The Southern Gateway: Part II

by Audrey Lim, Feb 21, 2002 | Destinations: Malaysia / Johor

In my first article on Johor, I touched mainly on the historical aspect of the state, which was as colorful and as glorious since the days of their well-loved ruler, Sultan Abu Bakar. I ended with a note, promising more highlights and more touristy news in my next article, and here it is ? the islands and the beaches, the national parks and the rest of the must-see scenic spots!

One of the more famous locations is Kota Tinggi, located just a short way from the breathtaking beauty of Johor?s East Coast. Here, you can find some of the loveliest beaches lined against the South China Sea. It is also at this part of Johor that you will be enchanted by the surrounding islands and its quiet fishing villages with wild mangrove swamp and thick lush rainforests. You will also see amazing waterfalls that flow down to fresh streams and cool rivers. Flora and fauna around these areas all grow in abundance too. And that is not the only thing that is lovely about Kota Tinggi. Kota Tinggi is also famous for its history and its many unique and beautiful sights. Truly this is a good place for a visitor. While at Kota Tinggi, check out also the awesome Kota Tinggi Waterfalls, which is famous for its cascading cool waters that gush down from the slopes of Gunung Panti. Its surrounding is also a postcard pretty with lots of tropical flora and wild fauna.

Towards the Southeast of Johor, you will find some of the most majestic nature found in the entire state. It is also here that you will find a 40-km stretch of golden sandy beaches that spans thru the eastern tip of the peninsular all the way to Teluk Ramunia and crosses through Desaru, Sedili Besar and Sedili Kecil.

Desaru is another well-known name on the tourist map. Located 8 km northeast of Johor Bahru, Desaru is a village of casuarinas. This scenic spot consists of an untouched 26 km-long beach that is famous for offering the visitor some of the best beach fun in Malaysia. Desaru is also well equipped and comfortable and have something for every visitor. In terms of accommodation, this holiday spot has low-budget campsites, chalets that is suitable for families and even luxurious hotel rooms for those who wants a little more pampering. Desaru is ideal for those who enjoy swimming, boating, canoeing, fishing, snorkeling and jungle trekking. There is also an 18-hole golf course for the golf enthusiasts. And if you are a keen fisherman, head on to Pengerang, which has quaint and pretty fishing villages.

Another must-see holiday destination is the Sebana Cove, which is acclaimed to be Asia?s leading international yachting, golfing and holiday location! In the past, not many people have heard of Sebana Cove, but over in recent years, this place is slowly but definitely gaining a place in the hearts? of most visitors as well as establishing its name in the tourism sector. Sprawled over an area of 1,200 acres, Sebana Cove is surrounded by beautiful tropical rainforests and mangrove. The panoramic view from its standpoints is worth more than words can explain. This area is home to a 27-hole golf course, international renowned residential marina, luxurious waterfront property and a grand 300-room resort hotel.

Apart from the abovementioned ones, Mersing is another popular spot in Johor. It is famous because at current, Mersing is the send-off point for most islands in Johor. This includes famous islands like Pulau Rawa, Pulau Sibu, Pulau Tinggi, Pulau Besar, Pulau Hujung, Pulau Tengah, Pulau Pemanggil and Pulau Aur. All of these islands have long stretches of golden sandy beaches with crystal clear water gently breaking at the shores. Coral and marine lives are also abundant at these islands. These places are truly paradise-on-earth. To ensure that the beauty remained intact and the corals and marine life protected, the authorities had gazetted some of these islands as marine parks. Such an important and thriving ecosystem must be protected so that our future may be able to enjoy it as we did. Mersing is not only famous for being the focal points to these islands; it is also a great place with a mixture of rugged, natural and agricultural landscapes. In Mersing, you will get to see some fishing villages and the local people going about their daily activities. There are also some lovely beaches.

