Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail
" Watch Nature's Grandeur Bloom"
In the middle of the jungle on the Ulu Geroh Rafflesia trail, the benefits of ecotourism converge with conservation to safeguard biodiversity while improving the local economy for the indigenous community.
Surrounded by durian orchards, rubber and oil palm estates, kampungs and forest reserves, sits the settlement of Ulu Geroh, where the indigenous Semai community protects the largest flower in the world.
Often called the jewel of the rainforest, Rafflesia flowers bloom close to the forest floor and last for less than a week. The flashy reddish-orange colour of an open flower emerges from a dull, brown, round bud the size of a swollen softball.
A rarity among jungle flora, it takes intimate knowledge with the environment to catch these spectacular plants in bloom. And the Semai are just the ones to know.
They collect forest products - rattan, bamboo, herbs, fruits, food animals, plant material - and previously sold Rafflesia buds and Rajah Brooke's Birdwing butterflies to outsiders.
Now they are stewards for these threatened species.
With assistance from the Malaysian Nature Society, a few Semai residents serve as nature guides to transfer local knowledge into ecotourism opportunities. Since 2004, these local guides receive supplementary income and earn money for a community fund to improve the village.
Ulu Geroh harbors more than just the Rafflesia. Suitable habitats for the exquisite Rajah Brooke's Birdwing butterfly are nearby and easily seen. Jungle trails offer an array of lizards, stick insects, spiders, gingers and flowers amid serene nature landscapes.
Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail: The Elusive Search
Oozing its putrid odors to attract pollinating bluebottle flies, Rafflesia flowers in bloom look like upturned, tattered sombreros with a bad sunburn.
With twenty or so species growing only in the tropic heat of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, eight species bedazzle rainforest habitat in Malaysia.
Finding an open flower is not easy. Semai nature guides must constantly monitor the jungle to time a blossoming plant with tourists' arrivals.
That's why you must call in advance to check when a Rafflesia is expected to show-off its colours. Sometimes timing is off and buds do not unwrap; but that only adds to the anticipation factor on the jungle journey.
By the time you arrive in Ulu Geroh, guides will be aware of which Rafflesia trail to trek. Some forest trails take only 30 minutes to reach a flower, while others traverse uphill into more remote jungle habitat with hikes lasting up to two hours.
All the sweat and effort to witness a wild Rafflesia is worth it. These unique parasitic flowers start by attaching strands to certain jungle vines, grow into buds, and eventually penetrate the bark. After nine months or so, a mature bud appears as a fist-sized sphere ready to bloom up to one-meter wide.
The odds of Rafflesia surviving to emit a bloom are difficult. Bud collection to sale for medicinal use, together with logging and loss of forest habitat, only worsens the plight of these endangered species in the rainforest.
On my own trip to the Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail, we trekked the long trail over streams and uphill climbs and saw two medium-sized Rafflesia flowers in bloom. Not the largest, not the prettiest and not any less thrilling.
Go see for yourself one of nature's wild oddities and make a contribution to the conservation of these special rainforest plants.
Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail: Radical Rainforest Insects
A visual stunner, the Rajah Brooke's Birdwing butterfly shimmers like a colorful gemstone among the dull mineral deposits.
Its velvet black wings painted with a band of metallic green triangles exudes exuberance in a habitat where staying hidden is the norm. Its flashy overt appearance contrasts sharply with the covert Rafflesia blooms.
Evolution returns back to secrecy with leaf and stick insects. These mimic specialist resemble green leaves and brown twigs to keep birds and lizards away while feeding on plants.
Nature makes the males smaller, lighter and with wings so they can search for mates. Without movement it's nearly impossible to detect these insects, whose cryptic body coloration conceal their presence.
Moths and butterflies flourish in forest lowlands where thousands of species thrive. If you're not sure which is which, check the color pattern and wings. Moths tend to be duller and hold their wings down, while butterflies flutter during the day, are more colorful and keep their wings erect at rest.
Try not to be in a hurry on the Ulu Geroh Rafflesia trail, otherwise you'll bypass the colorful, cryptic world of Malaysia's rainforest insects.
One of the greatest insect collectors ever was Alfred R. Wallace, a naturalist who corresponded with Charles Darwin and independently concluded the theory of natural selection. During eight years searching the habitats of the Malay Archipelago he amassed over 13,000 butterflies and moths, over 83,000 beetles and over 13,000 other insects.
When you go to the Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail, observing one or two insects will suffice.
Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail: Jungle Photography
On a once-in-a-lifetime chance to capture a bursting Rafflesia, you haul the camera gear with you.
Whether you pack a macro lens, tripod and flash or just a compact point-and-shoot, this is a rare occasion worthy of all the effort. Usually everyone takes a camera, so the queue to shoot takes a while. Be patient and focus on buds and vines and habitat landscapes while others set up the tripod for close-up shots.
Just be careful not to trample all over the host vine or smaller buds in waiting.
Getting a good image of a Rajah Brooke's Birdwing is easier as butterfly clusters lap up mineral water in little streamside pools. Fluttering wings and wind play havoc with your lens focus as most shots are taken standing over the species.
Try and get low to the ground for varying angles to capture less ordinary images. Be a quick thinker and clicker because these guys are skittish.
Practice macro shots on other insects (cicadas, caterpillars, dragonflies), find some flowers or look for interesting plant patterns and designs in leaves or tree bark. Jungle photography slows down the pace and allows discovery of all the finesse parts of a rainforest habitat.
Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail: General Information
The Semai community is responsible for taking visitors to the Rafflesia conservation areas. Several nature guides are now recognized by the Ministry of Tourism as professional Green Badge Certificate holders.
Since 2004, a few guides set up 'Sahabat Ekopelancongan dan Memulihara Alam indah' or the 'Friends of Ecotourism and Nature Conservation', known formally as SEMAI.
Part of the money earned from guiding services and merchandise sales are deposited in a community fund and later used to assist community people and projects.
Visitors need to call the SEMAI in advance to arrange the most suitable date to observe a Rafflesia in bloom.
All visitors must make their own arrangements to get to Gopeng town, roughly 1.5 to 2 hours from KL, and just off the North-South Plus Highway. From Gopeng, SEMAI guides will arrange 4WD transport to the village (a 45 minute drive). Your personal details are needed for permission from the Forestry Department to access the Forest Reserves.
The meeting point in Gopeng is in front of the Gopeng MCA office. Pick up time is 9:00 am and exit time is 2:30 pm. Other arrangements can be requested.
Visitors choose from among three different activities that can be packaged together as a double or triple combination. If the Rafflesia is not in bloom, then visitors can choose to go for a jungle trek. There is an information centre and dormitory at the settlement to assist with education and research activities.
Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail Packages
Enquiries must be made directly with SEMAI members:
Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail Conservation Area
Fitness is required to climb the hill slope trails. However other trails may be suitable for children and the elderly. Please enquire with the SEMAI for recommendations and seasonal conditions.
A few things to remember for the Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail include:
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