Gua Niah

Niah Great Cave - Great Cave


Useful Information

Location: 96 km (2-3 hours drive) south/southeast of Miri.
From the park headquarter the Niah river is crossed by motor boat, then a 3.5 km planwalk to the cave.
(3.815400, 113.781439)
Open: All year daily 8:15-15.
[2021]
Fee: Park Entrance: Adults RM 3, Children RM 1, Students RM 1.
Photography Permit: Camera RM 5, Video Camera RM 10.
Permits for Niah Great Cave: from the park HQs, or from the National Parks and Wildlife Offices in Miri or Bintulu.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: none, bring electric torch.
Dimension: West Mouth: W=150 m, H=70 m.
Guided tours: D=3-4 h.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Niah National Park, Batu Niah, Miri, Sarawak, Tel: +6085-737450, Tel: +6085-736648, Tel: +6085-737454, Tel: +6085-737918.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

40,000 BP cave inhabited by man.
1855 discovered by Robert Coulson, a mining engineer.
1878 at the request of Alfred Russel Wallace the caves were explored by Alfred Hart Everett.
1954 archaeological work by Barbara and Tom Harrison, curator of the Sarawak Museum began.
1958 a 40,000 year old human skull was found.
1971 cave declared a National Monument.

Description

Niah Great Cave is a system of caves with numerous entrances. It is named Gua Besar (Great Cave), but this name is not very distinctive, so Niah Great Cave or simply Niah Cave is more common. Niah Great Cave is famous for two things. First it was inhabited by man for 40,000 years. Second, the cave is full of birds, especially the Black-nest Swiftlets. The locals collect the nests of this bird to cook birds' nest soup.

The cave is inhabited by three species of swiftlets and by bats. The thousands of animals produce an enormous amount of guano, which is also collected by the local Penan tribesmen. The Gua Pedagang (Trader Cave) is used by the local merchants as a trading spot for the swiftlet bird's nest. There are remnants of huts and sheds erected by the bird's nest traders during the last 50 years. The heyday of the birds' nest trading was between 1950 and 1980, but even today raw bird's nests are sold between RM 3,000 and RM 7,500 per kilogram. As a result the locals are climbing up 20 metres high overhanging walls on wooden or bamboo ladders with a torch tied to their forehead.

Gua Besar (Great Cave), as the name suggests, is an enormous cavern. Like other caves on Sarawak it has extremely big chambers and passages. The cave system has eight entrances. The west entrance, also called West Mouth, is an important archaeological site. The enormous cave mouth, 150 m wide and 75 m high, was inhabited over millennia. Excavations were made by the Sarawak Museum and numerous finds are on display there. The finds included coins and pottery of the T'ang Dynasty. Probably the most important find of the cave was made in 1958, when a human skull was found. Found in deep (and old) layers it was called Deep Skull and dated to be about 40,000 years old. It is the oldest Homo sapiens remains ever discovered outside of Africa. This fact resulted in the Southern Dispersal Route theory, which says that early migration of modern humans from southern Africa took place along the coastlines of Africa, Arabia and India to Australia and Melanesia between about 70,000 and 45,000 years ago. However, the number of remains is low and the theory thus supported by rather few facts.

The cave visit starts at the Park headquarters, then Niah river is crossed by motorboat. From here a 2.5 km elevated walkway leads through the jungle to the cave. The cave is entered at West Mouth. After a look at the excavation site the cave behind is entered. Next stop is, where the bird's nest collectors harvest bird's nest. They attached belay poles to the wall and ceiling to be able to climb up to the nests. Next stop is Moon Cave (), where a beam of sunlight shines through an opening at the roof. After a dark section with bats the tour reaches the eastern entrance.

There is a legend that the caves were discovered by Alfred Russel Wallace, the great British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, biologist and illustrator. But actually it was discovered by Robert Coulson, a mining engineer who explored northern Sarawak for mineral ores. Wallace and Coulson knew each other, and after Coulson mentioned the caves in a letter, Wallace was interested and asked for the exact location. In 1864, two years after Wallace had returned to England, he asked for the exploration of the caves and favoured Coulson for this task. But finally Alfred Hart Everett was chosen to undertake the work. Everett surveyed 32 caves in three areas, including Niah.