The Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, just off the coast from the city of Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo must offer some of the most accessible tropical diving and snorkelling in the world. A mere ten or 20 minutes in a boat from the provincial capital (with its international airport) sees you amongst the cluster of jungle-covered islands that are surrounded by shallow waters.
The downside of this is that Tunku Abdul Rahman is very, very popular. With domestic Malaysian travellers in particular.
Pulau Sapi has a smooth white sand beach, jungle walks and some colourful coral and fish. It also has a striking native Monitor Lizard, that often comes down to the beach to take a look. The shallow reefs make this a perfect place for novice divers and the beaches were filled with people sporting snorkels and lifejackets.
Fortunately the vast majority of them stayed very close in to the shore so swimming out to where the coral actually starts is quiet. There was some lovely coral that was green coloured, like cauli-broc but a lot of dead coral as well. It seems the coral in decent condition starts where the swimming barriers stop, but then you are out in the shipping lanes. We saw Clown Anemone Fish, Parrot Fish and brilliant blue Damselfish.
Sapi was also visually very beautiful because it is right next to Pulau Gaya so you feel surrounded by sun and water and lush nature.
I also went to Pulau Manukan, which I had read was supposed to have the most fish of the five islands. I can’t say that there was any more than Sapi, although we found a number of groups of Clown Anemone Fish. Certainly snorkelling here doesn’t compare to an experience like Menjangan Island in Bali or the Perhentian Islands off the coast of peninsula Malaysia.
Pulau Gaya is the biggest island and home to a couple of fancy resorts, as well as an amazingly extensive (and illegal) Filipino fishing village built out over the water. I didn’t make it there because you have to arrange to visit with the Gayana company but a Malaysian woman I met recommended the experience.
This was the perfect setting for Miss Nearly Five to have her first try at snorkelling in the sea. She used a floatation device and it felt safe swimming with her inside the barriers. What can I say – we “found Nemo” – or 14 Nemos over two days to be exact –
she was thrilled.
Arranging day trips out to Tunku Abdul Rahman Park couldn’t be easier: just turn up at Jesselton Pier, choose a tour company from the line up in the ticketing hall (any one will do as it doesn’t seem to make any difference to who will actually run your boat) and pay for your transport, park and snorkel hire fees. There is another small fee to be paid on arrival at the first island you visit. All up a day out costs about $20.
You can take food with you and there are food outlets at Jesselton Pier, including a delicious gelato shop. Or the cafes on the islands offer reasonably priced food.
By Natasha von Geldern