A growing number of small and even large groups are experiencing Malaysia’s Kenyir Lake from comfortable accommodation on the water – with a broad selection of modern houseboats.
Spread over a water catchment area of over 209,000 hectares, Malaysia’s Kenyir Lake – a huge man-made lake providing hydro-electric power to the nation, is an exceptional destination not only for solo travellers and families, but also has a great potential for MICE tourism. Dotted with more than 340 islands, which were once mountaintops and highlands, Lake Kenyir is home to more than 14 cascading waterfalls, cooling waters, an abundance of rapids and rivers, and an idyllic sanctuary to numerous species of freshwater fish and exotic wildlife. Flora and fauna thrive in its vast landscape and are a treasure trove of discoveries and adventure for nature lovers. Fishing, house boating, trekking, golfing, kayaking, camping and caving are just some of the recreational activities the lake district has to offer.
Houseboating on Kenyir Lake
While there are a number of traditional kampung style wooden chalets along its shores, and there are many ways to visit the lake, one of the best ways to do both is on a houseboat. Houseboating on Kenyir is a unique experience, perhaps not always offering five star facilities, but furnishing a “thousand-star” jungle atmosphere minus the need for strenuous trekking and camping. Indeed, for city-dwellers who have seen the beauty of tropical jungles on their TV, yet want to luxuriate in the fresh air and cicada chorus, this takes away the hassle of tramping through the jungle. All the creature comforts of home are there, carried along wherever they may go on the lake. Little wonder then that houseboats are becoming increasingly popular in Tasik Kenyir. Several companies organise visits, such as Ping Anchorage, a company based in Kuala Terengganu. The standard houseboat is two-storeys. Cooking, meals, bathing, washing and fishing are conducted downstairs while sleeping, card games, chit-chatting and the like belong to the “living room” upstairs.
According to one French tourist recently interviewed after a houseboat adventure, “Living on a boat is a very original experience. It’s nothing like what we have in France. We can get to go many places. It’s not just jungle trekking in one place. And the food was very good.”
Kenyir becomes a Duty-Free zone
The future sees the enhancement of Kenyir Lake into a Duty-Free Zone to make it not only a prime getaway for eco-tourism but a shopping paradise as well. Officially declared a Duty-Free Zone by the Menteri Besar of Terengganu, when fully operational, its aim is to open its doors to visitors and investors to a unique and contemporary eco-tourism experience.
The heart of the Duty-Free Zone is the Kenyir Trade Centre, which will be home to a duty-free shopping haven, a business centre, the Bayas Square, and a 3-star hotel. To make the centre accessible to more visitors, an iconic bridge is being erected to link the jetty to the Kenyir Trade Centre. Terengganu’s heritage and cultural design will be adopted into its architecture.
Coming soon – Shotover Jetboat rides
The development plan sees Lake Kenyir further supplemented by a 40-seater “Shotover” jet boat, the construction of a cable-car line, the development of a theme park, and a second jetty for visitors coming from the west. Importantly, the infrastructure and transportation system leading to the lake and specifically to the islands will be upgraded to accommodate the increase in the influx of tourists.
About the lake district
Situated 138 metres above sea level, the lake’s scenery is breath-taking, thanks to its many islands, the biggest being as big as Singapore. It is a unique tourist destination thanks to its beautiful tropical rainforests and valuable wood species, plants, animals, birds and insects. It is believed that Kenyir area is the home for more than 8,000 species of flowers, 2,500 species of plants and trees, 800 species of orchids, and 300 species of fungus. To the north of the lake is Hulu Telemong Forest Reserve and in the south is Hulu Terengganu Forest Reserve, leading to the National Park. It is surrounded by tropical forest with rich heritage of flora from beautiful exotic orchids to majestic high trees including meranti, resak, neram, kapur, several rattan species, keruing and many more. Its cool and humid weather makes Kenyir a prized home for wildlife such as monkeys, tigers, elephants, deer, snakes, insects, squirrels, and birds.
The forests surrounding Kenyir Lake date back around three thousand million years, making them among the world’s oldest tropical rainforests. First civilization in the area dates back to the Neolithic era. Some artefacts such as kitchen utensil, axes and tools were uncovered by archaeologists in the 1950s and 1970s.
