The International Steam Pages

Selected Penang Walks - Balik Pulau Horseshoe

This is part of a series of pages on walking the hills of Penang.

This is a long Grade 2 walk. There is a sketch map at the bottom showing the route followed.

Please visit my Penang buses page for information on accessing the starting point.

This walk is simply a 'best of compilation' of our researches on either side of the Balik Pulau to Air Itam Road, using good paths throughout without any form of off-piste hiking. It's a long walk but extremely rewarding.

Start from Balik Pulau or park your car if you have one near the house at the turn off (HT NH 4 88) on the Balik Pulau to Air Itam Road. Follow the road left and up, don't take the road with the barrier on the right. Go past the two houses climbing what is now a concrete path. The first junction is at a concrete platform, turn left here.

The next landmark is this ruined house with a huge old durian tree in front of it, it must have been a lovely place once. Behind is a small Chinese shrine of the kind that are dotted all over the southern hills of the island.

You will now be in a very well maintained durian estate, instead of taking the valley path straight up, turn sharp left up the path below (the picture is taken looking back down). .

The path climbs steadily with some splendid views across the valley and back to Balik Pulau and Pulau Betong beyond. The durian trees were preparing to flower and just beyond this one, the path joins the end point of a concrete road. Turn right here and follow the concrete path.

Where another path trails in from the left take it, at the point shown in the first picture. Go up the top of the path and when it finishes, go just to the left of the hut ahead and the path will come down to the 5 way junction below. 

Take the concrete path to the left with the electricity poles (NH 4 7 46 here) downwards. After passing a house, ignore the trail to the right at pole NH 4 7 30. Continue on the concrete road until you come to pole NH 4 7 8 where there is a path on the right up the hill which you should take. Do not be tempted to take the earlier right turn, it has yet to be investigated by us. It's a critical junction so we recorded it from both sides, Yuehong's look said something along the lines of "Do you think the people who try to follow our trails are idiots?"...Only you know the answer to that one.

Ignore the concrete path that trails in almost immediately on the left and enjoy what is a first generation concrete path with easy gradients. There's just one more junction where the path to the left can be safely ignored as the main path continues upwards.

At this time, the durians were universally in flower, behind is the 'Temple with the View' . The electricity poles which have followed you up finish as you turn left.

This is now a second generation concrete path and rather steeper, the junction shown has a path which curves back around the hill, ignore it. Carry on up past the bamboos, the worst of the climb is over and soon you will come to a hut where you turn right.

Here are a couple more views. The first is a glimpse of my unfavourite Botanica development. The second looks across to the ridge with the 'Temple with the View' which is just left of the triangular area the walk will reach there in a couple of hours time.

The concrete path continues upwards into some young rubber. Eventually it fades into a sandy track along a level and eventually enters what passes for jungle in these parts.

For just a couple of minutes you'll experience Nirvana and then the vegetables will come into view.

There's no point in cropping out the foreground, the views show the area for what it is, a monument to environmental ignorance and human greed. Follow the edge of vegetable gardens to the left and go down slightly. Those masts like the others are slap bang in the middle of an alleged forest reserve. It feels great to leave the terraces behind.

Ahead what is part of the reserve is occupied by anything but natural flora and fauna. Across the valley, the unprotected slopes of Bukit Elvira are suffering from creeping vegetablisation, albeit well short of the Nanshan degradation. Soon you will come to a junction with a small hut.

Turn right here, climbing you will pass this pathetic yellow sign proclaiming the area's reserve status. Above is more ginger, maybe at some stage a more diligent than average forestry official had tried to enforce the reserve's status and this ginger represents the early stages of regeneration. Round the bend you can see the Bukit Penara masts and the path behind Yuehong  leads to an illegal clearing occupied by Nepali guest workers and a stream being tapped illegally for irrigation purposes. Don't hold your breath waiting for them to be moved on...

On the occasion these pictures were taken it was getting a bit hazy, so here's a view I took on another visit, it's absolutely splendid and makes the effort of getting here totally worthwhile.

The path now drops down to a substantial house, at least here someone has discovered that geese do a better job than dogs.

It's now just a question of following the path along the contours, the Areca palms make for an unusual hedge. The electricity poles are a sure sign you are heading back to the main road and for the last part you'll be on a concrete road as you approach the key junction at the summit of the Bailk Pulau to Air Itam Road. If you have had enough you can turn left here for Balik Pulau or go straight on, over and down to the Air Itam Dam. You'll not need any instructions for either, it's impossible to get lost. 

From the litter, this is a regular resting point for less adventurous hikers. From the hut head up the hill, if in doubt just follow the red and yellow signs for the temple.

The first picture is a reminder that at pole 21, a long path goes off right towards Titi Kerawang or Tiger Hill. There are further turnings left and right before you drop down to the 'Temple with the View'.

From here on I'm relying on pictures taken on earlier visits as on this occasion we actually branched off on a voyage of discovery, having been to the temple three times recently: The first group were taken in December on a distinctly grey day after substantial early morning rain.

According to the web it's 435m above sea level and reflects Hakka traditions, the durian estates in the hills are largely the preserve of Hakka families.

The pictures below were taken on a February 2015 ascent, bear this in mind when interpreting them! The path down is back a short distance before the temple, the notice is a dead give away for a useful path! Despite what it says, small groups of hikers are no problem to the farmers at all. Again despite the presence of many paths, it's difficult to go wrong as they tend to rejoin. As long as you keep heading downwards bearing in mind that the bottom is slightly to your right looking down you'll not go badly wrong.

In the area shown below there are a couple of  X junctions with two paths down, keep right in each case, this will avoid almost all the dogs.

For example in the first picture, if you go past the red hut above you will come from Yuehong's left and continue down behind the camera. Despite Yuehong's indication you ought to appear from the left in the next picture!

For much of the route later you will be accompanied by electricity poles but they finish at a house where you turn sharp left for the final descent. This area is very well maintained and the houses have beautiful gardens. Eventually you will return to the Balik Pulau to Air Itam Road. 

It's a great walk, I can't recommend it too highly but owing to its length, it's not for beginners. There is normally drinking water available at the temple.

Balik Pulau Area


 ____ = Concrete Road

 ____ = Path

 ____ = Easy 'Off piste'

 ____ = Seriously 'Off piste'

(Not all paths are shown, there are many more
which are seasonal or just go to houses.)

Click here for information on the maps.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson