Friday, May 1, 2009

A short primer on Niah Caves National Park

The Park is "located on the Sungai (river) Niah, about 3 km from the small town of Batu Niah, a 110 km short car journey to the south-west of Miri in northern Sarawak. The trip is shorter via the new coastal highway passing thru quaint townships of Bekenu and Sepupok.

The park was first gazetted as a National Historic Monument in 1958, gazetted as National Park on 23 November 1974 and was published to the public on 1 January 1975.

The Park is one of Sarawak's smaller national parks, but it is certainly one of the most important and has some of the most unusual visitor attractions. The park's main claim to fame is its role as one of the birthplaces of civilisation in the region. The oldest modern human remains discovered in Southeast Asia were found at Niah, making the park one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.

Forty thousand years ago, the Niah Great Cave sheltered human life. Here lies the oldest human remains in Southeast Asia, along with many other relics of prehistoric man. Today the Cave is home only to bats, swiftlets and other specially adapted forms of life. However, a few locals still venture into the dark interior to collect guano (bird and bat droppings used as fertilizer) and bird's nest.

The famous Painted Cave is another highlight of the visit to Niah Cave. Here, little human-like figures drawn in red haematite watch over a gravesite where the bodies of the dead were each laid in its own boat-shaped coffin. The Great Cave and Painted Cave have been declared as National Historical Monuments.

The Caves are accessible via a raised plankwalk that winds through lowland forest vibrant with birds and butterflies. Apart from the Caves, visitors can explore several kilometres of forest trails to feel the richness of tropical rainforests, climb a 400m tall limestone ridge or visit an Iban longhouse located near the Park boundary. Visitors can also rent a boat or walk along the river from Park headquarters to Batu Niah town."

The above description was lifted from Sarawak Forestry Corporation's website on Niah NP.

The neolithic cave paintings discovered in Painted Cave within the Niah Caves complex has been adopted at the emblem for the national park and proudly displayed at the park headquarters. All visitors to the park are required to register at the park office. Information about the park as well as bookings for accomodation and guides can be made here as well.

The park has choice accomodation available, the VIP chalet comes complete with modern trappings of home at $500/nite. Air-conditioned, equipped with a large verandah constructed entirely of belian wood overlooking the main river. This is made for a memorable family weekend stay at the park. Other well maintained chalets come in both AC and fan cooled clean and well-maintained units also constructed entirely of wood.

A new wharf which has just been completed serves as a convenient point to ferry passengers across the river to the park proper. The boat runs daily between 0900hrs to 1930 hrs and cost $1/person each way. Arrangement for pickups past 1930 hrs can be made with the boatman at a reasonable agreed time and rate. The river crossing takes less than 5 minutes. Swimming is not advisable due to the presence of crocodiles in the river.

The museum complex (blue roofed) as view from across the river. The facility holds an interesting array of artifacts discovered within the Niah Caves complex. The structure is built on a raised concrete stilts and built mostly of wood, a perfect place to saunter in the late afternoon to listen to the sounds of the rainforest. White-bellied Sea Eagles, Pied Hornbills and other smaller birds has been sighted from this vantage point.

Typical birds in the park from the top: male Black Hornbill, Chestnut-rumped Babbler, unid. flycatcher, Cream-vented Bulbul, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Pacific Swallow and White-bellied Sea Eagle. Bat Hawks and pittas has been sighted at the park. Other smaller birds such as sunbirds, spider-hunters and barbets are regularly sighted at the accomodation complex.

The park also harbours an interesting array of insect life, a small selection of which is shown above. Butterflies from the top are a West Viscount Tanaecia munda, what's left of a Malayan Jezebel Delias heningia, a Great Mormon Papilio memnon, and a Great Orange Tip Hebomoia glaucippe. The female stick insect (top photo) must have been at least 1.5 ft long compared to her smaller dimunitive male partner.

Other than insects, encounters with reptilians and amphibians like lizards, frogs and snakes are almost guaranteed for visitors with keen eyes.

The well maintained rainforest plankwalk that traverses the 3km walk from the museum complex to the entrance of the Niah Caves complex afford visitors with ample opportunity for memorable encounters with nature without much great effort. There are numerous stopping points along the way for those wanting to break their walk into smaller segments in order to soak in to the max what the Niah forests has on offer.

Trader's Cave.

Stalactite and stalagmite formations in Trader's Cave.

A visit to Niah National Park is incomplete without exploring the cave complex. This is the entrance to the Niah Caves complex after 3km easy trekking on the plankwalk, at the mouth of the Great Cave. From here further forays into Burnt Cave, Moon Cave and Painted Cave can be made. Visitors are encouraged to bring a small torchlight and be equipped with sturdy shoes with a good grip (addidas kampong is footwear of choice for those in the know ... there millions of bats and swiftlets all over the caves system. Swiftlets nest and bat guano are regularly collected by the local people and form an important part of the local economy since the very early days of trade.

We'll see you at the caves?

MNS Miri, May 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment