In the Shadow of Mt Kinabalu – A Hidden Botanical Garden, Sabah Borneo

Clinging to the side of rugged Mt Kinabalu in the Sabah region of Borneo, a little-known botanic garden is in the mountain’s shadow in every sense of the word. Despite being small and tucked away in a deep valley, Kinabalu Botanical Garden is so lush and green, you can almost hear the plants growing and the climbers reaching skyward.

A word of warning, don’t stand still for too long or you may soon be covered in vines, moss and transformed into a garden feature.

Let’s keep moving…

Mount Kinabalu Botanical Garden was another stop on our organised tour of Sabah. While Mt Kinabalu itself has been on my radar for a while and I did fleetingly contemplate trying to arrange to hike to the top pre-tour, the Botanical Garden was definitely an unknown quantity for me.

It turns out that adjacent to the Garden is the official starting point for the hiking route up to the very top of Mt Kinabalu. There was no sign of anyone starting or finishing the hike, very little information at all really, but there was a very full carpark, so maybe all those empty cars belonged to hikers? Any visions I may have had of hiking mountains would have to be postponed until a return visit as today was all about tropical plants.

Before we had a chance to set out on our garden walk, we were pounced on by a pair of very enthusiastic representatives of Sabah Tourism requesting that we complete a survey of our experience. We were more than happy to oblige and really wanted to write something positive, but we had only just stepped off the bus and hadn’t seen anything yet. That didn’t stop me, and I suspect the same for my fellow travellers, saying all the right things. I am ever the Optimist.

I do like plants as symbols of the creativity and cleverness of Nature, but I am definitely no botanist. Consequently, the visit to the garden while pleasant, was a little lost on me from any technical point of view. Thank goodness we had our trusty guide, Roland, with us otherwise it would have just been a nice stroll in the jungle.

It was misting and cool when we set off on the path deep, down into the garden. We stepped carefully as even though the paths and stairs were clear and well-formed, they can be slippery in the wet and do have uneven sections. This is Asia after all.

The Garden hugs the side of a steep ridgeline and the path closely follows its contours. This means that with the many ascents and descents, you plunge into different microclimates featuring a wide range of plants including the World’s smallest orchid. After much hunting and peering through fogged up glasses, a miniscule orchid was spotted although I didn’t even try to take a photo of it. It was soooooo small, I will just have to take the experts at their word that this orchid was a perfect specimen.

Orchids are a feature of the Garden, but don’t go expecting to see the brightly coloured orchids that we know so well. Only native orchids grow here and their colours are much more muted. That doesn’t mean they aren’t special or valuable. Some were even locked up behind bars to stop people stealing them. Overly keen green thumbs or extremely light fingers?

The Botanical Garden also highlights native foods such as beetlenut, cinnamon and bananas. Did you know that the way to tell bananas apart is by the direction they grow? Native bananas grow upwards, while domesticated or commercial bananas hang down. There, that’s your piece of trivia for the day! 😊

What I really enjoyed were the pitcher plants. I love their sculptural look and their delicate patterns. They just sit or hang about waiting for a curious insect to wander into their pitcher. Pitcher Plant = 1, Insect = 0.

Interpretative signs are placed on the edge of some paths and they provide a little more insight into what you are seeing. Allow about an hour for your visit or check out if there are guided tours operating. I am sure you would learn a whole lot more that way.

Despite the thick greenery, trees and shrubs, I was surprised that there was so little animal activity. I heard the odd bird call and did see a glorious black butterfly with brilliant blue stripes float by, and that was about it. Maybe it was the wrong time of day for our visit or more likely, we were making far too much noise and frightening everything away.

Eventually the misty rain started to get more rain-like than mist and we beat a hasty retreat past towering birds nest ferns, back to the bus and the inevitable buffet lunch. Day 2 and I was already tiring of chicken curry and rice. Oh well, on tour you take the good with the less than good. First World problem.

Let’s see what the rest of the day had in store for us…

What is the weirdest plant you have seen?

Mt Kinabalu Botanic Garden
Sheltering from the rain

The Basics

What: There is a fee of around AUD$3.00 to visit the Botanical Gardens.

Where: It is located approximately 95km East of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Borneo.

When: The park is open 900am – 4pm Monday to Friday.

Why: For an interesting short or long stroll.

How: I didn’t see any public transport connecting to the park, so you would need to arrange your own.

Who: Plant lovers would go nuts at the sight of so many exotic and unusual plants thriving in their natural habitat.

Related Posts: For a much tamer Botanic Garden, but no less beautiful, check out what you can find in Sydney.

Related Blogs: For a much more extensive visual description of this botanic gardens, have a look at My Sabah’s photos.

Read About it: If you are a serious orchid lover, then grab a copy of JJ Woods’ Orchids of Borneo volumes 1-4. Available from Fishpond.

I visited the Mt Kinabalu Botanical Garden in early March 2023.

Mt Kinabalu Botanical Garden
Pink Maiden

#sabah #mtkinabalu #travelinspo #nationalparks #orchids #junglelife #pitcherplants #botanicgardens #Borneo #gardenwalks #thetropics #tropicalplants.

26 thoughts on “In the Shadow of Mt Kinabalu – A Hidden Botanical Garden, Sabah Borneo

  1. Being also botanically challenged, I would have just blindly admired the weirdos. I would have struggled to walk past the path leading up a mountain, though. I hope you do get to climb it one day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe we should add it to the walking agenda?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe we could add it in on our way to Hokkaido because I’m definitely going back there to hike. 😁

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I had to look that up. No, that’s on Shikoku, further south. It wasn’t so much a set walk as just passing all these fabulous hiking trails all over the island made me want to come back and explore them one day.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Isn’t it wonderful to see the orchids in their natural habitat as in – outside. Looked like an interesting walk, Mel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Who needs a reason to walk through the Bush com jungle? I love the contrast between their lush vegetation and our rather sparse blooms in Aus.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good luck with the next stage of travel. The worst is over 😁

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for the good luck wishes. I suspect there will be days ahead when I will be needing them.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You’ll be okay😁

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Mount Kinabalu is such an exotic name to me! My husband would have lingered in the gardens for hours, and therefore I probably would too. Thanks for the trivia, Mel. Excited for you, over there in Spain. I’m waving madly! We were at a Romeria there on Sunday. A sensational day, but still very far from you. Have a great trip!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Jo. Still in endless transit! Sitting in ol’ Blighty as we speak. It is at times like this when I wished Aus was MUCH closer to the EU! 😴😴😴


  4. Tiniest orchid how cool

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A little underwhelming, but I guess it’s important to have a claim to fame. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the pitcher plants in Borneo too. Did you see the Rafflesia flower when you were there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, no Rafflesia flower was doing its thing while I was there and I’m not sure if I should be disappointed or pleased! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh wow, what a place to explore. I love the orchids and the Pitcher plants are pretty clever!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I saw a corpse flower once at a local conservatory. They’re supposed to smell really bad when in bloom, but I honestly can’t recall if it stank or not. Nice memory, huh?
    Good banana trivia. I’ll try it out on the husband.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know me! A reliable source of useless information. 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The botanic garden is pretty but I’m still stuck on the rugged beauty of the mountain!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When we woke up in the morning, we could see the hiker’s headlamps in a long line as they all raced to the top of the mountain to see the sunrise. Pretty magical.

      Liked by 1 person

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