Pulau Kendi - A Glimpse of Old Penang's Rich Waters

By Rexy Prakash Chacko

September 2021 PEAKS AND PARKS
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Rocky coastline on the southwest of Pulau Kendi.

PENANG ISLAND'S SCENIC southern coast is an area of outstanding beauty, known for its rich fishery. The shallow seabed here is flanked by two satellite islands, Pulau Rimau to the east and Pulau Kendi to the west, that keep a watchful guard over the watery expanse.

Lying barely a half nautical mile off Penang's southern tip, Pulau Rimau is home to a century-old lighthouse, while the thickly forested Pulau Kendi, located about two nautical miles away is less explored, and is shrouded in mystery. The Isle is the furthest and possibly the most remote of the several tiny islands that dot the waters around Penang. Its waters, I learn, are replete with marine life and even coral reefs. This very thought thrills me. "Pulau Kendi is a place I definitely need to explore," I tell myself. And so, I decided to organise a trip to the Island with a few friends.

We begin our boat journey early in the morning from the Sri Jerejak Jetty opposite the Bayan Lepas FTZ. The boat ride is longer than one might expect; Pulau Kendi is located to the southwest and our starting point is on the east coast of Penang Island.

Our boatman Pak Tam skilfully navigates the waters as we go under the Second Penang Bridge, circumvent Pulau Rimau, and head into open waters where we spot the hull of a halfsunken vessel. About 35 minutes into our boat ride, we glimpse Pulau Kendi within a thin veil of morning mist. The name Kendi is the Malay word for “pitcher”; it occurs to me that the more I look at the Island the more its shape resembles an overturned pitcher!

Our boat reaches the northern tip of Pulau Kendi. As we disembark, our hiking lead, Ruslan Annuar quickly maps out our impending exploration of the Island. The plan is simple in theory, we are to follow the hill ridge from this point (north) all the way down to the southern tip; but we are certain that we will be encountering some interesting challenges!

Holding onto rocks and roots as we clamber up the steep ridge.
Passing a narrow part of the ridge trail.

We begin by clambering over jagged rocks that connects to an angler's trail. Then, a sharp turn leads us up a steep ridge. We get down on all fours as we pull ourselves up by holding onto rocks and roots, rapidly gaining elevation. Soon, we reach the shoulder of the hill, where to our delight, we stumble upon an old rectangular block chiselled with the alphabets T.S. It's a Trigonometrical Station, a relic from colonial times when it was used for surveying.

The writer with a colonial era Trigonometrical Station.

With advancements in surveying technology, these blocks had fallen into disuse and now only serve as navigational guides for hikers. After examining this historic find, we continue trudging up the slope, which had now become gentler in gradient, occasionally coming across fallen trees and tangled vines.

About 1.5 hours from our start, we reach the summit of Pulau Kendi and under the lush foliage, we take a quick rest to celebrate our ascent. The ridge forks in two just beyond the summit, and we choose the left ridge leading towards a narrow isthmus, steadily losing elevation as we carefully avoid the prickly palms that grow in abundance here.

At the Island's southeast, the bay boasts shallow, crystal clear waters
The breath-taking view of Pulau Kendi’s two peaks from the southern viewpoint.

Occasionally through little openings in the thick greenery, we catch glimpses of the sea on both sides. A short ascent leads us to another peak before the trail plunges steeply. I breathe a sigh of relief as we now zig-zag our way down to finally reach a bay on the southeast of the Island. Here we spot several anglers trying their luck in the shallow waters. Hmm, the Island isn't as "remote" as we initially thought. In fact, Pulau Kendi is a popular haunt for anglers.

As we settled down for lunch, I notice how the rocks around us bear unique patterns – some are shaped like honeycombs, others have a cheese-like appearance riddled with holes. Their hues range from red to brown. This I find out is because unlike granitic Penang Island, Pulau Kendi mainly comprises slate and sandstone.

The interesting patterned rocks of Pulau Kendi.

We walk across the rocky coastline, and to our surprise, reach the mouth of a seaside cave. It is low tide and the entrance is accessible. Curious now, we make our way into the cave. It is deep and dark, and both excited and nervous, we trudge through an ankle-deep mess of plastic bottles washed into the cave over time.

The deeper we go, the narrower and darker the cave gets; the flashlight app on our smartphones guide our steps. At the very end of the cave, we come across two upright stones facing each other. Is this a grave or a memorial? It is a mystery for sure. I take a few photos as evidence, before inching out.

The seaside cave.

Above the cave, a narrow elevation covered in shrubs leads down to the southern tip of Pulau Kendi. We climb up this ridge and soon a breath-taking view dazzles us; looking north, we see the two peaks we have just climbed, while all around, the open ocean exudes turquoise blue. After our fill of photographs at this southern point, I remember that there is still one more thing to do: To dip into Kendi's waters!

Inside the cave where we encounter two upright stones facing each other.

We descend into the bay to find the waters inviting, shallow and crystal clear. I spot schools of fish, a sea urchin and a sea cucumber. It's an absolute wonder to see all of this right here in Penang's waters! The Isle really is a marine treasure, a geological marvel and an explorer's dream; remnants of Penang's original natural world which we would do well to preserve for future generations.

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.