Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

Travel Guide Asia Malaysia Malaysian Borneo Sabah Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

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Introduction

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (TARP) is a park off the coast of the island of Borneo in Malaysia made up of five islands: Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik. The islands are popular destinations for snorkeling, diving, and spending time on the beach, and they also have resorts, jungle trails, and wildlife. They are very close to Kota Kinabalu, so they're easy to reach on a day trip or to spend a few nights. The marine park is under the administration of the Sabah Parks Authority, which has the mandate to oversee designated protected areas and ensure their maintenance and upkeep as reserves while catering to tourists wanting to enjoy the natural beauty that Sabah has to offer. The largest amongst the island group is Pulau Gaya at 15 kmĀ² of untouched dense rainforest. The Kampong at the Eastern end is a Kampong Laut with 6,000 villagers. Gaya Island boasts some of the best coral and un-spoilt beaches in the entire park. It has three resorts.

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Geography

All five islands are partly forested, with a mixture of rocky coastlines and white sand beaches. They are located closely together, well within sight of each other and of the Kota Kinabalu city on the mainland. Gaya is by far the largest of the islands it has walking trails on it at 300ft, stray from the poorly marked route and you will very quickly be stuck in the deep ravines that drop away down to the sea, a guide is recommended. With Manukan coming in at a distant second, with a very good reef at the rear of the island.

The TARP islands are home to some areas of old growth forest. The Dipterocarpaceae family of tropical lowland rainforest trees can be found especially on the Gaya Island, the biggest of the group of five TARP islands. Tongkat Ali, a small ever red treelet growing to 15 m and Eucalyptus trees can be found on a nature walk within the islands. Mangrove trees also make up an important part of the coastal ecosystem within the park.

The Marine Park also has diverse wildlife. Pulau Gaya is home to hairy pig, long-tailed macaques, hornbills, monitor lizards which swim between the islands and the mainland, there are also snake, the green pit vipers are stunning, there are sea crates in the water, the yellow banded mangrove snake. Macaques aren't hard to spot if you hang around, as they like to come steal food. An albino python has also been seen there.

Pulau Sapi has much of the same wildlife, especially monitor lizards, which are easy to see on the trail.

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Weather

The climate within the marine park is generally very good, clear, hot and sunny in the morning , cooling into late afternoon. The marine park is near the mainland and partially sheltered by the harbour and the Crocker Range. The state of Sabah (and Borneo) is below the wind(typhoon), but, can still receive some rough weather and heavy rainfall during the Western and Eastern Monsoon seasons. Every now and then the weather rolls in from the South China Sea and the water can be rough and murky. With the available internet weather sites you will find more accurate real time information there to plan your days out.

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Sights and Activities

  • Sulug. The least developed of the isles with no facilities whatsoever, visitors can opt to camp if they wish to stay overnight. The island is inhabited and dive operators have daily trips there for diving off the corals on the northern shore as it is one of the best site around in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.
  • Mamutik. Island is also rather underdeveloped but is still accessible by jetty. Basic amenities like public toilet and shower are available. Chalets can be arranged with Sabah Parks if you don't wish to camp. This little island of slightly bigger than a football field is very diver friendly as it's ideal for shore dives, but due to the recent influx of the tourist hordes to this island, the shallow coral areas have mostly been trampled. Nevertheless, open water dive courses are conducted here with visibility ranging from 4 - 10m. PADI Instructor Examinations are also conducted here. Lifeguards are on patrol during the day. Bring along insect repellent, sandflies are a nuisance!. Gear up and walk to the shore for a dive!
  • Manukan. One of the most developed islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park due to its 1-km stretch of white sandy beach and pine-tree lined shores. Sutera Sanctuary Lodges have expensive beach and hill-side chalets here for rent, as well as a covered restaurant and a daily beach BBQ buffet spread. Other facilities include a snorkelling equipment rental hut, a small sundry shop, changing rooms. toilets and Scubadoo underwater scooters. Life guards are on duty on the main beach where there are also wooden tables and chairs for picnics. During the holiday season the island can get quite crowded, but makes for interesting people watching. Shallow water corals have all but been destroyed by stampeding holiday makers, but in deeper water and near the jetty area there are still vibrant fish life to be found. For those interested in hiking, there is a 1.5-km "jungle trek" paved walking path which starts from the base of the dock, and leads hikers through the forest to the opposite end of the island. From the end, you can either turn back or clamber down an unmarked path to the beach below. It is possible to walk along the south side of the island all the way back to the dock and the main beach if you don't mind climbing over a lot of rocks (accessibility may depend on the tides; use your best judgment).
  • Sapi. It's like Manukan, but smaller and is the second most developed island in the park. It has basic restaurant facilities, toilets (filthy), and snorkelling equipment rental. The Shangri-La hotel resort have their own staff and private beach over on the right of the jetty. There's a jungle trail around the island, and shallow water snorkelling offers some excitement. Where there was coral it has been trampled and stolen by the hordes of Chinese visitors it is very crowded and not at all relaxing. There is a sand bank to the north of the island, which, at low tide, makes it possible to cross over to the south western tip of Gaya island. There is a safe swimming area that is marked by a floating rope buoy line, swim beyond this and you risk being hit by the many fast transfer boats travelling between the islands and K.K. Also has a zipline from Gaya.
  • Gaya Island. The largest of the islands by far. Has undergone some development on its northern shores, and has 2 exclusive resorts. Sabah Parks headquarters are further to the south-western, unspoiled part of Gaya island. Sabah Parks HQ and Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventures are set in a secluded bay with diving, snorkelling, jungle trekking, wildlife spotting and team building facilities. Gaya has a vibrant eco system both above and below the surface, lots of fauna and flora and beaches which boast no sand flies. Due to its seclusion the island is not overrun by tourists and thus has beautiful, unspoiled corals near the shore. As it is not such a major tourist destination Gaya is the most difficult island to reach. The Gayana Resort and the dive operator will arrange for their customers' transport. Gayana's scheduled boats are for customers only, but if you aren't staying the night, you can by a "day package" for RM60 (ask about it in the Gayana Resort office on the second floor of the ticketing hall at Jesselton Point). Otherwise, you may have to arrange your own boat. To avoid charter prices (RM200 and up), try arriving early in the morning or with a group. The island also has a zipline to Sapi.