The construction of the dam spanned 15 years, from the planning stage to its completion in 1985. In 1987 the entire project was officially opened by his Royal Highness the Sultan of Terengganu Darul Iman and was named the “Sultan Mahmud Hydro Electric Power Station”. The main project site is located at Kuala Kenyir (about 55km from Kuala Terengganu).
There are many waterfalls in Lake Kenyir, popular amongst picnickers for their cool, relaxed and rejuvenating ambience. A picnic at the waterfalls is featured in almost every itinerary and the popularity of the falls ensures the provision of basic amenities such as toilets, changing rooms and rest areas. Other gems include Petang, Leban Terengganu, LataTerap, Sg. Buweh, Sg. Lawit and Petuang Waterfall.
Towering limestone hills hold two of Lake Kenyir’s legendary secluded caves. Full of mystery and occasionally shrouded in mist, these hills provide some of the most breath-taking sights in Lake Kenyir.
ISLANDS & MOUNTAINS
Lake Kenyir was named after the Kenyir River, one of the many rivers in central Terengganu that rose in level due to the construction of Jenagor Dam. As the rivers rose, the mountains and hills were submerged to become 340 little islets. The mountainous regions of Lake Kenyir are a world of untouched virgin tropical forest, estimated to be millions of years old.
The high reaching peak situated in the centre of the lake is Mount Chergau on Pulau Chergau, the largest island in Lake Kenyir. Other islands, namely Bayas, Sumas, Jelatang, Batu Pipit and many others dot the lake.
The second highest peak within the vicinity of Lake Kenyir is Mount Gagau, which is estimated at 1,376 meters above sea-level, and Mount Lawit towering over 1,519 meters high, certifiably the highest peak within Terengganu’s Taman Negara. Other peaks include Mount Bongsu, Tembat, Raung, Kachang and Gajah Terom.
Each of the peaks offer different challenges for mountain hikers wishing to test their endurance and stamina conquering any of the mountains in Kenyir. Each will be rewarded with a spectacular and panoramic view.
PARKS & GARDENS
Approximately 15 minutes from Pengkalan Gawi jetty on Pulau Terengganu Mati is the lush tropical Bird Park, home to 153 birds of various specimens, 17 of which live and y freely. The rest are housed in a large gated area resembling the birds’ natural setting, which affords visitors an up-close and personal encounter with the birds. The park ensures the preservation of the rainforest’s natural ecosystem, to balance the environmental needs of the flora and fauna and allows the birds to thrive freely in their natural habitat.
Located approximately 5 minutes from Pengkalan Gawi jetty on Pulau Lubuk Geras is the Kenyir Butterfly Park. The island serves as a sanctuary to thousands of species of preserved and live butterfly specimens. Abounding with flowers and shrubs, over 100 specimens can be found within the park’s enclosure, providing the ideal photo opportunity. The park breeds some of the rarest species which include the Rajah Brooks and Golden Birdwings, and the park also has an informative and interactive insect museum which should entice young visitors to learn more about these beautiful insects.
Situated on Pulau Sah Kecil is Kenyir Lake Herbal Park, approximately 10 minutes from Pengkalan Gawi jetty. Abounding with more than 200 types of traditional herbal species that include Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma logifolia), Kacip Fatimah (Labiusa pumila), Tongkat Haji Samad (Prismatomeris tetranda), Misai Kucing (Orthosiphon aristatu) and Mas Cotek (Ficus deltoidea), many other herb and plant species of medicinal value can alsobe found here.
Visitors can feast their eyes on a myriad of herbal plants that offer therapeutic and general healthcare needs, with an Interpretative Centre for detailed information on the herbs, and an Arboretum that stores all the herbal species in the park. Visitors can also savour freshly made herbal beverages renowned for their effective nutriments.
Spread out across Pulau Hulu Selimbar, Pulau Hilir Selimbar and Pulau Belit, approximately 20 minutes from Pengkalan Gawi jetty, various wild orchid species and exotic hybrids of local and international species are bred and bloom in an array of awe- inspiring colours.
Established as a hub for orchid gardening, preservation and research, the garden retains the natural ecosystem to allow nature’s wonders to flourish. Horticulturalists will also find the garden a thriving ground for an endless diversity of trees, plants, insects, birds, sh and mammals, all living side by side in a self-sustaining ecosystem.
