The Imbak Canyon Conservation Area (ICCA) comprises 30,000 hectares of undisturbed rainforest located deep in the heart of Sabah, approximately 300 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu. Imbak Canyon consists of a 25 kilometre long valley surrounded on three sides by steep sandstone cliffs up to 1,000 metres high. This stunning wilderness area essentially forms a self-contained ecosystem.
The Sabah State government gazetted Imbak Canyon as a Class 1 (Protection) Forest Reserve in 2009. Due to its location and shape it serves as an important catchment area for the Kinabatangan River, the longest river in Sabah. Imbak Canyon is also an important wildlife corridor linking two other protected areas – the Danum Valley and the Maliau Basin.
Imbak Canyon is rich in plant biodiversity and recognized as a genetic seed bank. The floor and sides of the canyon are covered in dipterocarp forest, which covers around 50% of the conservation area. At around 800 metres the dipterocarp forest starts to give way to heath forest. Numerous types of carnivorous pitcher plants and orchids are found at the upper elevations in the canyon.
This pristine rainforest landscape is an important sanctuary for rare and endangered species including the Bornean pygmy elephant, clouded leopard, orangutan, proboscis monkey, Bornean gibbon, grey, silver and red leaf monkeys, pig- and long-tailed macaques, western tarsiers, giant squirrels, bearded pigs, civet cats various species of deer and more. Over 250 species of birds are found at Imbak including eight species of hornbill and endemics such as the blue-headed pitta, black-throated wren-babbler, Bornean blue-flycatcher and the Bornean bristlehead.
The ICCA is one of the lesser-known protected areas in Sabah. However, this is likely to change owing to a recently opened study centre. The RM 77 million Imbak Canyon Studies Centre (ICSC) was completed in November 2016. Funded by Malaysia’s national oil company Petronas and managed by the Yayasan Sabah, (Sabah Foundation) the centre serves as research and training base and ‘park’ HQ. Yayasan Sabah envisages the ICSC as becoming an important research centre similar to the well-established Danum Valley Field Centre.
Covering 27 hectares the ICSC has an impressive range of facilities including an office block, accommodation for staff, researchers and visitors, café, laboratory, library, mini-theatre, conference rooms, nature gallery and environmental education complex. Visitor facilities are excellent and include a range of range of accommodation (hostel, standard and deluxe resthouses, VIP chalets and camping grounds), a trail system, plank walkways and suspension bridges.
The combination of stunning rainforest scenery, wildlife watching opportunities and good accommodation facilities makes Imbak Canyon a great destination for adventurous travellers. Activities including jungle trekking, bird and wildlife watching, photography, night walks, 4WD night drives and camping in the rainforest at the Kuli research station. There are also a number of impressive waterfalls, including the 39-metre wide Imbak Waterfall.
Whilst the attractions, activities and facilities at Imbak Canyon are excellent, access constraints mean that it is a not place for everyone. It takes time to get to this protected area and the last few hours of the journey are on rough and bumpy roads. If you don’t mind this then Imbak Canyon is well worth the effort. And the 4WD adventure of getting there is very much part of the experience.
To get to Imbak Canyon you can drive from Kota Kinabalu (5-6 hours) or Sandakan (approx. 4 hours). The last 2 hours or so of driving is on a mix of plantation roads and dirt tracks. A good 4WD vehicle is essential. The final 13 km is a rough dirt track. Travel time is dependent on the weather. If there is heavy rain road conditions deteriorate and the last stretch can take a while. The small town of Telupid often serves as the jumping off point for tours to Imbak Canyon. After transferring from Kota Kinabalu or Sandakan in a van or car to Telupid you then switch to 4WD vehicles and proceed to Imbak.
Borneo Adventure currently operate a 4 day, 3 night tour package to Imbak Canyon. This small group tour (max 6 people) departs on Mondays. If you are interested in a longer, tailor made trip please email us.