In Search of the Legendary Isle of Batu Ferringhi

loading The rocky isle of Batu Ferringhi, now popularly known as Lover’s Isle.

WHEN ONE THINKS about hiking in Penang, it is with the idea of climbing hills. But the Pearl of the Orient is not known only for its verdant high grounds, it boasts beautiful beaches too.

After several months of peak bagging in the Penang Hill region with almost weekly strenuous hikes, I decided to try something different and relaxing. How about a Batu Ferringhi beach adventure instead? I thought.

Batu Ferringhi translates to Foreigner’s Rock and is a rocky isle just off the coast of Penang Island. Early mariners used this isle as a landmark to stop along the Island’s north coast to replenish their fresh water supply. In due time, the isle lent its name to the long stretch of coastline which since the 1970s has been a popular leisure travel destination. By the early 2000s, it quintessentially became an icon of Penang’s tourism.

But where is this rocky isle? It niggled at my curiosity and I resolve to find the mystery out.

It is late in the afternoon when I turn onto a small bypath, opposite the Bayu Ferringhi condominium. This is one of several public access points to the beach; it winds a short distance along the side of Sungai Tok Akit and brings me to a little sheltered bay on the northern end of Batu Ferringhi beach. Here, I spot several Long Tail Macaques (Macaca fascicularis) foraging in the trees.

Recreational anglers fishing at the edge of large granitic rocks along the Tanjung Huma coastline.

The Batu Ferringhi beach.

At the bay, I follow an angler’s trail which goes off to the right, between the shored boats, towards the rocky coastline of Tanjung Huma, Penang’s northern-most cape. As the sea breeze gusts, I reach an area of large granitic boulders looking out to the Straits of Malacca. I spot several recreational anglers seated at the edge of these boulders trying their best at getting a catch while at a distance, I see several boats sailing in the turquoise blue sea.

After taking in the sights, I backtrack to the beach and start walking west, along the narrow coastline strip, in front of Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa. Here, I am confronted with my first challenge, a coastline filled with rocks. The effects of coastal erosion are quite evident, with fallen trees and soil caving in. The tide is low, so I am able to pass without needing to clamber over any rocks (it would be difficult to navigate this section at high tide). In about 10 minutes I reach the wider beach area, directly in front of Golden Sands Resort.

Unlike the quiet little bay where I started at, this area is livelier with kids running around, families frolicking in the seawater and several beach boys (private water activity operators) walking about. Everyone is in their beach attire, and I feel slightly awkward as I march on in my hiking clothes and shoes. While the buzz and activity on the beach is a far cry from what it was in pre-Covid-19 days, it is cheering to see a semblance of life returning to this tourist belt. Perhaps the silver lining to this pandemic is that it has presented Batu Ferringhi with a prime opportunity to reinvent itself, and regain its position as a top leisure destination for when international borders reopen once more.

As I walk on, I am faced with my second obstacle, a little stream called Sungai Mas. While everyone else is able to easily cross the stream, I stop a while to think of how I am to cross it without getting my shoes wet. So, on the count of one… two… three… I jump across. I make it to the other side dry but in a split second, a wave comes crashing in and my shoes get wet anyway. Oh well…

Teluk Nibong.

The outfall structure of Sungai Batu Ferringhi.

Along this second leg of the walk, the densely forested hills in the backdrop become more visible, contrasting the golden beach and summing up the charm of Batu Ferringhi in a single frame. Soon, I come across two large structures extending out, at about 120m, to the sea. Initially, I assume that these are landing jetties but on closer look, they are specifically designed outfall structures for Sungai Satu and Sungai Batu Ferringhi to eliminate sand barriers which otherwise would block the river flow.

Beyond these outfall structures, I arrive at the far end of the beach, a bay known as Teluk Nibong. Here are vestiges of Batu Ferringhi’s pre-tourism past. Several fishermen’s shacks dot the shore, and many fishing boats float in the gentle waters. As I look seawards, I spot what looks like a little isle just off the coast. Could this be the “Batu Ferringhi”?

Teluk Pisang, a sheltered bay on the other side of the Batu Ferringhi beach.

I walk up the cape and over to the bay on the other side, Teluk Pisang. Behind a few rocks and Ketapang (Terminalia catappa) trees, I find a pleasant viewpoint looking towards the isle. It is rugged with a few trees and large granitic rocks etched with names of lovers. It is the rocky isle of Batu Ferringhi! These days, many know it as “Lover’s Isle” with the rocky cape opposite the Island being a favourite spot for couples in the evenings. It is indeed a pleasant ending to my hour-long adventure to behold a rocky isle which lent its name to Penang’s most famous beach destination.

Note: Check the tides online before attempting this walk as the stretch of coastline in front of Rasa Sayang is difficult to cross when the tide is high. At any point during the walk, exercise caution not to trespass into hotel compounds. Always walk along the beach.

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 Industrial Zone, his weekends are spent reflecting and recharging on the green hills of Penang.

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