Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
With breathtaking coral reefs framing the borders of its five islands, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is a great place for snorkeling enthusiasts.
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Covering an area of 4,929 hectares, two thirds of which are water, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is made up of 5 islands: Pulau Manukan, Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug. The park is located a quick 20 minutes away by boat from Kota Kinabalu and it is no wonder that this idyllic getaway is the landmark of the city. The islands have long been a part of the city's fascinating history, having been acquired as part of the North Borneo Chartered Company in 1898. Initially, a small settlement was started on Gaya Island but when the need for a deep water port surfaced, the company shifted its attention to Jesseltown, now known as Kota Kinabalu. The islands were undisturbed for some time before it was gazetted as Sabah's second national park in 1974.
The islands are a popular destination for those looking for fun in the sun or to explore the underwater world. White sandy beaches sloping gradually into the water frames the eastern and southern parts of the island, sheltered by the stormy seas. On the northern and western side, jagged rocky cliffs and endless pieces of coral washed ashore line the beaches of the islands. Marine life, brightly colored, patterned and striped fishes in all hues of the rainbow can also be found within these waters, making it a great place to start any diving experience. Some of the fishes that have been spotted here include the pink and green Parrot fish, the Turqoise Moon Wrasse and Butterfly fish.
This boomerang shaped island covers an area of 51 acres and is the second largest island of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. The Sabah Parks Headquarters are also located on this island. This island has the most complete facilities to accommodate tourist visits. There are lodges, restaurants, swimming pools and tennis courts enough to make tourists feel like they are home away from home. One of the attractions at Pulau Manukan is the fish feeding session done at the jetty. Adventurers can choose to explore the island's wilderness via its nature trails whereas snorkelers can head to the southern part of the island for some good snorkeling sites.
The island is rather undeveloped compared to its sister islands, Pulau Mamutik is still accessible by jetty. Though it is the smallest of the islands, measuring only 15 acres, it is not without its own beauty and attractions. The rich coral life bordering the island makes it a great place for diving. It is no wonder that open water diving courses are conducted here at this island. Facilities such as changing rooms and toilets, picnic shelters, tables and barbeque pits are also available for visitors. There are also lifeguards stationed to patrol the beach during the day.
Being furthest away from Kota Kinabalu, Pulau Sulug is the most remote of the five islands. The island's fame can be attributed to its great diving sites, so much so that dive operators make daily trips to the island for diving on the northern shore. There are changing rooms and toilets available, picnic shelters, tables as well as fresh water supply for divers.
Pulau Sapi, or 'Cow Island' in Malay language is a small island measuring 25 acres well known for its beautiful beaches – white sandy beaches with crystal clear waters framing the shoreline. Its most popular among tourists as a snorkeling and scuba diving site. This island is also a very popular spot for island barbeque tours. Facilities provided here include a jetty, picnic shelters, barbeque pits, tables, changing rooms and toilets.
During low tides, it is possible to walk across to Pulau Gaya via a connecting sand bar. There are no overnight facilities available on this island, but camping and campfires are allowed provided with permission from the Park Warden. Budding entrepreneurs can be seen selling light refreshments to the tourists during the weekends as well as renting snorkeling gears.
Derived from the word 'Gayo', meaning big in Bajau dialect, it is aptly named as this is the largest island of the park, occupying a total area of 3,700 acres. The island is covered in dense virgin tropical forest and has been a forest reserve for nearly 9 decades. It is closest to the city of Kota Kinabalu and is where the Marine Ecology Research Centre is located, together with a few private resorts. Pockets of white sandy beaches and private bays can be found scattered all over the island. Bulijong Bay, also known as Police Beach, is one of the more famous beaches on Pulau Gaya. A semi-circular bay with crystal clear waters, Bulijong Bay is a great place to go for diving and snorkeling. Visitors to the island also have the option of traversing the island through its marked trails, including a plank-walk across a mangrove swamp.
The weather around the park 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.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is only accessible via speedboat from Kota Kinabalu. Visitors can board from the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal and the journey to Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
There are no accommodation facilities available on Pulau Sulug, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sapi. However, camping is allowed on all three islands with prior permission from the Park Warden. Accommodation is available on Pulau Manukan and Pulau Gaya, both managed by different private entities.