Wetland Wonders

Guided tour around Tg Piai National Park
THE tide was out. From where we stood on the jetty, mudflats fringing the mangrove forests spread wide to our left and right.

As we strolled along, we had the illusion that the mudflats were moving! Wondering if our eyes were playing tricks on us, we took a closer look and saw that the mudflats were indeed teeming with life!

For a while, we were mesmerised, watching the grey mud dotted with small snails, their shiny shells damp and glossy, slimy mudskippers making sudden dashes and muddy trails while tiny crabs scuttled about, burrowing and busily getting on with life in the wetlands.

In the distance, a wide-winged bird circled and swooped down to snatch a juicy catch. From its distinct bald head, we hazarded a guess that it was a Lesser Adjutant Stork.

The wetlands are a favourite stopover for threatened and rare species like this Lesser Adjutant Stork, the Malaysian Plover, Spoonbilled Sandpiper and seasonal squadrons of migratory birds that make regular stops here en route to their destinations.

With its rich biodiversity, the 926-hectare Tanjung Piai and Kukup Island is home to plenty of wetland wildlife, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, molluscs and crustaceans. These two sites of the Johor National Park were declared a Ramsar Site or a “wetland of international importance” by the Geneva-based Ramsar Convention Bureau.

Passionate about conservation, Harban Singh, Ramsar Site manager of Tanjung Piai Johor National Park, is thrilled that students are keen to visit the park because it is a great opportunity to inculcate important values to the young in order to protect our environment.

Vertical pencil roots visible at low tide
He encouraged visitors to take part in conservation work by helping to clean the mangrove forests of debris washed in with the tide. Then, they can help to re-plant saplings in the forest, an exercise that will give visitors a sense of ownership as they become more aware of how the delicate ecosystem needs to be protected and preserved.

When Harban led us on a guided tour, he explained details of an extraordinary range of flora and fauna. He identified the piai plant, a wild fern from which Tanjung Piai got its name, and which was also the favourite nesting ground for crocodiles!

Stopping at avicennia shrubs found in abundance throughout the park, he showed us how this particular species absorbed saltwater and after evaporation, salt sediments are left on its waxy leaves. Following his demo, we were invited to gently wipe the salt deposit from the leaves and taste it. And yes, it tasted salty!

Must See And Do

Embracing the globe at the
Southern-most tip of mainland Asia
A visit to Tanjung Piai is not complete without standing on the southern-most tip of mainland Asia. So following directional signs along the boardwalk, we made our way to the legendary land’s end. Cameras clicked away as everyone was filled with an awesome sense of achievement and was busy trying to capture that special moment.

We were truly putting Harban’s advice into practice when he reminded us to “take nothing except photos”. Through prior arrangement with the Park, visitors can also watch the sun set in the Straits and receive a Certificate of Achievement as a special memento of the visit to this spot.

From Tanjung Piai, we boarded a boat at Kukup Laut for a five-minute ride to Kukup Island, the largest mangrove island in the country and one of the largest uninhabited mangrove islands in the world. As we neared the island, we could see that the island was fringed by masses of vertical pencil roots, pointing skywards like a prickly giant bed of nails!

Walking across a hanging bridge

The walk on Kukup Island began with a trek across a bridge hanging between two observation towers. We could hear insects, birds and the occasional chatter probably by the dusky leaf monkey or long-tailed macaque, and we paused to look at plants and creatures like lokan clams and telescope snails protected in a plot.

Observing two mounds of fresh leafy fronds on opposite sides of the boardwalk, we were told that these were made by wild boars and from the size of the heaps, the mother boar (about to give birth), would still be buried beneath!

After appreciating the ecological wonders from the boardwalk, we climbed six levels of the aery. With gusty winds swirling about, we stood about 20m high, feeling on top of the world with lush greenery spread as far as the eye can see. On a clear day, one could even see Gunung Pulai.

Nearby Attractions

On our return to the mainland, we stopped at a floating aquaculture farm where we could not resist buying some dried seafood products. The fisherfolk were keen to show us the different types of fishes and sea creatures and even allowed the brave among us to touch and hold them!

For the full experience of Kukup Laut, we alighted at a jetty and walked through a village built on stilts over the sea, taking care not to fall off the edge as we avoided bicycles, motorcycles and local pedestrians!

One attraction here is colourful agar-agar or jelly stuffed with corn, red bean, yam and pandan flavoured fillings. Packets are sold, chilled, in front of the houses. Pinfen jellies have gained a reputation as a delicious dessert synonymous with Kukup, so we could not leave without buying a few packets each!

After the invigorating walk, we sat down for a seafood meal in a popular seafood restaurant that was also built on stilts over the sea. Watching boats chug past at sea and using our fingers to wrestle with the crabs and crayfish was most satisfying, especially with the balmy breeze to cool us down.

How To Get There

Take the scenic route from Johor Baru to Pontian. At Pontian, turn left in the direction towards Kukup. Just before Kukup, turn left and drive towards Kampung Serkat and Tanjung Piai. Tanjung Piai Johor National Park is located in the Mukim of Serkat, Pontian, Johor, 92km from Johor Baru. The route is clearly sign-posted.

There is no direct bus service but a taxi service is available from Pontian bus station. Taxis will ferry you to the Sg Belukang entry point. Please make advance arrangements for your return passage with the taxi driver.

For more details, call 07-696 9712 or 07-696 9796. For group reservations and enquiries, contact Johor National Park Corporation at 07-223 7471/07-224 2525 or fax: 07-223 7472. For more information, visit website: www.johorparks.com

For your own Kukup Wetland tour, contact East Coast Adventure on Tel: 07-224 4546 or Fax: 07-223 2571. Email: ecajb@streamyx.com and visit website: www.matta.travel/ecatravel

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 27 August 2007 

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