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New off-road tracks into mysterious heart of Borneo

POSTED BY Yamin Vong ON 18 September 2018

 

Exotic Borneo opens more of its interior to 4×4 off-roaders

Sarawak is a wilderness paradise that is starting to open its interior to 4×4 off-roaders who seek adventure and camping in unspoilt nature.

Drone photography by Agustinus Tri Mulyadi, [email protected]

Imagine what it was like in Sabah 30 year to 40 years ago and this is what you can get in Sarawak today. The timber and plantation tracks into the interior are starting to be opened and showing a side of Borneo that has never been seen before by off-roaders.

The powerful timber concession owners with links to the former Barisan government were a law unto themselves and no unauthorised persons could enter their logging tracks. Some of these tracks reached so deep into the interior that they reached the borders of Kalimantan Timur and Kalimantan Barat, the Indonesian part of Borneo.

For normal people, it was mostly riverine travel into the interiors of Sarawak via the mighty rivers of Borneo, the world’s third largest island. We could only see the land from the height of the river.

Now with the timber tracks being opened, 4×4 off-road adventurers can see the highland heart of Borneo from the ridges of the Iran Range and the Muller range.

For the 3rd Sarawak 4×4 Jamboree that was just concluded on Sunday, 16th September in conjunction with Malaysia Day, we reached 600 metres (2,200 ft) at the highest point of our off-road track to Kapit.

Organised by the Sarawak Adventure Travel 4×4 Club (SAKTA), the route took us off the beaten track to Kanowit (Night One), Song (Night 2) and to Kapit (Night 3 camping on abandoned timber track and Night 4 at Kapit town itself).

The route was uneventful — the only drama was a minor bridge that collapsed when the bundle of small logs broke their restraining chains – but the steep ascents and descents would necessitate a 4×4 and mud-terrain tyres if the track had been wet. We were lucky because the Jamboree was a 178-truck event and a rain-slicked track would have had seen us slogging through the day and night to keep to our schedule for the closing ceremony in Kapit on 16 September in conjunction with Malaysia Day.

Having said that, it was also a good camping trip because the organisers had divided the convoy into five teams – the fifth being the 9-truck media team — and spread them out so that each team had its own camping ground.

Speaking for the media team, we had a choice of staying in the long house or camping. Many of us chose to camp because the celebrations at the long houses went well into the night.

“They were dancing, ngajat, and the stamping of the plank floor was so boisterous that my bed was shaking,” said Richard Voon, 68, a veteran off-roader and my pilot for the event.

He drives a Toyota 80 Series that must be one of the best maintained 21-year old 4×4 trucks that I’ve had the pleasure to ride in. He swears by the Old Man Emu suspension set (two-inch lift kit, shock absorbers and coil springs) and has gone through three sets of absorbers and springs to date. We rode on a new set of 35” mud  terrains and they were so good and the Toyota 1HZ engine (4.2 litre normally aspirated 6-cylinder diesel) was so good that he drove the car in 2WD high range all the way. It was scary for me, used as I was to the control of the permanent 4WD of the Land Rover Defender.

 

What’s for next year? Bintulu and, we hope, to the headwaters of the Baram and Rejang rivers in the 2,500m heights of the Iran range.

Adds Paul Si, SAKTA’s Assistant Hon. Sec:

“We started humbly with just 40 cars in the first jamboree two years ago,” recalled SAKTA president Abdul Taip Haji Sobeng, “and grew to about 60 last year, so we thought a target of 100, though not easy, might be achievable this year.”

A total of 489 participants in 178 rugged four-wheel-drive vehicles rolled in mid-afternoon after a four-day trek over tracks less travelled, spending three nights at several Iban longhouses and pristine riverside campsites along the way.

He credited the event’s success to strong support from the State Government, the endorsement of Tourism, Arts, Culture Sports and Youth Minister Datuk Abd Karim Rahman Hamzah and the Sarawak Tourism Board, the Sibu Resident’s Office, various district offices and government departments like the police and civil defence agencies.

“The local longhouse communities near Kanowit, Song and Kapit have also been enthusiastic in assisting, because they realise the potential benefit of tourism that can spin off from the jamboree,” Taip said.

The experience has been an eye-opener experience for several foreign participants as well as visitors from Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia, who had been briefed on Kapit’s unique status as a major town that had no road link with the rest of Sarawak until the completion of several key bridges in the past couple of years.

Participants this year came from as far as Switzerland, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, and several fellow Malaysians from Sabah and the Peninsula also made the effort.

After a grand flag off from Sibu on Sept 13, the convoy tackled a power transmission line service track that wound its way to Kanowit, where the participants enjoyed the traditional hospitality and of the Ibans at Rumah Benjamin Angki homestay at Rantau Kemidins, near Kanowit.

The following day took them on the winding and hilly Ngungun trail leading to Song where they were feted by the local authorities before entering the logging track leading to the longhouses of Rumah Melayu, Rumah Lucy and Rumah Ahcau.

The third day’s adventure entailed entering a long-disused timber trail to Kapit, which required strong muscles, digging implements and chainsaws to carry out repairs to broken bridges and portions of the road that had been washed away.

Some drama and excitement occurred along the way, including a makeshift bridge collapsing while a heavy vehicle was crossing it, and vehicles falling into deep holes, all part and parcel of typical 4X4 adventures.

The participants celebrated the successful completion with an evening of local food, music and dancing, whetting their appetite for next year’s jamboree to the hinterlands of Bintulu.