Borneo is known for its abundant natural wonders, but Kinabalu Park may just be the most spectacular. The main attraction is Mount Kinabalu, a 4,095-metre monster of granite that takes the title of the tallest mountain in Malaysia by a long shot.
The mountain, along with the expansive treasure-trove of biodiversity hidden within the surrounding jungles, has earned the park a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Kinabalu Park contains at least half of Borneo’s plant species, creating habitats for numerous birds, mammals and insects. The park covers three local districts, and the towns and villages clinging to the outskirts offer some alternative attractions and accommodation options.
If you’ve been hoping to cross “climb a mountain” off your bucket list, Mount Kinabalu is a good place to do it. No special equipment is needed to climb; just a good pair of shoes, a warm jacket and a reasonable level of fitness. However, you’ll need to do a little planning as you can't just turn up expecting to be able to climb. Since a tragic earthquake in June 2015, climbing numbers have been severely limited, and it’s recommended that bookings be made at least six months in advance. Six months.
If you have neither the inclination, time nor fitness to tackle 4,095 metres (or you simply didn’t plan ahead), Kinabalu Park is still worth a stop on your itinerary with plenty to offer nature lovers. Extensive trails around the base provide a good chance of seeing some rare species and are easily worth a day or more to explore. The park extends to the small town of Poring, a popular stop for many post-mountain climb, where at Poring Hot Springs you can soak your weary legs in pools of mineral water or give them a stretch on one of the trails or a canopy walk suspended 40 metres above the forrest floor. Poring is the Kadazan-Dusun word for bamboo and many giant bamboos grow in the surrounding jungle.
The nearby town of Ranau played an important part in Sabah’s World War II history and was the end point for the infamous Sandakan death marches. Kundasang War Memorial in the neighbouring market village of Kundasang is a poignant tribute to many who lost their lives. Stop by the market on the way to see the colourful array of fruits and vegetables. A rather Wonderland-esque giant pouring teapot and teacup grace a roundabout at the eastern end of Ranau, marking the direction to Sabah’s largest tea plantation at Sabah Tea Garden, which offers factory tours and trekking in the surrounding countryside.
To stay within Kinabalu Park, you have little choice than to deal with an overpriced monopoly and it may seem that the park is run more like a business than a national treasure. However, several good guesthouses and chalets lie within walking distance of the main entrance. At Poring, you’ll have a similar experience, although choices outside are more limited. Amid the forests that edge the park at Poring, you can truly immerse yourself with a terrific jungle camp at Lupa Masa. Ranau, halfway between Kinabalu Park headquarters, and the park at Poring is a good base for travellers on a budget and convenient for onward travel. Public buses run from Kinabalu Park HQ passing Ranau and continuing to Sandakan and further east to Lahad Datu.
Many tourists visit Kinabalu Park headquarters and Poring Hot Springs on a day trip from Kota Kinabalu. While this is a good option if you have time constraints, we highly recommend at least an overnight stay to enjoy the cooler clime, explore the surrounding region and glimpse the magnificent peak at sunrise before it disappears into the morning mist.
Kinabalu Park Headquarters is located 80 kilometres east of Kota Kinabalu along the road to Sandakan. You’ll find everything you need clustered around the park entrance including restaurants, guesthouses, taxi stand and bus stop. The nearest ATM is in the village of Kundasang six kilometres away. Ranau, 20 kilometres from the park headquarters, is a bustling small town and major transport hub, with many ATMs, police headquarters, post office and large district hospital. It’s a further 20 kilometres from Ranau to Poring.
By Sally Arnold. Last updated on 3rd October, 2016.