The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Another Round of Golf?
This is one of a series of pages on walking the hills of Penang, click here for the index. This is a Grade 4 walk unsuitable for those without experience of off-piste hiking. There is a sketch map at the bottom showing the route followed.
Please visit my Penang buses page for information on accessing the starting point.
This is a follow up to our previous recent visits - Another Pulau Betong Lollipop and A Round of Golf. Basically I just needed confirmation that two of the routes we had taken had been just a short distance apart at a key point. See also A Game of Two Halves.
From a web search, an Environmental Impact Assessment for a golf course at Gertak Sanggul was commissioned by Kasumidai (the name of a Japanese Country Club with a golf course) in 1991. It was submitted by 'Total Resort Sdn Bhd' and accepted in 1992 (the company has since vanished without trace). I had assumed that the project was started some time after that but collapsed in the late 1990s when the economies of the South-East Asian nations were in total melt down and their currencies near worthless, unable to service dollar denominated loans. However, its demise may predate that. It is well established that successive State Governments in Penang (and no doubt the British authorities before them) have had no regard for the welfare of the green hills that make the island so special and presumably such permissions as were necessary were easily procured. Quite how the tiny streams that make up the small Sungai Gertak Sanggul were ever going to supply the necessary water for a thirsty golf course is beyond my understanding but I'm not an 'eco' professional. The project initially involved clearing a hilltop completely and building an access road. Unfortunately for both the hill and the developer, the road was never completed and the hill left bare, a situation that remains the same today some 20 years later. Currently, the land belongs to E&O Holdings who obviously know what a crock of shit it represents and are trying, so far unsuccessfully, to sell it on. Today's hike was designed to find yet another access from the south-west.
For the second time in recent years, we started our hike in Gertak Sanggul, which being a largely Chinese village had a small temple with a convenient shady parking spot for Mavis (Mark 2 if you are observant) not far short of where the 308 bus turns round. This was another 'short walk' specially designed for Yuehong's long suffering knee.
It's a very gentle climb up the wide, sheltered 'road'. Although it's 'old rubber' country, it was abandoned so long ago that there are large jungle trees now present. There's just one decent path off to the left near the top, we regularly see people emerging with fishing equipment so it must lead down to the sea at the corner of the island.
In this case, we followed the 'famous path' until we came to the junction shown. Left would lead on to Pulau Betong and right would hopefully take us to the golf course as we now knew where we had gone wrong before.
I never tire of seeing these walls, a reminder of how hard the Hakkas worked to clear this area manually so many years ago. Now the the path to the Da Ba Gong shrine has been cleared, it would be quite easy to miss the turning on the right. Maybe it will be cut before the forthcoming durian season, but by then we'll have flown away.
It's actually an easy route to follow, much of it was concreted at some stage.
The climb is quite gentle, it tends to be clearer under the trees and after just 15 minutes we passed the last tree of the orchard.
We'd been up here lately, but I guess we must have wandered a little off the path then as this was now in front of us! I could see what I wanted through it and after 5 minutes of snipping, it was completely clear.
This is a wide trail that runs from the south-west corner of the cleared area, it's now quite overgrown. On our previous visit to this point, we had mistakenly turned right here, it was horribly obstructed. Now I knew it would have been easier to turn left... What's more, we had later come up just 50 metres or so along it and I had 'done a job' on the prickly vines and ferns. All that was needed now was to cut through the initial obstruction and then we soon found the where we had been before, there were plenty of pieces of cut prickly vine on the ground and I'm sure no one else has been here for quite a while...
There were a couple of small trees to clamber over and then we were at the ferns. I'd done such a good job that it looked as if a whole hash had been through them, unfortunately, given 6 months they will have grown back.
It was another hot day and we didn't waste time crossing the moonscape.
This time, I knew where the exit was but when we came to the tree guarding the wide trail down to the unfinished road we turned left.
Below us was the other half of the wide trail and just 50 metres left the quite open area at the bottom of the climb through the old rubber towards Bukit Pulau Betong. It was lunchtime.
The next part of today's hike would best be described as 'undefined'. We had to go gently downwards to the left taking care not to get too close to the fern patch on the left which would then mean crossing a small gorge. Yuehong has spotted a boundary stone, usually a good sign but this time we maintained too much height which meant we approached the ruined house from above and not the level.
Never mind, beyond it we did an arc to the left just above the top of the gorge and meandered gently down through the undergrowth until we could see the remains of the second house just ahead, it just needed the odd snip to make life easier.
Having been here twice before recently, we were, of course, completely relaxed. noting new features like this small outhouse with a decoration on it.
I thought to try to avoid going down to the long grass with its solitary durian by curving right and then left and discovered I was on a concrete path, it would have led to the house originally. Unfortunately, the reason we had not found this out previously was because there was a tree (or maybe two) down across it and that meant climbing up a couple of old rubber terraces and then climbing down. The latter is one of Yuehong's now banned activities, but after I had removed the inevitable prickly vines, we were soon back on the path out.
You might be forgiven for thinking that we perversely seek to do things the hard way, but in fact for the time being these old paths are perfectly useable - even if it is wiser to wear trousers rather than shorts.
Where they pass through thick trees they are still quite clear and soon we rejoined the path to the Da Ba Gong shrine which we had used earlier. I had planned a short recce on my own here above the shrine but as we had frittered away some three hours by now, I decided it could wait for another day.
The point where Yuehong is passing is where we had turned into the long grass, we wandered along this very pleasant path until we reached the orchard on the 'famous path', disturbing a couple of wild boar as we went, they will have come down to the nearby stream for a drink. It was time to take another rest and soak up the atmosphere which we find very attractive. As noted at the start, the way back down is 'knee friendly', unfortunately, the same can't be said for most of the descents available on the island.
Back at the car, Yuehong eyed up this small statue of Tua Pek Kong. "How can you be sure it's him?" I asked. "Look at the walking stick, stupid!" she said and gave me the 'I want one just like this' look. Normally when this happens I'm expected to oblige, flats, greenhouses, that sort of thing but in this case she's far better equipped to sort it out than I am. The bad news later was that the market for such things is not great and most likely it will require a trip to Air Itam.
So we made our way back via our Sungai Pinang restaurant just in time for Yuehong to get her swim. "What about the walk?" - "Very good, just over 8km." which wasn't really what I meant at all. Never mind, it seems that the long grass route is now the approved way to the 'golf course', which is sort of OK given the quality or otherwise of the alternatives. Step by step I am getting the measure of this area, it has a lot more to offer the hiker than the 'famous path'.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson