By James Gough
Last February Dato’ Hamidah commented that Perak had a lot to offer to the eco-adventure tourist. She made the comment after officiating the launch of Bukit Kinding’s Eco Adventure Park (BKEAP) Double Zip-Line Flying Fox product which is the longest in the country measuring 486 metres in length.
Mountain biking through an Orang Asli village at Gopeng
Multiple Adventure Sports All in One Location
BKEAP located at Tanjung Rambutan is a 1,400-acre resort that sits at the foothills of the Titiwangsa Range. Since last November when it introduced a string of adventure activities ranging from free kayaking to zorbing, paintball, mountain biking and later the Flying Fox, the resort has experienced a growth of new customers using their facilities mainly for team building and adventure activities.
Interestingly, although BKEAP is new to eco-adventure activities, it has been having impressive bookings from colleges, universities and corporations for its adventure activities since it started its adventure park. According to Mr Pavin Damodran, BKEAP Manager, the Resort does its own marketing and currently can handle180 guests per time. However, it is currently constructing new chalets and dormitories to accommodate over 600 guests at any one time.
Besides adding accommodations, it recently added an orienteering course and will be adding an abseiling area soon. The fact that bookings for June are already full is testimony to the popularity of adventure activities.
Eco and Adventure Tourism versus Eco-Adventure Tourism
The definition of Eco-Tourism refers to tourists wishing to experience and appreciate the natural and cultural heritage within an environment and foster a greater appreciation of its natural habitat.
Adventure tourism on the other hand attracts tourists seeking excitement though activities that require significant personal effort and some degree of risk such as white-water rafting, rock climbing or even mountain biking.
When one combines these two definitions, Eco-Adventure Tourism, one immediately realises that Perak has all these products.
Our eco-tourism products such as Gua Tempurung and Royal Belum are world-class gems, pristine and precious and offer a wealth of knowledge. Similarly interesting are our Orang Asli villages and Ipoh’s Heritage Trails. For adventure there are white-water rafting, caving and mountain biking, to name a few. Package all of these activities together and the result is a fun and adventurous eco-adventure holiday.
For all of these activities visitors need not travel to the four corners of the country but just come to Ipoh to begin their adventure because Perak has got it all.
White-water rafting on the Kampar River, Gopeng
Gopeng – A One-Stop Destination
Nomad Adventure, an adventure training company was the first adventure operator in Gopeng starting in 2003.
Its founder ChanYuen Li, an adventure enthusiast, captained the first Asian team to complete the 1998 multi day expedition Eco-Challenge competition held in Morocco, Chan is also the individual who discovered and developed commercial white-water rafting trips at Sungai Kampar.
Nomad, located within close proximity of Gua Tempurung offers a full spectrum of adventure activities which allow visitors to be at one with nature amongst the surrounding natural habitat.
Its site consists of two locations – Earth Camp and Mountain School. Visitors can stay at its eco-friendly Earth Camp-site which provides accommodations in green-house dormitories or tree houses to get the feel of communal living in a rainforest environment.
Its water activities along the Kampar River include the exciting white-water rafting which traverses 22 rapids of grades 2-3 all the while surrounded by the rainforests along upper Sungai Kampar. Subsequently this is followed by a relaxing and scenic kayaking float trip down the lower Sg Kampar drifting through river villages until Kuala Dipang.
Nomad’s Mountain School at the limestone outcrop of Gua Kandu offers rock climbing, a unique high ropes course along a limestone and jungle environment, and free hanging abseil.
Visitors are also taken for caving at Gua Tempurung and encouraged to participate in the Academy Kampung community cultural activity to have a complete eco-adventure experience all within Gopeng itself.
It must be noted that Nomad being the market leader in this eco tourist market, has achieved some significant benchmark initiatives such as treating its grey water and achieving ISO9001/2008 certification, making them the only resort operator with ISO certification.
