The waters surrounding the beautiful island of Borneo are marked with many beautiful islands.
With their diverse ecosystem, abundant marine life and distinctive features, each present a unique attraction to tourists.
Named after the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is a marine park that is made up of five small Bornean islands. The islands of Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug, and Mamutik are a part of the National Park.
Located at a short distance from Kota Kinabalu (around 20-25 minutes boat ride), Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Sabah is a favorite with tourists. Naturalists and avid divers from across the globe visit the park all through the year.
Group of islands within the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
The Five Islands
Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug, and Mamutik are very close to each other and can be visited by boat.
Gaya is the largest of the 5 islands whereas Manukan is better developed in terms of facilities. However, all five islands have stunning beaches. Additionally, each island has abundant wildlife as well as fascinating marine life in the surrounding waters.
The islands within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park are a popular day-trip destination amongst tourists. However, the marine park also has various resorts for those looking to spend a few days.
Gaya Island- It covers an area of 3,700 acres. Covered with dense tropical forests, the island is also a marked forest reserve. The Police Beach is a popular tourist destination for its scenic location and crystal clear water.
Manukan Island- it is the second-largest island in the marine park. The island has some spectacular beaches which makes it perfect for tourists planning a longer stay. Additionally, the island hosts various chalets, restaurants, and other recreational facilities.
Mamutik Island- It is the smallest island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. However, the island has some excellent beaches and diving spots. Few recreational and basic facilities are available for tourists.
Sapi Island- It is very popular with tourists for some of the most beautiful beaches and diving and snorkeling locations. Various tourist facilities including camping zones are available on the island.
Sulug Island- It is the most untouched island of the group. The tranquil beaches here are loved by tourists for their natural beauty. The island is surrounded by some excellent reef structures.
The Diverse Marine Life
A healthy coral structure supports a wide variety of fish species in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. There are approximately 364 different fish species in the waters of the marine park. Spotting the Blue-ringed octopus or the Blacktip sharks amongst the colorful corals is common.
You can spot sea fans, whip corals, turtles, tuna, morays, nudibranchs, sponges, scorpionfish, parrotfish, bat fish, porcupine fish, lion fish, giant clams, stonefish, and various other marine life forms.
Other interesting marine species include crocodile fish, brain corals, anemone fish, ghost pipe fish, blue spotted stingray, garden eels, marble rays, sea horse, etc.
Best time to visit
Tourists from around the world visit Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park all through the year. However, the months of November to February see occasional typhoons and heavy rainfall. This makes the ocean rough with poorer visibility which is not suitable for snorkeling and diving activities.
The temperature stays pretty much within the 23 to 29 degrees Celsius throughout the year.
Getting to the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
Regular speed boat rides are available from the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in Kota Kinabalu. The boat departures start at 7:30 am with the last return being at 5:00 pm. In addition to a fixed charge of RM 6 as tariff fee and RM 10 as Environmental Conservation fee, each visited island costs RM 17 per person.
However, if diving is on your mind, you need to pay extra to obtain the diving permits.
Accommodation facilities like resorts are available on the Gaya, Manukan and Mamutik islands within the marine park.
Manukan Island hosts the Manukan island resort. The Gaya island has two resorts, namely, the Gayana Eco Resort and the Bunga Raya Island Resort. The resorts offer complete luxury stay arrangements for tourists along with private transport facilities.
Additionally, the islands also offer some budget accommodation facilities as well as campsites for interested travelers. Various other facilities like chalets, picnic shelters, clubhouse, etc are available on some of the islands.
Things to do
Diving and Snorkeling
The park covers an area of 4929 hectares. The water visibility ranges between 10-15 meters all through the year.
Following are the key diving sites popular with the tourists visiting the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park:
- Gaya Island- The Police reef, the Agil’s reef, the Base Camp, the Bulijong reef and the Eel Garden.
- Sapi Island- Clement reef, Coral Garden, Ron Reef, Sapu House Reef.
- Manukan Island- West Ridge, Mid Reef
- Mamutik Island- Mamutik training site, Pyramid
Additionally, the marine park presents some great snorkeling sites. Prior arrangements with local scuba dive operators can be made along with renting the desired equipment. Waters around Manukan and Sapi are considered excellent for snorkeling and scuba diving.
The Gaya island resort has a magnificent setting with white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. The island resort also provides tourists with boat rides to Tavajun Bay which is a secluded white sand beach at a short distance.
The famous Police beach on the Gaya island is a favorite with the tourists. The white sandy beach runs for a length of around 400 meters and is a perfect swimming spot.
Manukan island has some great beaches on the southern side and another beautiful one on the eastern tip. However, the beach at Mamutik island is mostly rocky.
Sapi island beach is one of the best in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. The crystal clear water here offers excellent visibility and is great for snorkeling. Sulug being the most remote of the five islands is less visited by tourists. However, the tranquil atmosphere of the beach here is perfect for visitors looking for a quiet getaway.
The other four islands of Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik, and Sulug also have some excellent beaches.
A good number of tourist beaches on these five islands offer recreational activities and water sports like kayaking, sailing, beach sports, etc. Further, there are also provisions for picnicking and barbeques within sheltered places on the beach.
The islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park are covered with pristine, untouched tropical forests. The resorts on the islands offer some guided trekking tours for visitors keen on exploring the wildlife on the islands.
Gaya Island has around 20 km of trails through the forests. Exploring the untouched flora and rare wildlife like Proboscis monkeys, bearded pigs, hornbills, monitor lizards, etc can be an enriching experience.
Ziplining is always fun and it can be even more thrilling when you’re zipping between two islands. The “Flying Fox” is a zipline between Gaya and Sapi islands. At an additional fee of RM 80 per person, you can experience the feeling of flying over the blue ocean.
Island holidays are always fun. Getting to do some island hopping between five exquisite islands is a unique experience. With the diverse forests and wildlife as well as unique coral and marine life, each island in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is exclusive.
From lush green tropical forests to white sandy beaches and luxury resorts, the marine park is an excellent choice for a tropical island vacation.