaid bathing in the seventh waterfall in the very early morning (this could be the same Puteri Gading).
A more prosaic theory for the origin of Gunung Gading’s name is that it comes from the engkabang gading tree – a type of large dipterocarp tree which grows in the forests of Gunung Gading, and produces the once commercially valuable illipe nuts (which were used to make a cocoa-butter-like oil).
A story from the Lundu Bidayuh people tells of a tiger on Gunung Gading. According to this story, a young woman was out collecting fern shoots and other edible leaves in the forest when attacked and killed by a tiger. Her body was found by her brother-in-law, a famous warrior named Panglima Nenggis. The young warrior went to tell his father-in-law the bad news, who was furious with him for not going straight out to hunt the tiger with his men. Shamed, Panglima Nenggis decided to prepare properly and hunt down the tiger on his own. He mentally prepared and sharpened his parang (sword) for seven days, and his wife prepared seven days’ food to take with him. Panglima Nenggis climbed to the top of Gunung Gading, and dug a deep pit, in which he lay in wait for the tiger, knowing that it would come to him. After seven days passed, the tiger finally appeared. It launched itself at Panglima Nenggis with a ferocious roar, but Panglima Nenggis was prepared. With a single mighty blow of his super-sharp parang, he lopped the head off the leaping tiger. But the tiger’s head was travelling with such force and speed that it slammed into Panglima Nenggis’s chest, killing him instantly. Seven days later, the villagers found Panglima Nenggis and the tiger lying side-by-side in the pit on top of Gunung Gading, and buried them together. (In case you are concerned, there are no tigers at Gunung Gading any more – this must have been the last one!)
Yet another story relates to Batu Apek, the big overhanging rock which you pass on your way up the Waterfalls Trail. According to the legend, an old Chinese man (apek is Chinese for “old man”) was collecting plants in the forest when he became lost (the area used to be very remote). After wandering for a while, he came to Batu Apek. Here, he stopped and prayed several days, seeking guidance. Miraculously, he was granted a vision showing him the way home. Following that, he came back to the rock every day to give thiaksgivings. You can still see a small makeshift shrine with offerings and joss-sticks at the base of Batu Apek today – although park staff advise that the prayers are now usually for winning lottery numbers!
Aside from the myths and legends, Gunung Gading has a colourful and interesting history as well.
The Malaysian Federation had a troublesome early existence. Indonesian President Sukarno saw it’s establishment as a British plot. He openly opposed the creation of Malaysia, and launched a guerilla war seeking to overthrow the new country. This became known as ‘Konfrontasi’. Fighting was particularly fierce in Sarawak, which shares a border with the Indonesian state of Kalimantan. Indonesian guerilla fighters (together with local Communist insurgents) fought bitter battles against Malaysian, British (including Nepali Ghurkas) and Australian soldiers in the jungles along the border. The area covered by Gunung Gading National Park was the scene of a lot of action. Remnants of a British base can still be seen near the summit of Gunung Gading; and the remains of a Communist camp can be seen at the nearby Batu Bekubu. For determined history buffs, it is possible to walk through to both these sites, which add an eerie feel to the mountain.
Konfrontasi largely ended in 1965 after Sukarno was deposed (although some fighting continued into the 1970s, and the last guerillas in Sarawak – near Bau – did not in fact turn themselves in until the 1990s!). Nonetheless, Park staff have expressed some concern that there may still be unexploded ordinance (UXOs) in the Park, left behind from this time. The trails themselves are in fact probably quite safe, but anyone undertaking any of the longer treks in the Park should be very careful to stick to the trails, and not to go digging or poking at anything that looks suspicious.
Seeing a Rafflesia
Probably Gunung Gading’s biggest drawcard is the Rafflesia – the largest flower in the world. This is one of the best places to see these amazing and very rare flowers.
Rafflesia are a type of parasitic plant which grow directly on certain liana vines (Tetrastigma sp). They only produce the one spectacular red-brown flower, and have no leaves or obvious stem. There are in fact 16 different species of Rafflesia in the world, found mainly in Borneo, parts of the Phillipines, Sumatra and some other parts of Indonesia.
The species at Gunung Gading is Rafflesia Tuanmudae (named by Beccari for Rajah Charles Brooke – Tuan Mudah means ‘young Sir’ in Malay and was a title used by the Brookes for the heir apparent). R. tuanmudae is not the largest Rafflesia species in the world, although one individual at the park was recorded at a whopping 91cm. But even a 45cm Rafflesia (a more usual size) is still a sight to be seen.
Despite growing from a bud for 9 months, Rafflesias only flower for 3-4 days before dying and turning into a pile of smelly brown goo. They can flower at any time of year, but more seem to flower during the main wet season (December-February). This is when you have the best chance of seeing one. Unfortunately, there is a chance that there may not be any flowering when you are in Sarawak. If you are keen to see one, you should contact the Park HQ on (082) 735 714 or 735 144 as soon as you arrive in Sarawak. The staff there should be able to tell you see if there are any blooming currently; or any which will come into bloom during your stay in Sarawak. You can then try to fit your travel plans around the flower (try explaining that to the folks back home!).
If you are lucky and a Rafflesia is flowering, you may need to do a bit of bush-bashing to get to it. Being wild flowers, Rafflesia grow where they want, and this is not often right next to the Park HQ, or along the Rafflesia Boardwalk. When you arrive at the Park HQ, check-in and ask about seeing the flower. The staff should be able to tell you how far the walk is (usually 15-45min one way), and provide you with a guide for a small fee.
Please do not attempt to avoid hiring a guide if the Rafflesia are off-trail. You will need a guide to find the flower, as they are impossible to find unless you know where you are going. The guides are generally friendly and helpful, and should also be able to tell you about some of the other plants (and possibly animals) you come across. It is also in your best interests for safety reasons, as the trails are unmarked; and remember that there may be leftovers from the guerilla warfare during Konfrontasi out there as well. Having a guide will also ensure that you do not inadvertently damage the forest or any young Rafflesia buds.
For more background information on Gunung Gading National Park, check out:
- Gunung Gading National Park, leaflet produced by Forest Department Sarawak.
- National Parks of Sarawak, by Hans Hazebroek and Abang Kashim bin Abang Morshidi.
- Quote from Spencer St John taken from Spenser St John, Life in the Forests of the Far East: Travels in Sarawak and Sabah in the 1860s Reprinted by Oxford in Asia.
- Tiger story taken from Kaboy T and Sandin B, Dayaks of Lundu District, Sarawak Museum Journal, volXVI, n32-33, 1968, p122.