The next time you head for the island, why not check out its national park, suggests Zulita Mustafa
PENANG isn’t just home to good food, colourful heritage and great bargains but also the country's smallest national park.
Penang National Park, formerly known as Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve, is only a 45-minute’s drive from the capital George Town. Gazetted nine years ago, the 2,562ha is home to 46 species of birds such as the stork-billed kingfisher, white-breasted waterhen and egret.
The park comprises five major habitats: lowland dipterocarp forest, montane/hill dipterocarp forest, mangrove forest, sandy beach and meromictic lake — so it offers vast opportunities for ecotourism.
For nature lovers, there are challenging hikes and interesting trails. And for those simply looking for a spot to wind down, there are beautiful beaches, which are among the best on the island.
A short 15-20 minutes’ walk from the park headquarters, the beach here is suitable for picnics and camping. There’s also a pool with water sourced from the river. Great for a cool, refreshing dip, especially on a hot day. Facilities include toilets, showers, cooking pits and camping spots.
A short walk into the jungle and you will discover a rich variety of flora and fauna. It has direct paths to other parts of the park, including Pantai Kerachut and Muka Head.
The Universiti Sains Malaysia Marine Research Centre is located here. There’s also a jetty for the centre’s use, and a short stretch of beach.
This pretty long stretch of beach is popularly known as Monkey Beach, as many monkeys loiter in the area. Some call it Muka Head. It’s less than 1½ hours from the park headquarters. You can set up camp here, though the facilities are not as good as in Teluk Tukun and Pantai Kerachut.
A meromictic lake is a seasonal lake with unmixed water layers. The bottom layer is made up of warm salt water, and the upper layer, cool fresh water from the rivers and rain. Since the lower part of the lake lacks oxygen, not many creatures can be found here.
Generally, the two layers mix together at a river mouth or a delta and form diluted seawater.
MUKA HEAD LIGHTHOUSE
One end of Teluk Duyung is the starting point for the climb to the Muka Head Lighthouse. Built in 1883, it is at 242m above sea level. It is open to the public if the caretaker is around (enquire at the house at Teluk Duyung).
It takes 30 minutes to an hour to reach the lighthouse, depending on your fitness level. From here, you can get a spectacular view of the island. On a clear day, you can see Langkawi, even Sumatra.
Thanks to its unique meromictic lake, it is a popular picnic and camping site. It is also the only beach on the island where the giant green sea turtle can be spotted.
The pristine sandy stretch of Pantai Kerachut is a favourite nesting place of the green sea turtle from April to August, and the Olive Ridley from September to February. Not surprisingly, a turtle hatchery was set up here in 1995 and it is now managed by the State Fisheries Department with the Department Of Wildlife And National Parks (Perhilitan) and Forestry Department.
Once the eggs hatch, the sanctuary will keep the young turtles in small ponds until they are old enough to survive in the wild on their own. This is to increase the likelihood of them making it to adulthood and returning to their birthplace for nesting in the future.
The sanctuary is open daily, 10am-1pm and 2pm-4.30pm.
Located at the southwest of the park headquarters, this is the longest beach in the park. Getting here is a little tricky as the few trails that lead to it are not clear. You have to climb a steep hill before heading down to the beach. The most convenient trail is the one that starts at the end of Pantai Kerachut. Make sure you bring along drinking water and set aside ample time for the hike.
WHERE TO STAY
No accommodation is available at the park. Try the nearest hotels around Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang. For those thinking of setting up camp, get permission from the park management. There are camping and weekend programmes organised by the park for students.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are two entry points to the park: Kuala Sungai Pinang via boat, or Teluk Bahang, easily accessible by car. The park is less than 45 minutes’ drive from George Town. Opens daily. Admission is free. Just register at the registration counter. For details, contact Superintendant Penang National Park, Jalan Hassan Abas, Teluk Bahang, at 04-881 3530/2016, fax: 04-881 2016 or email: email@example.com.