Nomad’s Earth Camp
Eco-Tourism Spin-Offs: Eco-Resorts and Involvement of Local Communities
With the growth of eco-tourism, eco-tourist resorts and adventure operators have sprouted. A year after Nomad started, Adeline Koh, the owner of Adeline Rest House opened a 5-acre resort at Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng. Two resort operators have since followed suit, the My Gopeng Resort and Gopeng Rainforest Resort just 2 years ago.
Gopeng Rainforest Resort is situated between the Ulu Geruntum and Ulu Kampar rivers in the Kinta Forest. Gopeng Rainforest Resort provides for accommodations, food, recreation and activities in the midst of an environment surrounded by pristine rainforests and orchards. The stylish local traditional Malay houses and chalets in Gopeng Rainforest Resort are built to blend in with the environment. Facilities here include a multi-purpose hall, fruit orchard, car parks, electricity, piped water, clean toilets, bathroom, BBQ sets, kitchen, natural stream, etc.
One can opt for various activities here like white-water rafting, Rafflesia flower (world’s largest flower) trail, caving adventures and jungle trekking. One can also get to enjoy the various fresh local Malaysian fruits like durians, rambutans, pulasan and others during the fruiting seasons. Owner David Foon also takes his visitors on tours to Ipoh’s Heritage Trail and Kinta Nature Park bird sanctuary at Batu Gajah all of which only enhance the richness of the eco-tourism activity.
Although Gopeng has the full plethora of eco-adventure activities, there are other unique eco-tourism products available around Perak.
Ecofieldtrips, a Singapore-based company that conducts field trips for students from primary to tertiary level from around the world has listed Perak as one its field trip destinations.
Ecofieldtrips Director Bridget Hedderman acknowledged that “Perak has a lot of outdoor learning opportunities to offer her students” adding that her Perak itinerary, besides including the activities at Gopeng, also takes in the Kinta Nature Park bird sanctuary at Batu Gajah, Matang Mangrove Swamp at Kuala Gula and “also the Orang Asli village at Ulu Kinta and Kellies Castle for its social heritage”. It must be noted that the mentioned locations are within 90 minutes of each other.
Hedderman employs nature guides and graduates to run her programmes and regards Perak as a one-stop centre for eco and adventure tourism adding that “Perak has a lot to offer though I doubt that it has been marketed to the public yet.”
Multiple Sports and Fun
A teacher with an international school once told Nomad’s Chan that her Earth Camp was the most interesting adventure location ever as it had “multiple adventure sports” all in one destination. The teacher explained that the previous year’s adventure camp was at the Himalayas for white-water rafting and that was all they did. However, at Gopeng the students had more variety, learnt more and had more fun too.
Caving at Gua Tempurung. Photo by David Foon GRR
The eco-adventure sites in Perak are easily accessible to residents from KL, Selangor and Penang and it is common to have day-trip groups especially during the weekends. The infrastructure too is good with air, rail, bus and train services being available. Similarly too with hospital services being nearby.
In early April last month Nomad received 160 visitors who came for a day trip of adventure. That is nothing significant except for the fact that all the visitors came from the Middle East.
Nomad’s Chan didn’t raise an eyebrow until she received another confirmation from another but smaller Middle-East group for a mountain-to-sea challenge.
For the uninitiated a mountain-to-sea challenge is a 6D5N stay which takes the visitor to Cameron Highlands for the start of a 2-day trek down to Gopeng, then white-water rafting, mountain biking and caving at Gua Tempurung before taking a 70-km cycle ride to end at Teluk Batik, Lumut.
So far the only record of a trek from Cameron Highlands to Lumut was achieved by F. Spencer Chapman of Force 136 in 1945, who had to rendezvous with his getaway submarine at Pangkor Laut after which he wrote the book ‘The Jungle is Neutral’.
Undoubtedly, offering activity-packed eco-adventure outings can be the start of more customers coming from non-traditional markets. Could it be that the eco-adventure tourist has gotten wind of what Perak has to offer in the way of a quality adventure? Time will tell.