Photo: Mangroves in the wetlands.

Kota Kinabalu Wetlands

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The easiest way to experience a dose of nature in the heart of Kota Kinabalu city is to hop over the hill to Kota Kinabalu Wetlands. The 24-hectare mangrove forest is but a scant vestige of the extensive wetlands that once covered the entire coastline. As well as being an important ecosystem and lungs of the city, this crucial sanctuary for local and migratory birds gives visitors a moment to breathe too.

Wooden boardwalks lead deep into the mangroves and a couple of bird hides and a viewing tower mean you can get up close to the wildlife without it running (well flying) a mile. Be wary, and don’t were your best high heels — one 200-metre section of the path is a “mud walk”, which was quite sodden when we visited in the dry season, and will be more so in the wet. A handful of information signs give you the lowdown on what you might see, but several are worn and difficult to read and they really could do with more, however a guidebook to the plants of Kota Kinabalu Wetlands is available for 25 ringgit.

Into the green. Photo taken in or around Kota Kinabalu Wetlands, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Into the green. Photo: Sally Arnold

The centre is a haven for birds and twitchers alike: more than 80 species have been recorded. Year-round residents include the yellow-vented bulbul, collared kingfisher and magpie robin, and common visitors include the little egret, black-crowned night heron and marsh sandpiper (who comes to escape winter from Siberia and China). If you’re very lucky, you may spot a lesser adjutant stork or nankeen night heron. The larger waterbirds can be seen walking on the mud flats at low tide and perched on the rails during high tide. The centre lists daily tide times at the ticket entrance.

Not just for birdwatchers, other mangrove wildlife includes speedy mudskippers, colourful fiddler crabs (listen for the “pop” sounds when they come out of their burrows at low tide), the secretive and shy mud lobster and the prehistoric-looking horseshoe crab. Unwelcome wildlife you will encounter is the mozzie — wear repellent, as they are abundant, and hungry.

And mud. Photo taken in or around Kota Kinabalu Wetlands, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

And mud. Photo: Sally Arnold

If you plan on visiting other wetlands around Sabah, you could easily give Kota Kinabalu Wetlands a miss, as it’s possibly only of interest to bird enthusiasts; on the other hand it is a peaceful escape from the city, just don’t expect to see a lot of critters. The best times for spotting wildlife are mornings before 10:00 or late afternoons after 16:00; during the middle of the day you are unlikely to encounter anything.

How to get there
If you are keen on a walk, Kota Kinabalu Wetlands is accessible from the city via Signal Hill (Bukit Bendera). Follow the signs and (steep) stairs to the observatory, then continue along the road down the hill on the other side to the centre. The walk is about 45 minutes each way. Buses to Likas Square leave the city centre in front of Wawasan Plaza. From Likas Square walk towards Signal Hill to the third junction on the left. The bus takes about 15 minutes. Taxi fare is about 25 ringgit.

Kota Kinabalu Wetlands
Off Jalan Bukit Bendera Upper, Likas
Tues-Sun 08:00-18:00
T: (088) 246 955
Admission: Adults 15 ringgit; students 10 ringgit; kids under six free.

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What next?

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