Scuba diving & Snorkeling is offered on all of the islands, but Sapi & Mamutik are now the busiest. Diving is offered by the several dive centers offering certification courses like PADI, SDI, Scuba :School International and open water beginner courses. Coral beds and marine flora is abundant here and dive spots can be found along all the designated dive sites in the Park. Several dive operators with offices in Tanjung Aru Plaza, Wisma Sabah, Plaza Tanjung Aru & KK Times Square (South KK) in Kota Kinabalu organize day dive boat trips to these islands. During late January - mid March the diving conditions in TARP can be impacted by plankton blooms and jelly fish.

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Cost

Admission fee: Non-Malaysian adults RM20, children under 18 RM15, children under 6 RM10, seniors over 60 RM15. Malaysians adults RM5, children under 18 RM3, children under 6 free, seniors RM3. Visitors with disabilities free. The admission fee is separate from the boat fare and terminal fees (see above). Pay it at the first island you arrive at, and you'll receive a ticket which you can show at any other islands you visit to avoid paying twice. The camping fee is RM5 for adults and RM2 for children. Diving permits are RM50 for Non-Malaysians and RM20 for Malaysians. This section updated February 2019. For up-to-date fees check with the internet or parks directly or Sabah forums.

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Getting There

Travel to the TAR Marine Park can be done by speedboats that can be caught at the 1 Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in the northern end of Kota Kinabalu, along Jalan Fuad Stephens. There are about a dozen tour boat companies operating inside the terminal. All of them offer different boats with different departure times from both the terminal and back from the islands. Once chosen, passenger will have to stick to that boat and according operator for all his rides inside the national park. Prices are fixed: return boat trip to any of the islands costs RM23, two island hops - RM33, three island hops - RM43, four island hops - RM53 (as of 2016). A compulsory terminal fee of RM7 per person must also be paid at the terminal before departing. Your admission fee (usually RM20, but see below) is payable upon arrival to the first visited island, paid tickets should be kept and shown at the reception desk on any second island. Boats depart roughly every hour, with earliest departure at 8:00AM (but arrive a half hour early to get the tickets) and last departure at 4:30PM. The last return boats are at 4PM. You can choose to spend as little as an hour on one island, or all day, or hop in between islands depending on how many trips you purchase at the terminal. The trip takes 15-25 minutes depending on the island. Annoyingly, because the boats are scheduled, you have to pre-book what time you want to come back when you buy the tickets. For unscheduled trips one can charter a boat for RM204.

It is best to try and go to these islands during the week as the islands are a popular destination for locals and it can get busy during the weekend. The further the island is that you visit the less amenities on the island and also the more secluded. An alternative that avoids the hassle and expense of staying on the islands is to stay in Kota Kinabalu and head over to the islands on day trips. If don't want to face the crowds then pre-book your trip with one of the operators below.

Unless you are spending the night on the islands or have chartered a boat, the last boats back to the city leave at 4PM. Be on time, because the boat operators will charge you a large fee for after hours pickups.

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Eat

Restaurants are available on some of the islands. Expect the food to be overpriced and not especially good, but it'll fill you up.

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Sleep

  • Gayana Resort catering to tourists wishing to stay the night and enjoy the excursion in Gaya or island hop to the other islands is built on stilts and is sited in a bay on the island and offer chalet style accommodations complete with restaurant, souvenir shops and conference facilities.
  • Manukan Island Resort - For the avid diver, the reefs at Manukan Island offers excellent crystal water and beautiful corals. For those who want to enjoy the scenery, take a leisurely stroll along the nature trail or simply laze by the long stretch of beautiful beach.
  • Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa is the award winning property that sits on Gaya Island. With 52 timbered villas that sits over the hills of Police Bay.

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This is version 1. Last edited at 15:30 on Mar 12, 19 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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