Whenever one craves a bit of sand and sea water in Kota Kinabalu, the choice is quite clear. Manukan, Gaya, Sapi, Mamutik and Sulug islands make up Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park offering amazing beaches, water sports and the opportunity to unwind and relax. And the best part? Its just a few minutes away.
Unfortunately, due to increasing tourism (in no small part thanks to Chinese mass tourism), barbecue stalls and huge restaurants now dominate some of the beaches.
Some of the islands also offer accommodation but this tends to be rather expensive. Due to its proximity, just a short boat ride from Kota Kinabalu, a day trip to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park offer some an opportunity to top up your tan, snorkel or even get a dive or two under your belt.
Such was our situation when we arrived in Kota Kinabalu after braving the cold weather and rain of Kinabalu National Park and so instead of walking around in the hot and stuffy weather we decided we needed a bit of sunshine to warm up our bones.
Getting to the park is very easy and no pre-booked tours are necessary. All the boats leave from Jesselton Point at the northern end of Kota Kinabalu, now a booming pier with stalls and shops. It is also a point from where you can catch a boat to Brunei.
In the main hall are about a dozen kiosks all selling the same island hopping tours with prices depending on how many and which islands you’d like to visit in a day. The price is more or less the same no matter who you decide to go with.
By the time we walked to the jetty it was already almost 10 o’clock and because the last boat from the park back to Kota Kinabalu leaves at half past 4 we decided to visit only two islands. We chose two of the more popular islands of Sapi and Manukan, paid 31RM per person, loaded up on water and snacks from a nearby shop and off we went.
The first island you arrive at, you’ll also have to pay an Environmental/Conservation fee of 10RM per person.
Our first stop, Pulau Sapi, has two tiny beaches, now completely overrun with tourists. In fact, the area to the right of the jetty is practically one big restaurant with a few dozen or so big tables exclusively packed with Chinese tourists. There are two main areas for snorkeling on either side of the jetty. On the day we visited Sapi, the area to the left of the jetty was roped off and closed for snorkeling.
The area to the right, though not the best in the world, was OK, just a short swim from shore. There are quite a few of snorkelers around, they are mostly the life jacket wearing kind, who ironically tend to stay in very shallow water close to the shore with nothing to see. But just a few swimstrokes further is a beautiful carpet of coral, anemones inhabited by clownfish, schools of butterfly fish as well some trigger fish.
To our shock and horror, however, we also witnessed how a small group of Asian snorkelers wearing shoes freely were stepping on the coral and their local snorkeling guide even ripped out a whole coral to show his customers.
In total we spent about two and half hours on Sapi, most of it with our heads under water, before our boat took us to the second island.
The second island we visited, Manukan, had lovely white sand beaches. Fortunately not as overrun as Sapi, it still attracts its fair share of visitors. We spent very nice few hours just lying on the sand, working on our tan occasionally dipping in the water to cool down a bit.
Though due to its immense popularity the beaches are more crowded than we would have wanted, a day trip to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park offers an amazing opportunity to unwind and relax whilst enjoying a beautiful scenery.