Find great nature activities to do in the Cameron Highlands
Cameron Highlands nature Activities
Author: Hugo Bennetts
Up in the central highlands of Peninsular Malaysia lies a sea of emerald, rolling over the mountains like the ocean’s waves. Known for its low-cut tea plantations and comparatively cool climate, the Cameron Highlands offers a world of nature for people to experience and explore.
For those who don’t know, the Cameron Highlands are a series of mountains and valleys in central Peninsular Malaysia. Around 200 km north of Kuala Lumpur, a map will show the district’s jigsaw puzzle-like appearance slotting in neatly at the conjunction of the states of Pahang, Kelantan and Perak. The highlands are named after William Cameron, the Scot who surveyed the area upon an elephant in the late 1800s, seen as the starting point for the area’s modern age.
As far as tasks go, connecting people to nature in the Cameron Highlands is one of the easier ones. The area is still 71% forested and the vast majority of “things to do” are focused around its diverse fauna and flora. Going to the Cameron Highlands and not seeing nature would be like going to the desert and not seeing sand.
Cameron Highlands Valley Trails
The best thing you can do when you get to the highlands is to pack a day bag and head into the hills. There is a network of jungle trails around the central area, usually starting from the highlands’ hub of Tanah Rata. Don’t forget to take a map with you, or even better, download the maps.me app to have offline access to the trails dotted around the valley.
I was lucky enough to do a few trails on the east side of the valley. Sadly, the inevitable truth of the Cameron Highlands is that there are big developments popping up like concrete Whac-A-Mole. However, once you enter the forests, these are long forgotten. Modern man and its boundless spreading are left behind as you enter a different world: a world of trees and branches and roots and soil and streams. Those lucky few may get a glimpse of the giant rafflesia which is endemic to Southeast Asia (although you’ll probably smell it first!). Unfortunately, due to habitat loss, many species of the world’s largest flowering plant are now classified as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List and their blooming in the Cameron Highlands has become very rare.
Adding to the otherworldly quality of the trails, the rainforest acts as a natural noise cancellation and external sounds find it difficult to penetrate the dense jungle walls. Upon approaching the forest, it does in fact appear as a wall. Their presence is powerful and intimidating, reminding you just how small you really are compared to the goliath of nature.
Boh Sungei Palas Tea Plantation
In the late 1920s, the British discovered that their beloved tea grew well in the temperate climbs of the Cameron Highlands. And when a fancy winding road connecting the highlands to the town of Tapah was opened in 1931, there was no turning back. The colonials flooded in and the tea plantations swelled. Nestled among the valleys are three tea estates, the oldest being ‘Boh Plantations Sdn Bhd‘ which is the largest black tea manufacturer in Malaysia, distributing both domestically and internationally.
The tea bushes are carefully groomed so that they grow an optimum amount of high-quality tea. It makes for a fascinating example of how humans can and have controlled nature for their own needs. The swanky Boh Tea Centre sits surprisingly gracefully on one of the valley walls, with its wooden terrace sticking out over the rolling tea-hills. It is the perfect spot to enjoy a sip of Boh’s own tea and a more-than-a-gulp of the unique Cameron Highlands landscape.
Quite amazingly, there is a third distinct natural environment in the Cameron Highlands. Up at the higher elevations, which reach peaks of 2110m at Gunung Irau, low-level clouds provide forests with almost continuous moisture, creating areas called tropical montane cloud forests, or mossy forests. This water-rich habitat is ideal for families of plants such as ferns, moss, lichens and orchids. To walk through these misty forests is to experience a fairytale reality, passing gnarly trees dripping in moss that glitters with the morning’s water droplets.
Indeed, as you hike the Cameron Highlands, a sense of mystery surrounds and engulfs. You hear stories of people who disappeared into these forests and never returned. There are legends of heartache and forlorn – epic Malaysian romances in which lovers turn into smoke – and temples hidden among the forests, where devout monks live out their secluded and spiritual lives.
The variety of natural habitats present in the Cameron Highlands means that more than 700 species of plants can thrive, which is enormous even for the megadiverse Malaysia. I found the best time to appreciate the highlands was in the mornings, just after the sunrise, when the dew is lifted off the tea bushes and rises to the clear blue sky. It is truly a unique experience in Peninsular Malaysia, where a chance to breathe fresh alpine air seems a gift from the mountain gods.
Fortunately, unlike palm oil and rubber in some parts of Malaysia, the picturesque tea crops haven’t completely overtaken the landscape. Really, it is only the one hidden valley in Pahang that contains the trimmed tea bushes. Surrounding them is the assiduous, ever-present, all-knowing forest, watching over the enchanted valley of tea, towns and polytunnels.
- Read Tan Twan Eng’s 2012 novel ‘Garden of the Evening Mists’ about the relationship between a Malaysian WWII survivor and a Japanese gardener in the Cameron Highlands.
- Check out ‘Eco Cameron’, an eco-travel agency based in Tanah Rata.