GEORGE TOWN, July 14 — While Penang Hill and its surrounding forests have long been favourites of hikers, not many realise that there is a diverse range of nature trails all around Seberang Perai.
In fact, the flatlands, the beach and the hills of Bukit Panchor and Bukit Mertajam offer a variety of trails ranging from leisurely walks to more challenging hill climbs with plenty of flora and fauna to spot.
Avid hiker Rexy Prakash Chacko took a year to explore, document and map out these trails and put them together in a book titled Nature Trails of Seberang Perai; a handy guide for those keen to explore Seberang Perai.
“People usually think of Penang Hill when they want to go hiking but I find that on the mainland, there is a diverse range of nature trails waiting to be explored,” he said.
Seberang Perai has a beach trail, a padi field trail, a river walk and even a hike up to a bat cave.
One of the trails recommended is an easy walk along the Pantai Robina beach that winds along the coast.
The trail under the cool shade of casuarina trees lining the beach provides a beautiful view of the north-east coast of Penang island.
Another easy flatland trail to try out is the padi field loop in Teluk Air Tawar which will take you on a 4.2 kilometre-walk along a dirt path that passes through padi fields and peaceful villages.
For the more experienced hiker, there is the Bukit Panchor Bat Cave Trail which is only a 2.3 kilometre-hike one way but is more challenging as hill climbs are involved.
This trail, which starts at the Bukit Panchor state park, is a paved footpath the first half of the trail before trekkers have to take an unmarked jungle trail off the paved road to go up a gentle slope, across a bridge crossing a small stream before arriving at a cluster of large boulders.
The bat cave is tucked between the boulders and easily located by the stench and squeaks of the bats.
The cave houses several species of bats and hundreds can be seen flying in and out of the cave, especially if disturbed from their roost in the daytime.
The book, sponsored by Think City, Seberang Perai Municipal Council and published by Areca Books, is a light pocket-sized guide so hikers can bring it along and follow the detailed maps drawn inside for each trail.
Rexy also recommends two different trails on Pulau Aman, a small fishing village island off the coast of Batu Kawan.
“My favourite trail has to be the Perai River Walk where we can see three different types of monkeys and it leads to the Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest,” he said.
Sometimes smooth-coated otters can be spotted by the river banks too.
The Perai River Walk is a 4.3 kilometre-easy walk along the river through the wetlands and farms before heading to the Air Hiram Dalam Educational Forest.
The guide book provides gradings for each trail so hikers know the level of difficulty of each trail before attempting it.
Grade One trails are short easy paths on flatland suitable for all ages, Grade Two is for longer walks on flatlands also suitable for all ages, Grade Three has hill climbs for beginners and older children while Grade Four and Five trails have challenging hill climbs suitable for fit hikers.
The book also provides a page on “The Trekking Code” to remind hikers not to litter, to stay on established trails, to keep the trails clean, to refrain from poaching, to refrain from contaminating the rivers and streams and to never start fires in the forest.
It also reminds hikers to immediately report any land clearing or trees being felled in the forests to the authorities or send a report to the Penang Hills Watch (PHW) Facebook page.
Rexy, an electrical engineer by profession and also a PHW co-ordinator, said the guide book is aimed at encouraging more people to enjoy the nature trails in mainland Penang.
“I want more people to explore nature and when they explore these nature trails, they will learn to treasure and protect it from destruction,” he said.
He said it is only when people get closer to nature through such activities that they will defend the forests from destruction.
The guide book is now available for sale at Areca Books and all major bookstores.