The Habitat Penang Hill is a world-class rainforest discovery centre located at the edge of the magnificent rainforest located within easy reach of the vibrant metropolis of Penang. It is one of the main attractions which can be accessed from Ayer Itam using the historic funicular railway. With its nature trail, iconic treetop walkway, and canopy bridge that provide exceptional rainforest experiences, The Habitat aspires to awaken curiosity and nurture support for conservation among the thousands of visitors it receives each year.
History of the Project
Penang Hill, situated just 6 km from George Town, has historically been a popular recreational destination because of its cooler temperatures and access to nature. The owners of The Habitat Penang Hill, Flagstaff Holdings Sdn Bhd, successfully applied for a tender for an ecotourism venture with the Penang State Government in 2015.
The vision for The Habitat Penang Hill was to enable people to experience nature with minimal impact to the environment. The signature structures at the park were designed so as to protect and showcase the natural surroundings. No heavy machinery was used and less than 10 trees were felled in the construction of the entire park, including a 230-m canopy bridge and 360-degree viewing platform nestled in the treetops. There are even trees inside the retail shop!
The 1.6-km Nature Trail is a modification of the original trail from colonial times and is made of Hydromedia, a porous concrete material that allows water to drain into the soil. Most of the lighting is solar-powered with rechargeable batteries or LED light fixtures. Recycling bins are strategically situated around the park as are drinking water fountains. The Habitat Penang Hill is committed to being a demonstration site for sustainable ecotourism to prove that well-managed protected areas can generate employment and the funds to sustain their own operations.
Moreover, the founders and shareholders of The Habitat Penang Hill have pledged that all profits generated by the park will be channeled to The Habitat Foundation, thus creating a circular economic model whereby a for-profit business generates funds to support the work of a not-for-profit enterprise focusing on conservation science, environmental education and sustainable tourism.
The park currently employs more than 75 staff.
•Company wins bid to develop an eco-tourism attraction within a 14-hectare site that sits alongside a protected forest reserve.
•Development of the main trail (1.6km), supporting infrastructure and signature structures begin.
•Soft Launch of the Park
•Launch of Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk
Echoes of History | The Nature Trail at The Habitat has existed in its original form for a long time. This painting by Charles Dyce, which hangs in the Singapore Museum, is dated 1846. (BOTTOM) An etching of Flagstaff Hill with a view of the mainland.
The Stable | The entrance to The Habitat hearkens back to a time where one of the main modes of transportation to the hill was by pony! This abandoned old stable which used to house ponies in the 1800s, was lovingly restored and given a new lease of life as part of The Habitat park. It now serves as a cafe and ticketing office.
The Nature Trail | In restoring and building the nature trail, care was taken to preserve the irrigation/water mitigation drainage system built by the British East India Company circa 1880s. Our trail, which follows the original pathway, is paved with Hydromedia™ a porous material which allows water to filter through to the drainage system below. The trail provides wheelchair and stroller-friendly access to visitors of all fitness levels. Interpretative signage provides opportunities to learn about nature. And there are many peaceful nooks for quiet contemplation. Forest bathing is also a popular experience at The Habitat.
Curtis Crest Treetop Walk | This unique viewing platform was built to hug the tops of trees. At 815 metres above sea level it is the highest viewing platform on Penang Island and offers unrivalled views of the heritage bungalows of Penang Hill and tells their stories in the interpretative signage. This site was already clear of vegetation when construction began. Over the years it has had many uses reflective of the times – it has served as a military parade ground, lawn bowl field, lawn tennis court and even a helipad. Curtis Crest allows visitors to contemplate the forest hills which continue unbroken all the way to the coast at Penang National Park.
Langur Way Canopy Walk | A feat of engineering and ingenuity, Langur Way Canopy Walk is a 230 metre double span stressed ribbon canopy bridge. It enables visitors to close to the canopy suspended 40 metres above the forest reserve. The bridge was built in this way to provide ways to connect with the forest without any impact on the natural surroundings and the protected area.
