A Short and Splendid Hike

loading The viewpoint atop Bukit Hijau, facing Air Itam and the towering summit of Penang Hill in the background.

Bukit Hijau is a quick and easy trail for all ages – with spectacular views, to boot!

Bukit Hijau Waterfall, which is a short walk away from the trail head of the hike.

Penang’s hills offer all sorts of challenges for people with varying degrees of fitness. They range from full-day trips which cross the hills, starting from the orchards above Balik Pulau and ending at Penang Hill, to half-hour walks up minor peaks that are no less spectacular.

One such short walk is the Bukit Hijau hiking trail. Located just opposite the soaring peaks of the greater Penang Hill range, Bukit Hijau sits on a lesser ridge which runs between the residential township of Island Park and Bukit Jambul, rising up to its highest point at the 418m Bukit Kukus peak, just behind Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).

This island of greenery physically separates the townships of Gelugor on the east coast from Paya Terubong in the heart of the island. Apart from being a major source of delicious durians during the fruiting season, the hills here are often frequented by local hikers.

A group of hikers hiking down the trail from Bukit Hijau.

The trail to the peak starts at Cangkat Tembaga, off Jalan Masjid Negeri. Bringing a friend along, I drove into Island Park and as we approached the end of the road, a small signboard showed the direction to the Bukit Hijau trail. We followed it and parked our car at Cangkat Tembaga before walking to the end of the road towards the path.

A flight of cement steps welcomed us into the thick secondary jungle at the start of the trail. As with many of the other trails in Penang, it is a community trail, sustained by the spirit of volunteerism and generous donations. The Bukit Hijau trail is wellkept, with ample markers, benches and rest stops along the entire stretch. It is almost impossible to get lost, as at each 50m interval, markers numbering in ascending order from 1 to 19 guide the hiker along.

The steps almost immediately brought us to a makeshift badminton court in the middle of the jungle. Shielded by dense tree cover, a group of middle-aged men were having a good game of badminton, spectated by a few older men. After taking a few quick glances at the friendly game, we continued along the trail as it skirts the court and continues in upward ascent. The steps soon became flatter as the trail began to edge along the sides of a steep cliff that drops from the side of the trail down to the valley below.

Flora found along the trail.

The centrepiece of this valley is the spectacular singular cascade of the Bukit Hijau waterfall. While the thick foliage ensures that no sign of the waterfall is visible from this point, we could hear the thundering sound of its waters pounding the rocks below.

The trail immediately leads up to a makeshift badminton court.

Soon after, the trail leads up to the headwaters where there is a small open area with numerous boulders and a modest rest shed. A beautiful stream flows out of the nearby forest before plunging down the waterfall. Numerous ornamental plants give the area a tinge of colour and character. The local community has built a small cement bridge that makes access across the stream a rather dry affair for us. A few steps further, a beautiful view of Island Park greeted us – a constant reminder that the city is never far away. All this within 10 minutes of the trek!

We resumed marching up the hill, where the trail takes a southward turn, and continues along an unpaved track. This area is thick forest with numerous fungi on the ground and blanketing tree cover above our heads. While walking, the occasional calls of white-bellied sea eagles soaring up above can be heard, breaking the stillness of the forest. The path continues and passes two Datuk shrines, painted bright red. These shrines are interesting features that dot the hills in the area. Built over the years by farmers and regular hill walkers, the Datuk shrines pay homage to local guardian spirits thought to dwell in the rocks, trees and ant mounds inside the forest.

The trail soon comes to an abrupt right turn at a slope, followed by a series of upward steep steps. While the earlier part of the hike had been a breeze, this was a challenge in comparison: we had to exert our legs to climb the steps, and the area was relatively exposed and hot – not the best mix! Surprisingly, the stretch is filled with wildflowers; it is pleasant to spot the beautiful purple flowers of the senduduk (Melastoma sp.), occasional orange ixoras and yellow simpoh (Dillenia sp.) in the bushes by the side of the trail.

As we went higher, the nearby hills of Bukit Rumania and Bukit Relau take shape in the distance, forming a blanket of green in the background. One final push up the stairs finally brought us to the peak of Bukit Hijau. It is indicated by marker number 17 and takes slightly below 30 minutes to reach from the start.

The second viewpoint on Bukit Hijau, looking out towards George Town, Island Park and Jelutong along the east coast of the island.

At the peak, the trail leads to a huge granite boulder with a spectacular viewpoint of Air Itam Valley and Penang Hill in the foreground. We could see the sights and hear the sounds of the bustling city down below – the cars and buses that shuttle along frantically, and the call to prayer rising from the local mosques.

We continued to markers 18 and 19, which surprisingly lead in a downhill direction. Indeed we were in for a pleasant surprise: at marker 19, there is yet another rocky outcrop with a view that is no less amazing. Unlike the previous, this viewpoint faces the east coast of the island, over the townships of Island Park and Jelutong, with Komtar as well as the flat plains of the mainland in the distance.;

Taking our fill of photos, we backtracked and continued down the hill, filled with the satisfaction that such a short hike can present so much to see and cherish. The Bukit Hijau trail is indeed a hike that everyone can and should do!

Rexy Prakash Chacko is an electronic engineer by profession and a nature lover by passion. While he spends his weekdays earning a living at the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone, his weekends are spent reflecting and recharging on the green hills of Penang.

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