Trip Report – Pelepah Waterfalls Kota Tinggi, Johor Bahru
Located near the Kota Tinggi Waterfalls, 56km north of Johor Bahru and 16km west of Kota Tinggi town, a weekend at Pelepah waterfalls is a great outdoor experience. The 4-hour trek is along the river, passing waterfalls before reaching a big open campsite best suited for stargazing.
The first and very big question mark is; how did we even have the idea of going for a hike at Kota tinggi in the first place. After all, we are all “uncle” level characters. But it happened anyway. Let me give you a very brief background on how did we even start harboring the idea of this hike.
The four of us met and got to know each other way back in the year 2000 – 2001 when we were just budding university student, full of hope, full of energy and took lots of chances whenever the situation arises. We were brought under the same roof in the University Hostel. Of the 4 of us, Ming Yew and I went on hiking trips in Kota Tinggi many times throughout the years in the University where the hike is actually a bonding event for the Annual rag and flag committee.
We stayed together for a few years after we’ve left the hostel and eventually the 4 of us went our separate ways, in terms of accommodation that is! So now back to the big question mark. The idea of the 4 of us going on one more Kota Tinggi hiking trip came about when our very own Mr. Lee is getting married. So it’s the whole,” we should go on one last big uber adventure, the four of us, again.” Naturally, Kota Tinggi came to mind and we decide to just do it!
And thus, that’s how it’s being decided.
So the decision was made and a date was chosen. All of us made sure our leaves are approved and the planning stage begins. We got our heads together and drew up an inventory list. As for the hiking route, we planned on taking a very common hiking route and the same one for our University hiking trip but like all natural environments, just a few hours the landscape can become rather different if you are not familiar with the place but to us that was where all the adventure lies; to find our way up there to that sandy campsite, after so many years.
Of all the “survival gears” we have, I believe the one category that contributed to the most weight in our knapsack will be FOOD! Each of us brought 2 bottles of isotonic drink and 1 bottle of mineral water, the big one liter ones. That would make up a good 3 kg in our bags. The second biggest contributor to the weight of our bags would have to be the camping gears. This would include the tent, which we are bringing one set of 4-men tent equipment; the mass tins and also a camping stove with solid fuels; We also brought some charcoals as a means to start a camp fire as charcoal is known to be able to sustain in “ember” state for a good while before it burns out. Apart from that, we have the utensils and a big steamboat pot which has to be lugged or tied on our knapsack. This is in an attempt to have a steamboat party up in the mountains, in the wilderness, which I must say is one of the most “looked-forward” to activity we have for this trip. On top of all that, we still have to prepare our clothes. One set for changing because definitely we are going to get wet on the way up and we do not want to be freezing ourselves at night. A fresh set of clothes will be left in the car that is parked at Kota Tinggi Resort for changing when we come down the next day.
So we have checked what we packed against the checklist that we have made earlier. It is now time for the trip! The plan for the day is that I will be spending the night before the trip at Pk’s place, ongky will drive down to meet us and we’ll pick up Ming Yew at the custom because he will be coming in from Singapore. And we are all set and excited about the trip!
The morning of KT trip day
Woke up at 7 am in the morning, washed up and called Ongky to make sure he is up and on his way and also checked Ming Yew is on his way too. Ongky came over and we pick MY up. Breakfast time! And we are just praying for a good and sunny weather the whole day because it is known to be dangerous if it rains while we are in the forest because the flash flood can be scary and we might have to turn back half way if it rains too heavily.
And then, we are on our way. It’s been at least 5 years since we have trekked KT, so it’s going to take some time to recall the exact route up. However, the fact that it is a very popular trekking route, it should be easy to find our way around.
First off, from the back of my head, I know we have to head out of the KT resort and find a oil palm plantation which we have to walk through in order to reach the “base” of the campsite. Not really knowing what await for us ahead (which is probably why it’s exhilarating), we set off and hoping some of the landmarks will trigger off our memories.
Oh, before I go on, please refer to the next picture and make sure you guys who are reading this take it very seriously! The reason why till today, we have such a nice place to trek and to experience mother nature at its purest form is because people take responsibility for not polluting or destroying mother nature.
So we head out and pass the entrance to the resort. We pass by a gate which is locked up and to what seems to be oil palms beyond it. We thought that the entrance to the place is permanently sealed off but we shrugged that aside and continue on down the road and that is when we reach an open entrance and there is sort of a zinc roof shag beside it with people there. A old man was sitting there puffing away on his cigarette and we asked if this is the entrance to where we are going to find the route up to the campsite and we got an affirmative from him. Although before we enter, the old man warned us and told us to be careful because just a few days before, a bunch of campers attempted the route and one of them fell to his death. Scary as it is, we pushed on. And as we walk on the red muddy road, can’t help but think to ourselves: – “Finally, after all these years, we are once again going into the WILD!” really psyche up after watching that show. To be able to experience nature and to be just out there in wilderness. For KT, it’s not wilderness and harsh environment per se, but it’s good enough to set those adventure senses tingling.
