The trail is described here in two sections, along with possible variations on the return leg. 'Section 1' is a relatively easy walk, traversing the south-western side of the mountain. It passes through some wonderful mixed dipterocarp rainforest and occasional patches of kerangas vegetation, and crosses picturesque creeks. 'Section 2' is a steep climb which provides some glimpses of the countryside around from the sheer and more sparsely vegetated upper slopes, and spectacular views from the top.
Many of the trees along the trail (250 in all!) have been numbered, and a many of these are now identified with labels giving their scientific and local names. We have provided some information about some of these trees in the trail description below. For intersting information about the labelled tree species, please see the Santubong Tree List (Microsoft Word).
Starting from Santubong Mountain Trek canteen on the main road, follow the short boardwalk along a creek 180m through scrubby forest, to a campsite (see Accommodation below). The trail continues on to the right, with several more walkways, bridges and creek crossings.
[Next to station 'D' is a tree with the local name rengas sudu (scientific name Gluta aptera). Don't touch the black sap of this tree, or stand under it too long! It is a member of the Anacardiaceae family, which includes mangoes and cashews, as well as poison oaks and ivys. It has a milky sap which turns black on contact with the air. This sap is highly iritant, and can cause a nasty, very itchy rash and blistering. Even rainwater dripping off the tree can cause the reaction. (The Iban name rengas is used for all trees which have this effect. Sudu in Malay and Iban means "spoon", but in Iban it can also mean "king cobra". Either way, you don't want to touch this tree. In colloquial Malay, rengas trees are also sometimes called "the untamed buffalo"!)]
After about half an hour, the trail reaches the junction (marked with the letter 'F') of the blue and red trails. The blue trail to the left leads on to a waterfall and then loops back to the main road (see 'Return Variations' below). There are a number of large trees near the junction.
[One has the number 30 clearly visible. This is a meranti putih ("white meranti" - Shorea agami). It is a member of the dipterocarp family, which includes all the giant trees which dominate this forest type, and for which it is named.]
Take the red trail to head up the mountain. The trail climbs gently through dipterocarp forest, with some more very fine large trees.
[One of these, numbered 36 is a durain burong ("bird durian" - Durio acutifolius). It has spiky soccer-ball sized fruit which are similar in appearance to the related and famously smelly durian. This tree and other members of the Durio genus are important as a food source for hornbills, as well as for orang-utan (where they occur).]
On occasion, profusely fruiting trees in this area (also including figs and others) can provide an excellent opportunity to see shy silver langurs, majestic hornbills and other birds and animals feeding.
The trail undulates around the base of the mountain, across a boardwalk and two wooden bridges passing through patches of sandy-floored kerangas forest.
[Several of the the large numbered trees along this stretch of the trail (40, 42, 44, 55) are all kapur keladan, also dipterocarps, but from the genus Dryoblanops. This particular species (Dryoblanops beccarii) was named for the Italian botanist Beccari, who gave the description of the climb quoted in the Background section).]
Eventually, a steep roped descent leads down to a creek with a slim waterfall and a pleasant small pool (too small for swimming). This is the last permanent flowing water source on the trail. Crossing this creek can be very slippery. After a steep climb out of the creek-bed, the trail flattens out and continues to skirt the mountain, crossing another bridge over a shallow creek as it does so.
About 1.5 hours from the start of the walk, the trail opens out to a T-junction, intersecting a steep ridge trail that leads up to the summit from the south (see 'Return Variations' below). Follow the trail up the ridge.
From this point, the ascent starts in earnest. Ropes and exposed tree roots provide foot and hand holds. The right hand side of this trail is steeply cut away, providing good views into the rainforest canopy below. Listen for distinctive rhinoceros hornbill cries. After 30 minutes, a gap by a large boulder provides a breathing spot and offers some good views. A further 15 minutes up leads to a flat area with some old wooden benches. A sign notes it as 505m above sea level.
From the benches, a short descent into a saddle is followed quickly by more climbing. From this point, you will start to notice the vegetation thinning and the trees becoming smaller and more twisted, as the forest transitions from mixed dipterocarp forest to ridge forest and lower montane forest. You will also start to see some pine-like casuarina trees, and small flowering violets, typical of this higher altitude.
The trail is now very steep, and leads up two short rope ladders. It then continues past some more old benches, and then a further four rope ladder segments. The middle two of these are about 8m high.
About 1 hour from the first benches, the trail eventually opens out into a small clearing on a spur of the mountain, in which a pondok (hut) has been built. The views from here are limited, due to the tall growth around the clearing. From the pondok, there is a short steep descent into a saddle, followed by the last climb to the top, which takes a further 45 minutes, and uses several more rope ladders.
The climb ends on a ridge, with a junction on the trail. The short trail to the right leads to the 'summit', a flat area where there is a second pondok in a clearing, along with a picnic table and a BBQ. From up here (810m) there are excellent views south towards Kuching, east to Bako National Park, and west to Gunung Serapi and Kubah National Park.
Sadly, there is often rubbish in this area (please take yours out with you and maybe pick-up somebody else's too!), as well as a small pool of mosquitoey, swampy water . These and the lack of running water mean that this is not a great camping spot.
If you want to use the BBQ, please carry coal or wood up with you - don't cut or break trees from the fragile mountain environment. Also be careful about sparks, as the summit area can become very dry, and a fire could destroy this fragile ecosystem.
Variation 1: If the arduous climb has put you in the mood for a cool swim, return back down Section 1 to the junction of the red and blue trails, and turn down the blue trail. After 15 minutes, a creek tumbles over a small waterfall into a cool clear bathing pool. It is a beautiful setting, with magnificent trees all around. After your swim, you can either backtrack to the Santubong Mountain Trek canteen (at start of Section 1) or continue along the blue trail, an easy walk about 1.5km through more dipterocarp and kerangas forest to the main road, approx 200m on the Kuching side of the Sarawak Cultural Village entrance. It is possible to see pitcher plants (Nepenthes ampullaria) towards the end of the trail.
Variation 2: For a shorter return to the foot of the mountain, continue straight down the ridge at the junction of Sections 1 and 2, rather than turning right and back-tracking along Section 1 (follow the green arrow pointing to Bukit Puteri ("Princess Hill"). This trail is well marked (again in red) and follows the escarpment, providing an excellent opportunity to observe the rainforest canopy below. It's a gradual but steady downhill gradient. Approximately 25 minutes from the junction, there's a trail to the right which is now closed. Continue straight downhill. The trail opens out into secondary rainforest and cleared areas, and finally onto a large slab of exposed sandstone, just above the road. It finishes on the road opposite an abandoned white restaurant building with a red roof. A Santubong Summit Trek sign marks the start/finish of this trail.