Kinabalu National Park by Herman (March 2003)

Short: The Kinabalu National Park (KNP) is some 83 km / 2 hours from Kota Kinabalu and was established in 1964. It covers an area of 754 km² or about 1% of Sabah's land mass. Mt Kinabalu, with 4095.2 m and South East Asia's highest mountain, dominates the park. Climate zones range from tropical rainforest to sub alpine, creating an incredible variety of habitats and are part of the reasons for the high endemism in the park. In 2000 KNP was certified Malaysias first UNESCO World Heritage Site.


A Beacon of Biological Diversity...

The Kinabalu National Park is Sabah's greatest attraction, and maybe Borneo's most important national park. I like to say that we have an unfair advantage over the other national parks here: with Mt Kinabalu and the many different climate zones it is natural that there should be animals and plants that do not occur in any other parts of Borneo - and some of them not even anywhere else in the world. It is no wonder UNESCO has stated that the KNP is one of the world's most important biological sites and in December 2000 KNP was certified Malaysia's first World Heritage Site.

Visitors generally visit the KNP Head Quarters at Kundasang, and the hot springs at Poring.

The KNP HQ at more than 1500 m a.s.l. and with more than 10 km well maintained trails offer a fine insight into the lower montane rainforest at that altitude, and the patient observer will be able to spot rare and endemic birds here. Ongoing research on plant life is made accessible in the 'Mountain Garden' where endemic plants, healing herbs and orchids are shown. After the visit of this garden take some trails and try to spot the plants you have learned about!

Daily guided tours with an experienced ranger are organised at 11 am from the Liwagu Restaurant. The rangers explain more about KNP's flora & fauna, the uses of some of the plants, and maybe you spot some small mammal or rare bird which the ranger can interpret for you.

Restaurants, exhibition halls and a wide variety of accommodation complete the KNP HQ, from where one also starts the climb of Mt Kinabalu. This is normally done in two days: the first day climbers register at the park HQ and meet their mountain guide (and porters if neccessary). Then they trek from the Timpohon Gate at 1800 m a.s.l. to Laban Rata at around 3300 m a.s.l. There is accommodation (dormitory style) at Laban Rata and the surrounding mountain huts, but beds are limited and this in turn limits daily climbing permits. Only a certain number of climbers is allowed daily as not to create too much impact on the parks unique environment. At Laban Rata there is also a restaurant.

Climbers are advised to go to bed early as the next morning starts early. Normally, by 3 am everybody is already underway to the summit - Low's Peak is South East Asia's highest, 4095.2 m (old maps still indicate 4101 m, which has been corrected some years back with the advent of more precise altimeters). Most climbers will make it in time to to summit to witness the sun rise over Borneo, and good weather conditions permitting this is an exhilarating moment!

After many photo sessions climber descend over Laban Rata back to the HQ, where they normally arrive around midday to 2 pm.

Mt Kinabalu is 'the easiest 4000er' in the world - meaning no climbing or mountaineering skills are necessary to reach its summit. But a good physical condition and stamina still help, as it is not exactly a stroll in the park either!

Some Numbers


5,000 – 6,000 species of vascular plants, comprising of over 200 families and 1,000 genera:

  • 1,000 orchid species, including five species of slipper orchids
  • 608 fern species
  • 9 Nepenthes species (pitcher-plants, including 4 endemic species)
  • 26 Rhododendron species (5 species are endemic to Kinabalu)
  • 78 Ficus species (over 50% of the 135 species found in Borneo)
  • 52 palm species
  • 6 bamboo species
  • 30 ginger species

The Rafflesia is one of the rarest plants (and the largest) in the world, and two species, Rafflesia preicii and R keithii are known to occur in the KNP, too!


The KNP is a paradise for ornithologist and more than half of all known birds species in Borneo can be found here: 326 species! They are categorised into 4 groups: subalpine zone species; endemic montane species; non-endemic montane species and lowland species (Wells and Philips, 1996; Buin, 1999). Endemic Bornean species such as the Kinabalu Friendly Warbler are only found at Mt. Kinabalu and Mt. Trus Madi. But there is more:

  • 90 species lowland mammals
  • 22 species montane mammals
  • 61 frog and toad species (approximately)
  • 200 species (approximately) of butterfly have been recorded
  • 112 ‘macro’ moth species (may be found at 2000m and above)
  • 40 species of fish (representing 9 families)

Then there are such curiosities as the Kinabalu Giant Earthworm...

These lists are not complete, and from time to time some they need adjustment as plants and animals new to science are found! 

How to Get to the Kinabalu National Park & Accommodation

Bus, van, taxi, tour operator, ca 2 hours by road (83 km); there is a wide choice of accommodation in the park, and in Kundasang there are many 'highland resorts'. All accommodation tends to be fully booked months in advance for public and school holidays and we recommend that enquiries and confirmed bookings are made early.

Climb Mt Kinabalu

The permit to climb Mt Kinabalu is guaranteed if one has secured accommodation (fully confirmed with payment) through Sutera Sanctuary Lodges. As accommodation is limited we suggest you make your confirmed bookings at least five months in advance!


Mt Kinabalu, Malaysia's highest mountain

Aerial view of Mt Kinabalu

One of the more spectacular insects: the Lantern Bug

"Kinabalu Gold" slipper orchid Paphiopedilum rothschildianum

Pitcher Plant Nepenthes burbidgeae

One of the many wild ginger species, flowering (Alpinia halivandii)

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Note: while every care has been taken in compiling the above information the Flying Dusun Sdn Bhd, its authors and associates cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracy, omission or alteration that may occur. Please contact us or the respective authors for further details and confirmation of facts and figures. © The Flying Dusun Sdn Bhd, 2005-2006; all rights reserved; reproduction in whole or in part without written permission strictly prohibited. 


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