Complementing The Georgetown UNESCO World Heritage Area | The Habitat Penang Hill provides an opportunity to experience the historic views of the hill and learn about the early colonial period of Southeast Asia. Watch a video of the park.
An Emerald Isle | In the 1800s, early explorers to Penang would have encountered an island largely cloaked with forest and filled with plants and animals never seen before. Although much of this forest has given way to a bustling modern city, today the forested hills of Penang endure and continue to provide a refuge for diverse species that delight nature enthusiasts from around the world.
Tropical forests are the earth’s oldest ecosystems. Fossil records show that the forests of Southeast Asia have existed in their present form for at least 70 million years, having begun to emerge in the cretaceous period over 100 millions years ago.
Rainforests are the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and contain more species of Plants and animals than all the earth’s other ecosystems combined.
Snapshots of History and Nature | The funicular railway dates back to 1923 and is a marvel of engineering and human ingenuity. The modern version of the train now makes it possible to reach the hill in 10 minutes from the bottom station.
The serenity of the hill makes it a favourite spot of birdwatchers. So far, a total of 129 species have been recorded here including this Blue-tailed Bee-eater and this Green Iora which is classified as Near-threatened by the IUCN.
Botanical surveys have been carried out in the vicinity of Penang Hill for over 100 years now, especially after the Penang Botanical Gardens was established in 1884. Penang Hill is the “type locality” for a number of plant species that were first collected here.
Collections were mainly made along historical bypaths and trails on the eastern slopes of Flagstaff Hill and along Moniot Road that exist to this day.
(Top LEFT) This herbarium specimen of Shorea curtisii (meranti seraya) from Kew Garden was collected by Charles Curtis, the first curator of Penang Botanic Gardens.
A Haven for Wildlife | Penang Hill provides a refuge for native wildlife. Here, it is possible to see the fascinating Sunda Colugo, Giant Black Squirrel, Red Giant Flying Squirrel, and the secretive Leopard Cat. Among the most charismatic residents of Penang Hill is Cantor’s Dusky Langur. Groups of langurs can often be seen foraging for their main food of leaves and unripe fruits or playing along the summit road. They seem to be as curious and interested in humans as we are in them! The subspecies of Dusky Langur seen on the hill, Trachypithecus obscurus halonifer, occurs mainly on Penang Island. Although, Dusky Langurs may be relatively easy to spot along forest fringes in Penang, the most 2020 IUCN Red List of Species has upgraded the status of this species to Endangered which warrants more focused efforts to ensure its protection.
A Trove of Biodiversity | Despite having being explored by naturalists and biologists for over 200 years, the forests of Penang Hill continue to yield new discoveries.
(RIGHT) The Penang Hill vampire crab (Geosesarma faustum) is an unusual highland crab first described in 2016. Approximately, the size of your thumbnail, this crab it is endemic to Penang island and has adapted to living in between the fronds of plants where rainwater accumulates. (LEFT) The Penang island bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus pulchellus) is another species endemic to the island.
A Place for Rainforest Explorers | In addition to guided walks, The Habitat Penang Hill offers a range of programmes to engage young people of all ages and give them the opportunity to experience the forest and its inhabitants. The programmes complement the school syllabus and the hill is the ideal outdoor classroom for families as well as local and international schools.
The Habitat Penang Hill and The Habitat Foundation are committed to using our role as an accessible rainforest in order to communicate urgent messages about habitat loss, the loss of biodiversity, pollution and the serious threat of climate change. We do this through our programmes of public talks and outreach activities in addition to the normal functions of the park. We partner many regional and national conservation organizations to achieve this, including Roots & Shoots Malaysia. In 2019, we were fortunate to be able to bring Dr Jane Goodall to Penang where she addressed a packed university auditorium of over 2,200 people. She also had the opportunity to visit The Habitat which is something that she thoroughly enjoyed. She was hosted by the Cockrell Family who are the owners of The Habitat and the Trustees of The Habitat Foundation.