Just a mere 17 km from Mersing is Gunung Arong, a forest reserve sanctuary that is rich in Meranti trees and a snaky river that goes through it. This makes the place the perfect location for a day-trip or picnic. 15 km towards the north of Mersing is Air Papan, which is another interesting village. This village is flanked by hills and dotted with many species of trees and palms. The beach there is a popular picnic area where the annual ?Pesta Air Papan? (Air Papan Fest) is celebrated on the 1st of May. This event has always managed to draw the crowd so much so that the available chalets are almost unable to contain the demand!

Of course, there is Kluang with Gunung Lambak (Mount Lambak) nearby to attract visitors. Here, you will get to see rainforests and waterfalls within a recreational park. In the park are jungle trails for the active and adventurous. It is also at this spot that you might get the see the fruit bats on their migratory journey towards the mountains. However, this opportunity is only available at certain times of the year. So, if you do get the chance to see these fruit bats, count yourself as a very lucky person to have viewed this rare phenomenon. There is also another forest reserve located at Gunung Belumut (Mount Belumut), which has a wide and unique variety of flora and fauna. Within it are several waterfalls that gather into cooling pools of water that makes for an excellent picnic and bathing spot!

Next, Johor is also home to the famous Endau-Rompin National Park, a breathtaking place with emerald green tropical rainforest. The national park is also the second largest national park in Peninsular Malaysia. Located on the Johor-Pahang border, this 2 ½?century-old park covers a total area of 48,905 hectares and is home to the largest Malaysian population of the rare Sumatran rhinoceros. For the uninitiated, the Sumatran rhinoceros is actually an endangered species. Impressively, the rock formation at Endau-Rompin is about 248 million years old! Topographically, the national park is mostly hilly and has some sandstone plateau. It is also the breakpoint of several rivers such as Sungai Endau, Sungai Selai and Sungai Jasin. Endau-Rompin is famed for the Orang Asli (aborigines) settlement located at Kampung Peta as well as the waterfalls in Upih Guling and Buaya Sangkut. Nature lovers must make their way to this virgin land.

Johor is also home to the mythical Gunung Ledang, the highest peak in Johor and definitely the most famous mountain in Peninsular Malaysia. Myths and other folklore surround this 1276 meters high mountain. The mountain is easily accessible as it is located close to the borders of the next state, Malacca, and a mere 38 km from Bandar Maharani. The adventurous mountain climbers or wannabe mountain climbers can check out the two available trails namely the Asahan trail from the northwest side and the Sagil trail from the southern end. Tiring though the climb may be, but your reward at the summit will be immeasurable. In good weather, you can actually see the outline of Sumatera from the peak of the mount, and even if you do not reach the peak, all is not lost for Gunung Ledang is claimed to have the richest flowers and plants species in the world!

And then there is Tanjung Piai ? home of the fishermen, macaque monkeys and twinkling fireflies. Situated in Mukim Serkat in Pontian, Tanjuing Piai is at the southernmost tip of this Asian land. While there, you will be able to get a nice picturesque view of the Straits of Malacca. The main form of economy in Tanjung Piai is still fishing and its surrounding areas are covered thickly by one of the largest mangrove swamps in Asia. Of course, while there, you will be able to check out the bright fireflies that turn the mangroves and swamp area into cheery Christmas trees.

Johor is not all mainland and nothing else. There are plenty of lovely beaches and islands that surround this rich land. For starters, Johor has Lido Beach, a lovely sun-kissed beach that stretches over 7 km. Lido Beach is great for water sports including sailing, cruising and canoeing. If you are into scuba diving, shell collecting, fishing, lobster-hunting or even underwater photography, Pulau Rawa is the place for you. This is a very beautiful coral island that is covered with white coral sand and tall waving palm trees. As close to paradise as you can get, you can lounge out at the available chalets or bask in the sun on the golden sandy beach.

