Friday, October 17, 2008

Bukit Bangkirai:East Kalimantan

Imagine an Orchid forest with more than 45 different species including dancing and dragon scale varieties, sambas breeding deer, flying fox, short- and long-tailed macaque birds, wild boar and 40-meter-high, 150-year-old bangkirai trees. A forestry student’s dream come true and a native bird-watcher’s paradise.

And now it’s accessible to those of us without hiking boots.

This is one of the world’s most beautiful virgin conservation forests — and it is at Jakarta’s front door, in East Kalimantan. It is the Bukit Bangkirai forest and conservation parkland, located in Samboja district, Kutai Kartanegara regency.

There are three roads that lead to this incredible 1,500-hectare wonderland as well as wide-ranging accommodation to suit just about anyone.

Bukit Bangkirai forest is internationally recognized yet still one of Indonesia’s best kept tourism secrets.

It boasts various species of hardwood trees — including the bangkirai tree (Shorea laevis), which can survive for more than 150 years and will usually grow as high as 50 meters.

Bukit Bangkirai is a tropical rainforest and natural monument, and home to other woods including ulin (Eusideroxylon Zwageri), blackwood or ebony (Ebenaceae), red meranti (Shorea smithiana), kempas (Koompassia malaccensis) and kruing (Dipterocarpus).

A two-ha area within the forest has been intentionally filled with jungle fruit tree species in a bid to preserve the mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana), the durian family, including lai (Durio kutejensis), and the mentega (magarine) fruit (Diospyros).

Bukit Bangkirai’s orchid forest provides orchid lovers with the opportunity to feast their eyes on a collection consisting of 45 species, including the black orchid (Coelegyne pandurata), sugarcane orchid (Grammatophyllum speciousum), dragon scale orchid (Cymbidium antropurpureum) and dancing orchid (Bromheadia fynlaysoniana).

A 3.5-ha breeding ground for deer from the sambas family (Corvus unicolor) was cleared but sadly locals today say it has been neglected for too long and is now overgrown with underbrush.

“I’m not sure when, but the deer breeding activities stopped long ago,” said Nyoman Suterini, owner of a food stall in the area.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of other animals to be found in the area, including the owa owa (Hylobates muelleri), short-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina), red long-tailed monkey (Presbytus rubicunda), the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis), wild boar and flying fox.

One of Bukit Bangkirai’s most infamous attractions is its bridge that connects five large trees, better known as the “Canopy Bridge.

The bridge is suspended 30 meters from the ground and stretches a total of 64 meters in length. It is made of bangkirai timber laths, bound by steel cables and secured by a 1.5-meter safety net on both sides.

But when the late afternoon wind starts to howl, locals say the bridge will do all it can to frighten the very daylights out of those visitors using it and even passers-by.

“When I was up on the canopy bridge, I yelled my heart out not because I was afraid but too excited,” said Japanese student Takeshi Arizono, 29, an alumnus from the forestry school at Mulawarman University in Samarinda.

“My friends and I had a great time … it was my first time on such a bridge.

“The place is terrific and very suitable to conduct a research project,” Takesi said.

As a specialized forestry student, Takesi was investigating the rattan plant and was accompanied by a junior from the Nihon University who was attending comparable studies on the bangkirai tree, the dominant tree species in the area.

“I’ve also seen a bangkirai tree which is 150 years old and 40 meters tall here,” said Takeshi.

Visitors can choose to stay overnight in one of the four fully-equipped cottages built of ulin timber. Tariffs at the time of writing ranged from Rp 350,000 to Rp 450,000 per day.

“The check-out time is more flexible here, unlike hotels in the cities,” said Ommeng from the Bukit Bangkirai resort area.
“And the number of guests staying in a room is unlimited.”

For those who really want to blend in with the natural surroundings, the resort also offers a camping ground with tents and camping space for rent.

“The fee for a camping space is set at Rp 45,000 per day, which is the same price as hiring an eight-person tent,” said Ommeng. “And a four-person tent is rented for Rp 25,000 per day.”

Others who want to enjoy the cool night air of Bukit Bangkirai can try the outbound barracks.

The price here can be as high as Rp 1.5 million per day, but the barracks can accommodate up to 100 people and the area is suitable to hold reunions, workshops and other activities that involve a crowd.

Getting to and from the forest involves either a simple a 58-km drive from Balikpapan, a 150-km drive from Samarinda or a 150-km drive from Tenggarong.

The park is managed by state-run forestry company PT Inhutani and charges entrance fees for visitors and vehicles — Rp 2,000 (approximately 22 US cents) for adults and motorcycles and Rp 1,000 for those below the age of 12.

The entrance fee for a car is Rp 5,000, while buses are charged Rp 10,000.

A group of 50 people or more can receive a 25 percent discount on the entrance fee and a group of more than 100 people can get a 50 percent discount.

Nurni Sulaimana, The Jakarta Post.