And so as we walk on in the muddy trail, our memories are starting jolting back into us and many of the surroundings become familiar. It seems there is not much of a big change except that there are more heavy transportation trucks going in and out of the plantation carrying the oil palms. But then again, having said that, when you are inside the forest, just a couple of hours, the whole landscape can change due to fallen trees, I mean BIG fallen trees and also minor mud slides. Though the big rocks will never be moved by even the most severe weather. Thing is, if you do not know what to look out for, there is a good chance that you cannot recognize at all the landscape after a few hours, especially after a big rain.
As we walk further and deeper into the oil palm plantation, we started looking for that little water stream which is part of our memories and we had to take some “guessing” turns at some point but all did not prove to be fruitless, we finally found the stream and following that stream we arrive at the “entrance” to the forest area where the real trekking begins. The beginning of the more “hardcore” trek where getting wet feet and getting muddied clothes is a sure guarantee!
And as we walk on, everything becomes familiar. The entrance into the adventure is exactly the same many years ago. Our body started to be filled with adrenalin and the heart pumps faster and we are all ready for the adventure ahead. And there we are walking into the wild!
The so call entrance is covered a little by the overgrowth from the trees but seeing the sandy route, we know that it is definitely the path we have to take and so under the overgrowth we duck and walk through and once through a winding long sandy path in between all the trees can be seen. At that point in time, we know that we are on the right trek and forward we pressed on. Weather check is still a downcast and dark clouds are building. Good chance that it will be raining half way into the trek. But we push on, only on the agreement that we stay on high grounds whenever we can and if the rain really comes down plummeting the forest, we will back up and abandon plan. This is because a flash floods are common in KT and have claims many lives before.
Not long into the sandy path, we reach the first place where we will get in contact with the water. The chilly water of KT waterfall is nice and refreshing, but it’s not for drinking definitely unless you want to risk getting infected by E-coli or other very nasty bacteria in the water. But definitely it’s good for cooling the body down and with puri-tabs, the water can be dis-infected and drank.
The skies gets darker as we trek along, seeing all the familiar bugs and plants and also big big ends with their big big jaws. Very soon, we reach the first place where we have to scale an almost vertical wall. I remember that it use to be lot more harder because there is no definite steps or ropes that can aid you in the climb. Still a good climb nonetheless and all of us made it up with no problem.
After scaling this mini wall, the weather started to deteriorate, think clouds started to form, completely blotching out the skies and it will get quite dark when you are in the forest due to that because it takes much more light to penetrate through the thick forest growth. We were still near to the waters and on not so high ground when it starts to drizzle. Knowing that our position is not the most ideal in this case we pushed on faster because if we are to back out now, we will be on even lower grounds which means chances of getting hit by a flash flood if the rain comes down will be high. Knowing that there is a good high place where we will be in front, we pushed forward hard. Taking the steep slope up as fast as we can and by the time we got up to the higher place and much further from the waters, it started to pour. Thank God it wasn’t a thunder storm but just a big downpour with not so scary wind. Because if we have any of those, we will have to find ourselves a place clear of trees for it will be dangerous if big branches start breaking and falling down on us and lightning might just strike a tall tree!
We hanged on for a while as the rain comes down on us hoping that it’s not going to last for a very long time. Lucky as we can be, the rain started to become small and eventually stopped and the sun came pouring in. Now that’s a weather that changes in no time. That is a typical characteristic of the tropical climate. The sun came out like a brilliant wide smile and of course that has lifted our spirits a bit. Through the “valley” water path and after some rock scaling, we reach the very first “real” waterfall and decide to take a break. That was when we started snacking on some chocolates to replenish our energy. It was really good to have the sun out and we are having a mini picnic by the waterfall.
After this pit stop, we got on our way again. The comfort of the warm sunlight was short lived and the whole forest darkens as the heavy clouds loomed over us. From here on out, we were not able to take any photos till we got to the top. There is a lot of water trails and the rain started pouring. We kept ourselves on the high grounds as much as possible and waited for the rain to subside before we go near any water.
We went on top speed, as best as we could and prayed really hard that the rain will stop hammering on us. The rain can really demoralize spirits. Eventually we came to a path which is blocked by a huge fallen tree, tired both physically and mentally, we couldn’t find a safe way over the tree and at that point in time, the question of whether we should turn back surfaced. With the rain hammering hard on us and as we feel like it’s seemingly really dangerous to try to push on, I was turning back. This was when Mingyew went ahead and climbed down the mud wall and detoured around the fallen tree. A simple solution to the blocked path! Now we know, whatever that is written in the SAS guidebook can only be the truth. Do not be demoralized and having the will to survive is of utmost importance. No matter how physically fit you are, in the wild, your will can easily be broken by a whole list of reason. In this case, with a cool and calm mind and a will to get to the top, Mingyew found the way!
We followed what he did and went on ahead. Once we passed that, we reach the third and last waterfall, though we would have wanted to stay longer, but it’s getting late and we will have quite a bit to do when we get up to the top. So we decided to push on ahead to the top and do the sightseeing the next day on our way down.