In Johor, there are so many little islands scattered around it and each is as beautiful as the last. Sometimes, it is quite a difficult choice to choose which to visit especially if the luxury of time is not in your hands. Quickly summarizing them, there are Pulau Besar, Pulau Sibu, Pulau Tengah, Pulau Tinggi, Pulau Pemanggil, and Pulau Aur (amongst many). ?Pulau? in the Malay language gives the meaning of ?island?.

Pulau Besar is an island that is quite closely located to Pulau Rawa. Over time, the island is now a resort complete with chalets and restaurants. However, modernization and development did not taint the place and Pulau Besar is still intact with its glistening beaches, clear blue waters and fantastic coral reefs.

Most of islands at Johor are great for snorkeling, fishing, windsurfing, scuba diving and boating, and Pulau Sibu is one great place for these activities. However, if you are interested in catching the giant leatherback turtles as they come ashore to lay their eggs annually, then you must head over to Pulau Tengah, the island that was gazetted a Marine Park due to this special activity as well as to protect the rare fishes and corals.

Keen photographers should pick up their gear and head on to Pulau Tinggi. This is island is absolutely heavenly and is largely left untouched by the human feet. Its coastline and white sandy beaches are clean while some caves dot the area. Another irresistible island that is absolutely magical is Pulau Pemanggil. Hilly terrain, rich marine life and clean beaches make most visitors rather reluctant to leave the place. If that should happen to you, you can easily check-in to one of the available chalets or long houses. If you are keen on some privacy, then Pulau Aur is suitable for you. Not only is this island beautiful, yet it is also made up of hidden lagoons and has an offshore pool for some water sport action! Want to stay for the night? You can, for there is a long house for visitors.

If you are not into water sports, it does not mean that you would not enjoy yourself at Johor. Are you into nature and other adventurous activities then? If yes, then how does the Gunung Pulai Recreational Park, Gunung Ledang Recreational Forest, Gunung Arong Recreational Forest, Gunung Lambak Recreational Forest, Gunung Berlumut Recreational Forest or even Gunung Panti Recreational Forest sounds to you? Not sure what is in store for you at each location? Well, here is a brief summary of each recreational forest.

The Gunung Pulau Recreational Park is an 8 hectares forest reserve complete with catchments area, a sanctuary for the flowers, wildlife and other rare species, as well as a fun haven for visitors. If you are looking for a picnic spot, you will like Gunung Pulai as there are a few waterfalls that gather into a pool of water. This is also a favorite venue for workcamp, jungle trekking or even seminars!

Just like Gunung Pulai Recreational Park, Gunung Ledang Recreational Forest also has clean rivers, gushing waterfalls and jungle treks leading to the summit of the mount. There are also basic amenities for the visitor.

The trees here at Gunung Arong Recretational Forest are tall and watchful. Shielding the visitors with their thick branches and refreshing scent, Gunung Arong is an ideal picnic ground for families and friends. There are basic amenities provided as well. Jungle trails are available too.

Want to work those legs? muscles a bit? Then head over to Gunung Lambak Recreational Forest, where you can climb the 510 meters high mountain via the available footpaths. If you are not into mountain climbing, then stay on ground level for a picnic session and a dip in the pool. Your visit there will be comfortable, as the park?s authorities had prepared facilities for the visitor.

Two other interesting recreational forests include Gunung Berlumut Recreational Forest and Gunung Panti Recreational Forest. Both are ravishingly beautiful, lush and green. Gunung Berlumut has unique plants and powerful waterfalls while Gunung Panti is perfect for those who enjoy camping. Many rare species of flora and fauna can be found here.

Johor has so many interesting activities that can capture each individual tourist. If you are into sightseeing and especially enjoy ancient architecture and history, you can head on to the towns. If you are keen on water sports, the many islands and beaches should keep you very happy. And if you are a nature lover, you will not be disappointed with the many recreational parks and forests scattered throughout the state. This diversity can only be found in Malaysia in a state known as Johor. What's more I have not even begun to talk about the food and culture yet.

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