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.
“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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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