Location : Gaya Bay, 3km offshore from Kota Kinabalu Established : 1974 Area : 50 sq km Temp : 24 c to 29 c Rainfall : 2,400 cm Altitude : 240 m Best Time to Visit : 01-Jan to 31-Dec Opens : Daily from 8.30am-5pm Language : Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Malayic, Malayan, Local Malay
Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park was gazetted in 1974 as Sabah’s second national park. It is located in Gaya Bay, 3km offshore from Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah, East Malaysia on the island of Borneo. It is named after the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman. It comprises 50 square kilometers of which two-thirds are sea, and the rest are coral reefs and five islands. The 5 islands : Pulau Gaya (‘big’), Pulau Manukan (‘fish’), Pulau Mamutik (‘for shell collection’), Pulau Sapi (the sound of a mowing buffalo), and Pulau Sulug (commemorating the ancestry of the Sulu peoples of Sabah). Initially, the Park covered two islands – Gaya and Sapi. In 1979, the Park’s boundaries expanded to include three other islands : Manukan, Sulug, and Mamutik.
The reefs lie in shallow waters with little current making it an ideal location for novice divers, however, the diverse and sometimes rare marine creatures also make it an interesting dive location for experienced divers and underwater photographers. To dive in the marine park you must contact one of the local dive centres based in Kota Kinabalu who also offer a full variety of PADI courses ranging from Discover Scuba to Instructor.
Among the sandy seabed a good variety of marine life can be found such as Scorpion fish, Blue-spotted rays, cuttlefish, mantis shrimps and the occasional green or hawksbill turtle. At some locations, rare creatures such as the harlequin ghost pipefish and mandarin fish can be found especially with the help from local dive guides.
During the cooler months from November to February, plankton blooms attract krill which in turn attract whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. At times, the density of the krill can be so thick in these murky conditions underwater encounters with these colossal animals can be exciting as they suddenly appear out of the gloom.
Non-diving visitors can still have as much fun in the islands with other optional activities such as snorkeling in Pulau Sapi and Manukan and seawalking in Pulau Sapi. If water sport is your cup of tea, you may contact any local tour companies for more information regarding the water sport activities that are available.
The administrative centre of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is in the Manukan island, however each of the five islands had its own administrative offices.
Pulau Gaya (‘big’)
By far the largest of the islands, Gaya Island has many secluded bays and sandy beaches, most of which are unfrequented and un-named. Two are especially popular: Bulijong Bay or Police Beach is a semi-circular bay on the northern side of Gaya, where it is possible to camp overnight. Camp Bay on Gaya’s southern side is the side of the former Park Headquarters and the starting point for most of the trails on Gaya, though the bay itself is too shallow for comfortable swimming. The forest trail system of 13 miles covers most of the island, and an interesting boardwalk through a small mangrove forest is only a few minutes from Camp Bay.
If you are looking for a quite and lazy day on a deserted beach then this will be a great island to visit. Water at Police Beach is crystal clear, up to 50 feet and it is a great place to dive and snorkel. Please remember to bring your own food and drinks/swimming gear/snorkelling gear as none are available on the island. Alternatively you can hire them from your tour operator or your hotel before your trip.
A sand-bar connects Sapi Island to the largest island in the TAR Park, Gaya Island, and it is possible to walk across in shallow water at very low tides. This is also one of the best spots for swimming and picnicking and it is very popular for island BBQ tours.
Sapi Island is the most interesting island when it comes to corals and the island is a favourite spot for ‘discover SCUBA’ and other diving courses. Otherwise the island is offers a rather quiet retreat and it is not as crowded as Manukan Island.
They are no overnight facilities available on this island but during week-ends light refreshments are sold, and snorkelling gear is available for rent.
Please also make sure that you don’t leave your clothing or belongings near the edge of the forest as Monkeys are reputed to run away which many items, including sun glasses!
Pulau Manukan (‘fish’)
Manukan Island is the island with the most complete facilities: tropical timber chalets, restaurants, swimming pool, tennis court and a marine exhibition centre. Snorkelling equipment hire and water sports, as well as daily beach BBQ’s are also available.
Manukan Island is the most visited island in the TAR Park, and it is popular with locals and foreign visitors alike. One of the star attractions and must see on Manukan Island is the fish feeding at the jetty where large school of fishes have made their home. You can even snorkel and dive amongst the fish here! There is a 1.5 km paved trail right to the tip of the island. You pass through tropical forest and enjoy a different view of Kota Kinabalu City!
Pulau Mamutik (‘for shell collection’)
This is the smallest island in the TAR Park, and the nearest island to Kota Kinabalu. From here popular day-dive trips are organised, and you can learn SCUBA diving.
A trail leading to the top of the island gives a good view over the surrounding seas and reefs.
Sulug Island is a small round rocky island with one long sand-spit facing east. It is a good swimming spot, but the island only offers the most basic facilities (changing rooms and washrooms). Sulug is located furthest from town, but for those seeking a truly quiet place Sulug will be the choice!
- Sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, diving
- Picnics, barbeque
- Bird-watching, nature walks along guided forest and mangrove trails, and beach fishing (only hook and line permitted)
- Camping (only on Sapi and Mamutik, with prior permission from the Sabah Parks office in KK or the Park Ranger at the islands. Cost is about RM5.00 per person per night)
- Beach and water sports (volleyball, Frisbee, beach football, wind surfing, water polo, etc.)
Whitebellied Sea Eagle, Green Heron, Sandpiper, Flycatcher, Bearded Pig, Swallow, Pangolin, Rat, Squirrel, Monkey, Pied Hornbill, Monitor Lizard, Long-tailed Macaque, Pangolin, Snake, Pink-and-green Parrot Fish, Turquoise Moon Wrasse, Butterfly Fish and Clown
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is accessible via 15 – 20 minutes speedboat ride from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s Capital. The departure and arrival point for the boat transfers is at the, situated next to the Malaysia Royal Custom Department. Boat transfers to the islands are available daily from 7.30am to 5pm.
Nearest Town : Kota Kinabalu
Nearest Airport : Kota Kinabalu
Nearest Railway Station : Kota Kinabalu
Only 3 islands have accommodation:
- Manukan Island – Wooden chalets & bungalow managed by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges
- Mamutik Island – A diving resthouse managed by Borneo Divers and camping ground managed by Sabah Parks
- Gaya Island – A 4 star resort managed by Gayana Resort Bay
Lot 45 & 46, 1st – 5th Floor, Block H, Signature Office, KK Times Square,
Coastal Highway 88100 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel : (+06)88-486432/486430/486420
Fax : (+60)88-486435
To see more photos, please click here