One of the lesser known destinations in Malaysia, Tenggol Island is slowly attracting the interest of divers from around the world.
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Located 26 kilometres from the quaint fishing town of Kuala Dungun, Terengganu is Tenggol Island. The island is part of a group of islands situated at the southern region of Terengganu's Marine Park. The other islands in the group are Nyireh Island, Tokong Timur, Tokong Burung, Tokong Kemudi and Tokong Laut. The name of the island actually means 'to perch' in local Terengganu dialect, as the island resembles a person perching from afar. During the late 70s and 80s, Vietnamese refugees fleeing their country chose to hide on this island as the long beach front was well hidden from plain view by drooping umbrella trees. The refugees were sent to Bidong Island, not far from Redang Island, when they were found by the Malaysian Marine Patrol and stayed there till 1991 when the camp was disbanded. Today, the island's most frequent visitors are fishermen who seek temporary shelter on the island from sudden tropical sea storms as well as leatherback and hawksbill turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs.
Tenggol Island is famous for its impressive and stunning rocky cliffs as well as beautiful coral formations. A good range of dive sites can be found here which is definitely a challenge to even the most experienced diver. A wide variety of marine life like sharks, rays as well as soft and hard corals can also be found here. The House Reef, located at the western bay of Teluk Air Tawar is one of the more favoured diving spots in Tenggol Island. About 50 metres away from the shore, the sea bed drops away and goes down to a depth of 90 feet before it levels off. At the bottom of the ocean floor lies a wooden sampan in its cold watery grave, home to a variety of reef life.
One particular dive site at Nyireh Island is bound to attract the attention of experienced divers. The dive site, named The Highway, is recommended to divers who have experience diving in open sea conditions as the rush of open sea currents may be quite intimidating to beginners. The site earned its name from the many schools of pelagic fishes swimming through the tunnels or 'swim throughs' formed by giant boulders at the bottom of the sea, akin to the many cars whizzing down a busy highway. On days where the currents are calmer, take a peek under these huge boulders to see a carpet of cave corals. The intriguing coral formations found on the walls of these boulders also make it a good place for underwater photographers to capture unique shots. A house wreck located at Tenggol Island is bound to interest those who are enamoured with the mysteries behind wrecks. At approximately 7 metres underwater, divers will come upon a small wreck half buried under the white sand bed. This wreck, well marked by a buoy, is an old Vietnamese boat which, after arriving on the island, was believed to be destroyed by the refugees to keep from being sent home by the marine patrols. One can see that the hull of the boat was smashed into pieces, supporting this theory. About 10 metres south of this wreck is a sunken trawler, its crumbling frame now the base for soft corals. This wreck supports a collection of coral fishes like butterfly fish and parrotfish, with groups of blue and yellow fin fusiliers going in and out of the wreck occasionally.
The weather around the island is affected by the north east monsoon season between November and early March every year, bringing heavy rains, strong winds and rough seas. Diving activities are not encouraged during the monsoon season as visibility is very low. Frequent rain showers and generally wet conditions are to be expected during this season. Boat transfers may be affected by choppy seas due to the weather conditions.
The island is accessible by boat from Kuala Dungun. Ferry service has to be arranged beforehand as there are no regular trips to the island. The journey from Kuala Dungun to the island is approximately 45 minutes by speedboat or close to two hours if traveling on a fishing boat.