Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, KK
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is a group of 5 islands which lie between 3 and 8 km to the north and west of Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo. There are resorts on the larger islands of Pulau Gaya and Manukan. Pulau Sapi is a very popular (crowded) beach resort. Some of the islands host snorkelling and reef walking (a new one to us) which involves putting on a heavy helmet which supplies oxygen, allowing you to walk on the sea bed. Since it is advertised as great for kids, I guess it must be easy but we didn't try it. The waters are crystal clear with that gorgeous Indian Ocean green tint we know so well from The Maldives.
The Sabah Tourism Board official website gives instructions for boat hire and trips to the five islands in the marine park. It also instructs visitors to take a boat from Jesselton Fery terminal adjacent to the custom house. However, we found that it is possible to haggle for a lower price at the smaller jetty in front of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. So, instead of the regular price of MR204 for a boat charter to visit one island, we paid MR180 for a day charter with unlimited island visits. In the end we only made landfall on two, Sapi and Sulug. However, we could take our time and cruise around all the islands, enjoying the views and the breeze at our leisure.
The first island we landed on was Pulau Sapi (cow island) though we rapidly wished we hadn't. It was very crowded and the café area looked tacky in the extreme. It is necessary though to call in here to buy a pass for the Marine Park, which costs MR10 per (foreign) visitor. That allows you access to all the islands. After pausing for some photo opportunities, we re-embarked for our waterborne tour of the other islands. There are really beautiful views of the islands and wafting along in a boat is a great way to see them. If we return, we'll probably visit Pulau Manukan as it has good beaches and a coral reef on the south side plus some (reputedly) better quality facilities.
After passing Manukan we made landfall at Sulug and whiled away a couple of hours on what turned out to be our own private island while our boatman lay down for a doze under the canopy maybe 25 metres offshore. It was idyllic in many ways and slightly surreal to sit watching (through a 200mm lens) the planes taking off from KK airport across the water. However, the tide deposits an awful lot of flotsam and jetsam on the beach.
Nonetheless, it was a great and relaxing way to spend a day and we got some good photos. Great picnic too, packed with loads of ice and including a good bottle of chilled white wine. Love Hyatts.
We spent a few days at the excellent (and fantastic value) Hyatt Regency Kota Kinabalu so we could take the early flight over to Sandakan to see the Orang Utans in the reserve there. Seeing the islands from the hotel made us curious, so we called in at the small jetty where there is a booking office (but no visible timetables) and asked if we could get a boat for the next day to visit some islands and maybe take a picnic to Sulug, which we had heard was generally deserted on account of the venomous snakes that inhabit the woods there. The guy in charge told us "no problem" and suggested a price of MR150. I said "ok" so he made a phone call. He was obviously haggling over a split of the takings and he came back with a higher price of MR180 ($48). I felt if I hadn't agreed so readily to the first offer it could have cost less but $48 for a man and a boat for the day is fine. We agreed a time, shook hands and departed. Next day, the boat was waiting, so we loaded our Hyatt picnic hamper and set off.
By far the largest of the 5 islands is Pulau Gaya,. which actually means "big island". There are two 5* resorts and some good diving on the northeast side. There is also virgin rainforest here. On the southwest side is a growing stilted village inhabited mainly by immigrants from the Philippines and is considered unsafe and lawless. We were a little nervous about making a stop there and it transpired that was where our boatman lived. It was quite picturesque and we never felt threatened but we didn't land - the boatman just had to do some business en route.