And finally we reach the campsite as the skies start to darken once again. We wasted no time in starting to setup camp. For any camping trips, how can we not have a camp fire right and thus the collection of “firewood” commences! In no time we got the tent setup and we manage to gather some wood which PK started a fire with. However we didn’t gather big enough logs so the initial big fire died off fast and we went gathering for whatever wood we can find after that.
Soon after the fire is up, we took turns to take a quick shower at the nearby stream and soon after, we settled down after spreading the plastic sheets around on the floor where we start to cook some dinner and of course while there is daylight, we played a few games of CITADELS a card game which PK will bring along for outings as such. Due to a shortage of wood and we did not bring any parangs to chop us some nice logs, we scavenged around for whatever wood we can find to keep the fire burning. The fire went out a second time and Ming Yew went ahead a start a new one.
And basically after that we were just chilling and chatting. The fire died down to an amber and we kept the fire alive as long as we could using whatever wood or twigs we have scavenged. Night falls and the wind started blowing. All of us suit up soon after and huddled around the fire. The best thing since bread would be boiling hot milo in the cold chilly wilds. As the night goes by, which surprisingly is pretty slow because what feels like 10 pm at night is actually only 8 pm.
Suddenly, from the distant woods, we heard chattering and torchlight beams shooting into the skies. For a moment we thought it might be robbers who come up to the Kota Tinggi campsite to rob people. From the entrance of the campsite, we heard someone shouting, “Is anybody there?!” It’s a huge bunch of people, we shone our torch light into the skies and shouted, “Yep!” It was a bunch of campers who got lost in the woods and had to find their way in the dark to this campsite. These guys are actually from Singapore, from the police force! We chatted with them for a bit and they went on to set up their camp site and cook their dinner. Which sadly, only going to consist of biscuits and break because their gas canister leaked.
After chatting and having a few drinks amongst ourselves, we decide to just lie down in the tent and turn in, albeit it is a little bit early. But all of us will need the rest for we will be making our way down the next day. This is the part of the camping trip that I personally enjoy the most because in the wilderness, there are not “light noises” to dim the starlight. Coupled with the earlier rain, the sky is clear and it’s being peppered with stars all over. Not long after lying down, I drifted to sleep. The whole night the 4 of us just keeps waking up intermittently because our friendly neighbours are blasting music and walking around and taking our mosquito coils (found out the next morning).
As the night goes by, the wind started howling strongly and I can feel some tiny droplet of rain on my face. The sky has got red patches all over as the rain clouds gather. I started to get worried because if it rains, I doubt the tent will be able to keep us dry because we are using a severely undersized poncho as a flysheet. That worry was short lived because I drifted into deep sleep after that. The deeper the night go the colder it gets. Good thing we are all well equipped, with windbreakers, socks and sleeping bags and in no time day break came. We woke up, wash up and start making some breakfast.
After an energy boosting breakfast, we packed up our gears and of course pack all the trash that we brought up into black trash bags so we can bring them back down to be properly dispose. That is the first rule that all campers/trekkers should be abiding with. CLEAR YOUR TRASH! Everyone has their part to do for the environment. It is vital to keep the environment as clean and as intact as possible.
Once all the trash are cleared and stuffs are packed, we are ready to set off! It is good to head back down early morning because that will give us more time to hang around each of the waterfall. The first waterfall that we will pass by is the biggest waterfall amongst the three on this route up.
This is the part of the trip where we snapped the most “touristy” photos. Simple because the waterfall is just hard to give a miss.
After chilling out at this biggest tallest waterfall, we mainly focus on getting back down to the bottom. Half way through our way down, both the soles of my shoes came off and I have to use twines to keep them together. It will seriously blow if I have to get down to the bottom barefooted.
We didn’t stop much after that waterfall except when I have to tighten my shoe soles. We manage to get down to the bottom without much hassle or problems and once we got back to the resort, we took turns to take a good long clean shower. At this point in time, hunger strikes us mercilessly and we are out to look for something that is going to fill our stomachs up real good.
After clearing up the trash, repack our camping gears, hop onto the car we go! Some battle scars on Ming Yew’s knee cap area. Proof of KT climb!
We drove to Kota Tinggi town and we were just driving around to find some good food. And as we are driving and thinking and fighting the hunger, we saw this old coffee shop with a big sign board saying clay pot “BAK KUT TEH”. That’s a local delight that is consist of a nice herbal black pepper soup and pork. Mainly pork ribs. We took the leap of faith, park our car and went into the shop. I have to say, that was one of the most fantastic meal I have ever had and that BAK KUT TEH is good stuff.
We clean up the pots of pork ribs, dry bean curbs and salted vegetables real good. After sipping some Chinese tea and rest, we made our way back home and that marks the end of our one day adventure trip.
If anyone is looking for a nice one day trip in Johor Bahru, this is a place you have to visit. Medium level trekking and a nice camping site with great scenery. One thing to keep in mind though, it’s will never be just about the place you are going to, but more importantly would be the company of people you are with. Nothing less than a good weekend trip for my good buddies and me!
Trip Report – Pelepah Waterfalls Kota Tinggi, Johor Bahru: is contributed by guest writer Likchee.