Fireflies are not a common sight in the cities but these beauties can be admired in all their glory in Kota Tinggi, just two hours from Singapore or four hours from Kuala Lumpur by car. The Firefly Valley Leisure Park is one of two parks in Kota Tinggi that promotes itself as an exclusive spot for visitors to catch the dazzling bugs in action.
Over a long weekend, my family and I made a trip to the park to catch a glimpse of the natural phenomena. A short 15-minute drive from the city center of Kota Tinggi took us deep into the heart of a palm tree plantation, where one can barely see anything in the dark of the night. We arrived at the entrance of the park upon going down a steep slope.
There was also a quaint old-style playground, and for the adventurous, a rickety bridge that connects one side of the farm to another.
When our turn for the boat ride came, we headed for the docks as a group of 15. We were soon led to a fairly wide river. While the jetty was illuminated by a nearby Chinese temple, everything else in our surroundings was pitch-black. We were fitted with life vests and after about five minutes of waiting, we spotted the boat gliding across the dark waters with the group of visitors that arrived before us.
We boarded the boat shortly and were instructed to be seated in a group of three on each bench so as to balance the boat. We were also told that photography was not allowed as it would disturb the fireflies. It was their mating season, and the light that they emit was important in attracting a mate. Although we were not able to take photographs, the prospect of seeing fireflies for the first time was enough to placate our disappointment.
Soon, the boat set off from the jetty and pulled us further away from the bright lights. As our eyes gradually adjusted to the darkness, we kept our eyes on the shrubbery, scanning the shadows to find what we had come for.
The bright lights from the jetty were still burnt into my eyes and it played tricks on me, dancing with the shadows of the leaves and branches that swayed in the wind. Then, a flash appeared, so small that I was unsure if it was just another trick of the eye. But another small white light appeared and soon the boat was hushed in excitement – we had just spotted our first fireflies.
The boat continued its slow journey through the dark river. There was just enough light from the night sky to make out our own silhouettes. Near us, there were tiny twinkling marvels that nestled in the mangroves. Unfortunately, the boat sailed a distance from the mangroves and we could only see the fireflies from a distance away. Despite that, the sight was a beautiful one to behold
Most of the fireflies congregated in bunches in the shrubbery, illuminating the bushes with their white lights. One might even mistake them for decorative lights if not for the fireflies that broke off from the group and came fluttering above the waters near the boat. At one point, there was some excitement when a firefly landed aboard the boat, but it soon flew away.
The boat’s speakers buzzed to life as the audio guides were played for us, first in Mandarin and then in English. It told us that the fireflies we saw were just one of about 2,000 species. They are called the swamp firefly because they lived and thrived on certain swamp flora. The frequency of their twinkling helped to differentiate the genders, with the male beating more frequently per second compared to the female firefly.
Later, we stopped by a clearing in the mangroves, and a light from the boat illuminated a stone structure deep in the mangroves. The boat’s speakers played again, telling us that it was a World War II fortress built by the British in defense against the Japanese in the event that they attacked Malaysia from Singapore. However, since the Japanese arrived from Thailand, the fort was abandoned and had not been used.
The boat then continued down the river, this time playing an old Mandarin song about fireflies. As the boat cruised slowly in the dark, moving past group after group of fireflies in the darkness, not a hint of the city could be seen. It was as if we were transported back to simpler times. I contemplated how much modern life has taken in exchange for what it has given, and that such natural beauty would soon be even more of a rare sight than it was right now. I wondered if there were many more fireflies in the past, and I pictured what it would have been like to be enveloped in the fireflies’ cumulative bright light.
The boat soon circled back, traveling along the same side of the river. I tilted my head up and out of the boat, hoping to catch a glimpse of some stars but it was too cloudy to spot more than just a few of them.
As the jetty slowly came into view, we left behind the small flickers of the fireflies and returned to the bright lights of the temple. The entire boat ride had lasted about 45 minutes, but time seemed to have passed too quickly. The boat docked and we got off, leaving behind our life vests as we headed back to the farm.
My visit to this firefly park was a refreshing experience that I’d remember and cherish always. I can only hope that the firefly population would not blink out and that our future generations can also enjoy such rare sightings that will take them down memory lane.
Address: Firefly Valley Leisure Park, Kota Tinggi
Credit : Gabriel Oh