KOTA KINABALU : On a Saturday just before dawn, hikers can be seen slowly trudging up a hilly remote road in Penampang district.
Some begin their trek from the Inobong Terian road at the foot of the hill while others drive further up and leave their cars near a cemetery before beginning their walk.
A leisurely uphill trek can take anything between one and two hours, says a hiker, Jericho Lojitin.
The 6km hike from the foot of the hill ends at a gate where a signboard says that it is the entrance to Sabah Parks’ Crocker Range Inobong substation. Most hikers opt to continue their uphill trek for another 150m or so until they reach a hut built on a slope.
From there, almost the entire expanse of Kota Kinabalu city can be seen: some take the scenic view in silence while others try to make out landmarks around the state capital.
The Inobong substation is so popular now that it tends to get crowded on the weekends, making weekdays a better time to hike.
As visitors take in the views, many are likely to be unaware that they are in a unique conservation area, the Crocker Range Park Biosphere Reserve. It is one of only two Unesco-designated biosphere reserves in Malaysia, the other being Tasik Chini in Pahang.
Biosphere reserves are inland and coastal regions where balanced biodiversity conservation is a priority, as well as the sustainable use of resources within them by local communities in the area.
This approach is crucial as the park spans across eight districts with dozens of villages located just adjacent to its boundaries.
Spanning nearly 140,000ha, more than four times the size of Penang island, the Crocker Range park divides Sabah’s west coast from the state’s interior districts of Keningau, Tambunan and Tenom.
With altitudes ranging from 100m to more than 2,000m, the Crocker Range is home to the last vestiges of Sabah’s west coast rainforest that is the starting point for five major rivers and is home to more than 100 species of mammals including the endangered orangutan, sun bear and clouded leopard.
Sabah’s largest terrestrial park (the more well-known Kinabalu Park is about half its size) is also home to several hundred species of insects. The world’s longest stick insect Phobaticus chani was discovered in Ulu Moyog in the vicinity of the Crocker Range park in 1989.
Located at the end of a 40-minute drive from downtown Kota Kinabalu, the Inobong substation is the most accessible location into this unique conservation area. The substation is also the starting point for an arduous trek into Sabah’s interior.
Known as the Salt Trail, it follows paths used by indigenous communities living in what used to be remote interior villages to carry their produce, such as rice to the tamu (traditional markets) in exchange for salt and other commodities.
The 34km trek from Inobong to Kampung Tikolod in Tambunan district takes about three days passing through some of the most remote villages in Sabah like Buaian and Terian.
Sabah Parks ranger Simon Limbawang who is in charge of Inobong said apart from attracting casual visitors, the substation, which has two chalets and dormitories, also draws in college students carrying out their practical studies.
Most visitors, however, come to Inobong to take in the breathtaking views, he said.
“It is from here that visitors can view Mount Kinabalu and the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. This makes their journey, whether they reached there by hiking, cycling or driving, worthwhile,” he said.
By : Ruben Sario – FMT