Batu Bersusun (Columnar Basalt) of Tawau

Batu Bersusun, the Only Columnar Basalt in Malaysia

Tawau is crying. Because once tourists land on the airport of Tawau, they quickly head to Semporna, the diving paradise of Sabah. This makes Batu Bersusun the most neglected attraction, though it’s the only columnar basalt in Malaysia and 14 kilometres away.

Columnar joints in Balung Cocos Village of Tawau
Columnar joints of Batu Bersusun were formed during the cooling of hot lava about 27,000 years ago. The cooling process causes the rocks to form hexagonally extended columns.

“Batu Bersusun” means neatly arranged rocks. Along 100 metres of river bank at Balung River in Kampung Balung Cocos (Kampung means Village), thousands of interlocking and greyish rock pillars lined up tidily on both side of the river, like two rows of manmade wall. The natural wonder of this volcanic remnant is called columnar jointing. The local villagers call it Giram Nek Legek.

Batu Bersusun (Columnar Basalt) of Kampung Balung Cocos in Tawau. The villagers call it Giram Nek Legek.
Batu Bersusun (Columnar Basalt) of Kampung Balung Cocos in Tawau, East Coast of Sabah
A quick look of Batu Bersusun (4K video)

The Formation of Batu Bersusun

Batu Bersusun is the only Columnar Basalt in Malaysia. In ancient time, Tawau was a land of volcanoes, the last volcanic eruption happened about 11,650 years ago. The columnar joints at Batu Bersusun were formed during the rapid cooling of hot lava, which was flowing from the eruption of Mount Maria about 27,000 years ago.

Tourists taking pictures at Batu Bersusun of Tawau
Batu Bersusun is open to public since year 2016. Visitors can come here to take photos, swim and camp around the river.

When the lava flow was cooling down fast by water, the contraction causes fracturing that split the hardened lava rocks into hexagonal columns, though some have 4, 5, 7, or 8 sides. The columnar basalt is about the same size, with a diameter about 30-40 cm, and uniformly arranged. The size of the columns was primarily determined by the speed at which lava cooled.

Waterfall at Batu Bersusun (Columnar Basalt)
The water is murky after rain. In dry season, the water is clear and teal in colour. The water at waterfall is about 20 feet deep.

Actually, in East Malaysia, columnar basalt are also exposed in few locations such as Tatau and Kapit, but they are far smaller and less impressive than Batu Bersusun. The rock is classified as extrusive igneous with andesitic to basaltic compositions. It is one of the youngest volcanic eruptions during Quaternary (spans from 2.58 million years ago to the present).

Columnar basalt at Sungai Balung
The Batu Bersusun at Balung River of Tawau is the only columnar basalt in Malaysia

A Geotourism Destination

Columnar jointing of volcanic rocks is a unique geological feature only found in Sabah (and Malaysia). Sabah is rich in interesting geographical attractions such as Mount Kinabalu, Gomantong Cave, Poring Hot Springs and Imbak Canyon. Volcano remnants like Batu Bersusun will add more variety to our geotourism destinations.

Sabah tour packages
Batu Bersusun and the waterfall pond
Most of the columns are hexagonal, though some have 4, 5, 7, or 8 sides. During weekends, many locals come to swim in the pond

The most well-known columnar basalts are the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland and the Devils Tower in United States. Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. Devils Tower is the first United States national monument and a sacred place to native Americans.

Aerial view of Batu Bersusun (Columnar Basalt) in Sungai Balung, Tawau
The Columnar Basalt area is about 100 metres long

Even though the Batu Bersusun is smaller than Giant’s Causeway and Devils Tower, a waterfall columnar basalt in river is rare. Kampung Balung Cocos also has other nature attractions (e.g. Tagal river, Wullersdorf Peak, Pyramid Hill) that can be bundled with Batu Bersusun to turn this village into a must-visit place.

Basalt columns pillars of Batu Bersusun (Columnar Jointing)
Basalt columns are natural pillars made of hardened lava. The dark line above water surface shows the depth of water during flood.

At the same period when Batu Bersusun was formed (27,000 years ago), megafauna such as tiger, tapir and giant pangolin (3 metres long) were present in Borneo, so were some Stone Age settlements of Australoid or Negrito people.

Columnar jointing at Balung River in Tawau
The columnar basalt, of pentagonal and hexagonal columns appears to be of about the same size and uniformly arranged.

During that time, sea level was decreased by 30–40 metres or more in the last glacial period (from approximately 110,000 to 12,000 years ago). Sabah and the rest of Borneo island was connected to Java, and Sumatra to the Malay Peninsula and mainland Asia in a landmass known as the Sundaland. If you were born that time, you can walk from Sabah to Kuala Lumpur on foot.

Waterfall pond of Batu Bersusun in Balung River of Tawau
“Batu Bersusun” means neatly arranged rocks.

Visit Batu Bersusun

Batu Bersusun (see Location Map) is located in Kampung Balung Cocos, which is about 14 km from Tawau Airport and 39 km from Tawau town. The site is fairly accessible by paved road and navigable by Google Map and Waze apps. However, the last 600 metres is a descending and narrow gravel road that passes through an oil palm plantation. Anyway I can get there with a small Sedan (Axia).

Road to Batu Bersusun
The last 600-metre road to Batu Bersusun is a descending gravel road pass through an oil palm plantation.

Batu Bersusun is open to the public since 2016. It’s in a private property (of Mr. Muhammad) and the entry fee is RM3.00 per person. Walk-in visitor is welcome. You can park your car in front of owner’s house. Toilet and changing rooms are available, where you can change to swimwear or take a shower.

Left: Most population of Kampung Balung Cocos are Cocos Malay. The Cocos people originally settled on the Cocos or Keeling Islands, which are part of Australia. Right: Columnar Basalt is also found in Teck Guan Cocoa Village (Tawau), but in smaller size and scale.
Left: Most population of Kampung Balung Cocos are Cocos Malay. The Cocos people originally settled on the Cocos or Keeling Islands, which are part of Australia. Right: Columnar Basalt is also found in Teck Guan Cocoa Village (Tawau), but in smaller size and scale.

There is a 100-metre stairway to go down to the river with columnar basalt. You can walk or relax on the volcanic rocks to take pictures but be careful of the slippery rock surface.

Left: toilet and changing rooms. Right: 2-floor view tower
Left: toilet and changing rooms. Right: 2-floor view tower

Most locals come here to swim in the waterfall pond and enjoy “jacuzzi” massage by the waterfall. The water level is about 4 to 10 feet. The deepest part is 20 feet under the waterfall. In dry season, the water is clear and the pond is in teal colour. I took the photos after rain so it’s murky.

The 100-metre stairway to Batu Bersusun at Balung River
The 100-metre stairway to Batu Bersusun at Balung River. Note there is a shelter where you can rest or camp.

You can camp under the view tower or shelter near the river. Never camp on the columnar basalt because the rocks would be flooded after heavy rain. There is no shop and restaurant nearby. Bring your own food and drink if you plan to have a riverside picnic.

Photos taken in Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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