Maliau Basin – The Lost World Of Sabah (Part 1)

We live as we dream – alone.

~ Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness

I hadn’t put much thought into it. I have heard about the mystical Maliau Basin in the heart of Sabah for many years and when the opportunity came to actually explore this timeless wonder, I jumped on the bandwagon with the rest of the group.

It was meant to be one of our many “family” adventures. The four of us who shared similar passion for the outdoors came together to arrange this unforgettable journey. Our go-to-person for the whole arrangement was Jenal Hending, a Sabahan school teacher who is also an avid outdoors man. We had done a fair bit of research about Maliau Basin but little did we know that what awaits dwarfs any amount of reading done.

Prior to the trip, I was introduced to Eric Goh, a humble photographer who was at the forefront of Photo and Consumer Products. It was family business that had been firmly established in Malaysia, distributing lenses such as Voigtländer, Rodenstock and Leica. Although they have a lesser commercial value compared to Nikon or Canon, their performance in capturing breathtaking shots was self-evident. And so armed with my new camera lens and photography tricks from Eric, I was ready to explore the Lost World of Sabah.

The Lost World of Sabah, Maliau Basin.
Taken with Voigtländer 58mm F10 ISO 200 1/250.
The 43-km trekking route (Murphy, 2010).

The Rugged Terrain of Maliau

Viewed from above, it looks like a giant volcanic caldera. Maliau literally means “Land of the Giant Staircase” in the Murut language, with its highest point being Mount Lutong (1,675 metres above sea level). The basin has a series of cascading waterfalls and rivers that eventually joins Sabah’s longest river, the Kinabatangan river (Murphy 2010). Akin to the Galapagos phenomenon, the sinking plateau has created an entrapment that has allowed the rarest of wildlife to evolve.

A topography model of Maliau Basin.
Taken with an Iphone.

It was to be a 5-day trekking experience, covering an area one third of the basin’s actual size (43 kilometres) without the habitual urban comfort. At the very start of the trek, the Maliau Conservation Centre provided an eye opener into the dense rain forest with its well equipped research centre and comfortable accommodations. We opted for the rugged experience; pitching our very own tent at designated camp site, named Belian. It wasn’t the most comfortable night as we endured being bitten by insects. Nevertheless it was all part of the fun, away from the creature comforts of city life.

Main entrance of Maliau Basin Conservation Centre.
Taken with Nikon 18-300mm f8 ISO 200 1/400.
Belian Camp Site.
Taken with Voigtländer 58mm F8 ISO 400 1/400.

Agathis Station

There were a total of 3 research stations that served as checkpoints with basic accommodation facilities. The first was Agathis station, once destroyed by elephants and where the 2.8 kilometres rim ascend began. It was more of a place to assemble our gears before the unyielding steep upward trek to Nepenthes camp. The first day of the circuit was a 7.5 kilometres trek through lowland canopy trails to the mossy forest. Indeed, it was an enchanting precursor as to what awaits in the heart of Maliau Basin.

Agathis Research Station.
Taken with Nikon 18-300mm ISO 200 f4.5 1/100.
The low land canopy trail.
Taken with Nikon 18-300mm f4.5 ISO 200 1/100.

Mossy Forest.
Taken with Voigtländer 58mm f4.5 ISO 200 1/100.

Nepenthes Station

It was devoid of all luxuries yet there was a sense of comfort in a relatively tiny space that could house up to 20 individuals. The highlight of our Nepenthes stay was apparent during nightfall when it became an oasis for astrophotography and moon gazing. Many nocturnal animals such as a family of civet cats and wild boars could also be seen prowling for food nearby the camp site. We spent two nights here and I must say it was our most comfortable stay out of all three camps.

Star gazing at Nepenthes camp.
Taken with Voigtländer 58mm f1.4 ISO 200 10sec.

The Brilliant Moon captured from Nepenthes camp.
Taken with Nikon 18-300mm f8 ISO 200 1/125.

A Civet cat is well known for digesting coffee cherries as part of the preparation for Kopi Luwak, one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Sadly, these cats are also hunted for their high valued fragrance.
Taken with Voigtländer 58mm f1.4 ISO 200 1/15.

A golden spider spins its web at Nepenthes camp.
Taken with Voigtländer 58mm F4 1/30 ISO 400.

Three Waterfalls In A Day

It is an insurmountable task to even begin to describe the beauty of Maliau Basin. On the second day of our trek, it would be a total of 8 kilometres to all three falls. The first was Takob Akob, a 38 metres waterfall, making it the highest one in Maliau Basin. The second was Fauzi waterfall, located 500 metres from the intersection of all three falls. The third, and perhaps the most photogenic of all three, is Giluk falls.

Now at this point, getting to each of the three waterfalls was by no means an easy task. We had to manoeuvre sinuous trails of varying elevations and sheer drop of up to 800 metres when approaching the waterfalls but that didn’t matter to us. At the end of it, nothing beats the excitement of seeing nature’s most spectacular display with our own eyes. I wondered what was in store for us as we prepared to sink further down into the heart of the basin.

The Highest waterfall in Maliau, Takob Akob.
Taken with Voigtländer 58mm f11 ISO 400 1/200.
Fauzi waterfall.
Taken with Nikon 18mm f5 ISO 200 1/60.

Giluk waterfall.
Taken with Voigtländer 58mm f16 1/6 ISO 200.
The lower tier of Giluk Falls at Maliau Basin.
Taken with Nikon 18-300mm f22 1/6 ISO 200.
The bluest of skies above the waterfalls.
Taken with Nikon 18-300mm f11 1/640 ISO 100.

Up Next: Maliau Basin – The Lost World of Sabah (Part 2), Exploring the Maliau’s Wildlife and Fall.

Special credits to Amazing Borneo tours and Sabah Tourism for their effort in promoting and boosting the beautiful travel destinations in Sabah. Visit Amazing Borneo Tours facebook page or their official website for more information on Maliau Basin and other places of interests in Sabah. Also visit Sabah Tourism FB or their official website for more information on the beautiful travel destinations in Sabah.

Most of the shots were taken with Voigtländer wide angle 58mm F1.4 lens, Rodenstock 52mm UV/1X filter and Nikon 18-300mm F3.5-6.3G zoom lens that are compatible with Nikon D3400 body. I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr Eric Goh, owner of Photo & Consumer Products Sdn Bhd, for providing the Voigtländer lens and Rodenstock filter that have allowed me to capture a timeless wonder right in the heart of the Borneo rainforest. Visit PCP website and Facebook page for more information.

Reference List

Murphy, 2010, ‘Part 1 of 8. Trip to Maliau Basin, Sabah’s Lost World’, viewed 26 May 2019,

About Jeevitha KUMAR

Hiker, mountain climber, diver, globe trotter, and all-round adventurer, she is probably one of a handful of medical doctors who has left her footprints (almost) all over the world.

3 Replies to “Maliau Basin – The Lost World Of Sabah (Part 1)”

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