Tropical Garden is located on two islands; Pulau Tekak Besar and Pulau Sungai Tekak. The garden is an eco- tourism, research and development centre for diverse types of tropical fruits, wild fruits, exotic fruits and indigenous fruits which are close to extinction in Malaysia.
Categorised by zones to differentiate the functionality and usefulness of the plants, there is the Fruit Tree Zone, Research and Education Zone, Interpretative Centre Zone and Orchard Trail Zone. The various zones offer visitors a chance to learn about effective harvesting, and even hand- pick and eat more than 100 species of fruit, from over 1,000 seasonal and non-seasonal varieties of fruit trees.
Open to visitors from March to October, Kelah Sanctuary is located in Sungai Petang, approximately 45 minutes from Pengkalan Gawi jetty. The river has 91 streams owing into it, mainly from Mount Padang. Gazetted for the protection, preservation and reproduction of the Kelah sh (Tor Tambroides), fishing activities are strictly prohibited at the sanctuary, to maintain the natural spawning grounds.
What’s thrilling about the Kelah Sanctuary is the opportunity for visitors to swim with, catch by hand, and have their feet nibbled on by the abundant of Kelah. Though fishing of the Kelah is prohibited at the sanctuary, anglers looking for game may trek into the upper reaches of other rivers to try and snag the elusive Malaysian Golden Mahseer.
KENYIR ELEPHANT CONSERVATION VILLAGE
Located at Sungai Telemong, visitors contemplating wildlife observation can befriend the rainforest’s largest and most magnificent creature at the Kenyir Elephant Conservation Village. Thriving in their natural environment, elephants of the sanctuary welcome visitors and offer them the opportunity to ride, play and feed them throughout the day.
Set up by the Elephant Management Unit under the authority of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, the Central Terengganu Development Authority (KETENGAH) and the Terengganu State Government, the Kenyir Elephant Conservation Village is the foremost authority on elephant translocation to ensure a healthy elephant population and reduce human-elephant conflict.
This is the main entry point into the Terengganu side of Taman Negara. Reachable through the two jetties in Pengkalan Gawi or Jenagor, Tanjung Mentong is located in the gazetted Taman Negara Terengganu, an area covering 1,030 square kilometres. Either testing your endurance limits climbing the mountains of Gagau, Mandi Angin and Padang, trekking through its virgin tropical rainforests, wildlife observation, camping, caving, nature photography, bird watching, fishing or even just soaking up the beautiful environment that surrounds you, the area suits all ages. Tanjung Mentong is a lush tropical rainforest that borders the states of Kelantan and Pahang. This rainforest is rich in biodiversity and is renowned for its exotic flora and fauna, and an ideal playground for outdoor recreation and extreme adventure.
Entrance permits of RM1 per person are required. A fishing license costs RM10 each while a camera license is RM5 per camera. Payment must be made to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks at its checkpoint in Tanjung Mentong. Many tour operators at Lake Kenyir can assist in obtaining the permits.
Facilities such as chalets, dormitories, restaurant, meeting hall, a jetty and an observation tower are available at the Tanjong Mentong Resort. Visitors can also rent a houseboat and enjoy onboard accommodation, meals and activities, while safely anchored in the waters off Tanjung Mentong. The adventurous will find camping offers a more natural outdoor experience.
There are two jetties at Kenyir Lake. The main jetty is Pengkalan Gawi and the other option is Jenagor Jetty (mostly for houseboats). The distance from Kuala Terengganu to Pengkalan Gawi is approximately 80 km. If you are from Kuala Lumpur, please take Karak Highway to Jerangau Jabor Highway and proceed to Ajil to reach Kuala Berang town and onwards to Kenyir. Or you may take the alternative journey along coastal road through Kemaman, Dungun, Kuala Terengganu and through Kuala Berang to Kenyir Lake. The daily express buses from Hentian Putra Terminal (nearby PWTC) in Kuala Lumpur also provide the service. There is bus express namely Express Tasik Kenyir, which travels directly to Kenyir Lake (last stop at Pengkalan Gawi).
Travelling drone video sequence over Sungai Petang – (river trail leading to kelah sanctuary):