Is travelling to places in the northern hemisphere like Alaska, Iceland and Greenland, to view the aurora borealis (Northern Lights), or stargazing in Chile’s Atacama Desert, South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and New Mexico, the United States, your cup of tea?
You’d be thrilled to know, then, that you have the opportunity to enjoy your favourite activity closer to home.
Tourism and Culture Ministry (Motac) Sabah office director Ag. Ahmad Zaki Abu Bakar said that astro-tourism and astro-photography (astronomy tourism and photography) is fast becoming popular in the tourism industry.
Ahmad Zaki added that Sabah, with its low levels of light pollution and less cloudy skies, makes it easier for astronomy and photography enthusiasts to enjoy and capture the night sky and horizon. It could become one of the best locations in the world for star-gazing.
“Astro-tourism in Malaysia was inspired by the Million Stars Hotel concept, which is about travellers spending the night under a blanket of stars,” he explained during the recent Perseid Meteor Shower Viewing Party programme at the Tip of Borneo in Simpang Mengayau, Kudat, Sabah. The programme was a collaboration between Motac and the Sabah Stargazers.
According to Sabah Stargazers president Dr Esmar Abdul Hamid, the event brought together 500 club members, students and members of the public to view the phenomenon (where meteorite fragments hit the earth’s atmosphere at about 64km to 96km above the planet’s surface, creating a dazzling light show in locations with less interference from other natural and artificial light sources).
There are meteor showers just about every month, but the two main ones which astronomy enthusiasts usually watch out for are the Perseids in August, and the Geminids in December.
Usually, viewings depend on the weather. If it’s cloudy, you won’t be able to see anything; also, natural light (from the moon) and artificial lighting (from street lamps, car lights, and building lights) will lessen visibility. So, the best places to stargaze are open spaces, such as fields and beaches, where there are no buildings or other artificial light sources.
Here are some places in Sabah where you can enjoy stargazing and skyscape photography, and more.
1. Lahad Datu
One particular good spot for viewing the night sky and astro photography is Silam Coast Conservation Area and Felda Sahabat 16, Tambisan. This coastal town also has many other attractions. Besides several markets – a dried fish market, a vegetable and fruit market, a chicken market and a fish market – there is the nearby Danum Valley Conservation Area, where you can go jungle-trekking, swim in the rivers, go bird-watching, and enjoy night jungle tours. At the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, you can go on jungle treks, view wildlife, and do filming and photography.
Check out the skies at Taman Bukit Tawau (Tawau Hills Park), which offers picnic areas, camping sites, and chalets. This park has a rugged volcanic landscape, with a hot spring and majestic waterfalls. Its highest point is Gunung Magdalena. To the locals, this park is also known as Table, National Park, Taman Negara, Abacca or No.4 Gudang.
This third largest city in Sabah offers an old-world charm and many tourist attractions, such as the Tanjung Markets, Bell Tower, Japanese War Cemetery, Confrontation Memorial, Teck Guan Cocoa Museum, Ulu Kalumpang Forest Reserve, Maliau Basin Conservation Area, and Taman Bukit Gemok (Bukit Gemok Park).
To view spectacular night skies, head to Tanjung Simpang Mengayau (Tip of Borneo), Kampung Marang Parang, Tindakon Dazang Beach, Terongkongan Beach and Kulambu Beach.
Kudat, situated north of the capital Kota Kinabalu, was originally inhabited by the Rungus, part of the Kadazan indigenous people who traditionally lived in longhouse communities inland. In fact, the name Kudat comes from the Rungus word kutad, which refers to the coarse grass that grows abundantly in the location.
The coastal town is famous for some of the most pristine beaches in the state, including Pasir Putih, Bak Bak and Kalampunian. It is also famous for its fresh seafood. Besides experiencing the Rungus culture, other tourist attractions include the central market, fish market, Sidek Esplanade and Kudat Golf Club.
4. Kota Belud
Be one with the stars at Kampung Sangkir and Melangkap. Along the Kota Belud-Ranau Bypass, there is another good spot.
Head on to Kampung Tambatuon, which is located in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, next to the Kedamaian River.
Located on the west coast of Sabah, Kota Belud is known as the unofficial capital of the indigenous Bajau (Nomads) people. It is famous for its Sunday tamu (open air market) where you can see buyers and sellers haggling over prices. But in October, the tamu is held on a larger and more vibrant scale, and this is known as the tamu besar (grand market).
Another interesting sight is the golden mosque on the hill.
Kota Belud can be a stopover en route to Kudat, Mantanani and Manana Beach.
Look skywards at Bundu Tuhan. (In the Dusun language, Bundu refers to a type of fruit tree, and Tuhan means landslide or felled.) Located in the Ranau district, Kundasang is the closest town to Mount Kinabalu, and offers a breathtaking view of the mountain. It is also close to Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia’s first Unesco World Heritage Site.
Kundasang is famous for its vegetable market (open daily), and is inhabited by the native Dusun who work as farmers, park rangers, mountain guides or porters in Kinabalu National Park.
Other tourist attractions in the area include the Kundasang War Memorial and Gardens, and Kundasang Golf Course.
For more information on stargazing in Sabah, visit: www.facebook.com/SabahStargazers/
Tips to stay safe when stargazing
1. Be sure to inform the relevant security officers of your location and activities, so that they can patrol the area and keep an eye out for you as you might be carrying expensive equipment.
2. The recommended locations are open to the public. But there are many other good locations for stargazing in Sabah. Before you go to these other locations, make sure you obtain permission from the relevant parties to enter those locations, and do not trespass on any private property.
3. Go in a group, not alone. You can join the stargazing events there if you wish.
4. To prevent neck ache caused by looking upwards for a prolonged period of time, you might want to lie on the ground to stargaze (unless you’re trying to photograph the skyscape).