"As backpackers we were a little hesitant about the costs of getting to Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park and whether we would be able to do it independently, avoiding the hordes of tour groups.
We managed to have a really enjoyable day snorkelling, sunbathing and even a jungle walk. It was a little more expensive than our usual spending but that couldn’t really be avoided. So yes, we would recommend visiting Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park from Kota Kinabalu but we’d do a couple of things differently."
Tunku Abdul Rahman Park was established in 1974. It was named after Malaysia's first Prime Minister the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TARP for
short). It comprises 49 square kilometres of mostly ocean, coral reefs and five islands.
These five islands are:
1. Pulau Gaya
2. Pulau Manukan
3. Pulau Mamutik
4. Pulau Sapi
5. Pulau Sulug
These islands are situated around 3 kilometres off Kota Kinabalu (KK). It takes only 10 to 25 minutes by speedboat from the jetty in Kota Kinabalu.
Each island is an idyllic composition of white beaches and offshore coral reefs hugging inland forests teeming with animal life.
Visitors are welcome to camp, trek, swim and snorkel around.
The coral reefs around these are beautiful and are exposed to varying degrees during low tides. Excellent reef patches are found between Pulau Sapi and Pulau
Gaya. This living organism are carnivorous animals feeding on plankton floating in the sea.
In general Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is specially known as an area for macro diving.
Gaya Gaya is the largest island in the park and the closest to downtown Kota Kinabalu. It is covered with
dense virgin tropical forest. The island has a Marine Ecology Research Centre, hiking trails and some resorts. This island is a lovely place
with many private bays and fine sandy beaches. Two beaches are very popular: Bulijong Bay (or Police Beach) and Camp Bay. Bulijong Bay, a semi-circular
bay, is located on the northern end of Gaya.
If you want to go swimming, diving or snorkelling, then you must head over to Police Beach where the waters are crystal clear and goes about 50 feet down.
Because this area is so secluded, there is no place for you to rent swimming equipment/diving gears.
A beautiful white sandy beach provides an excellent spot to relax after the dives around the bay. Staghorn
corals are predominant at depths from 10 to 20 metres and the terrain gradually slopes to a sandy bottom. Densely populated with small reef
fishes, wrasses, nudibranchs and stingrays and if you are lucky, you may spot the odd lobster scavenging for food on the sandy terrain.
Camp Bay is on the southern side of Pulau Gaya. Camp Bay is good as a starting point for trails.
There are some resorts on this island. It has also a very large (and growing) stilt village located just opposite the KK
waterfront. The village is occupied by illegal immigrants from the Philippines. It's considered as a "dangerous high crime/ "no-go" area by police and locals.
Pulau Manukan Manukan Island is home to the park's HQ. Manukan is popular and has the most
developed tourist facilities, including cute tropical timber chalets, restaurants, swimming pool, tennis court, and even a marine exhibition
centre. It is covered in dense vegetation and has hiking trails. The island has the highest number of visitors to the park. It's having the longest
stretch of beaches amongst the rest of the islands. This remains its main attraction.
This is the smallest island on Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. It has good beaches and coral reefs.
Pulau Mamutik is also the most convenient one to visit, as it is located the nearest from Kota Kinabalu.
You can stay here overnight. You can also rent diving equipment, if you want diving or pick up diving courses on this island.
If you are up to it, it will be great to check out the trail on Mamutik Island. The view at
the end of the trail will show you the surrounding seas and reefs, and a
fabulous scenery it is too.
Pulau Sapi Pulau Sapi means "Cow Island". During very low tide, you can walk over from Gaya
Island to Sapi Island via the connecting sandbar. The island is famous by tourists for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving.
Sapi has one of the best swimming and picnic spots. It's a centre for water sports activities.
It is famous amongst tour operators, which are handling island BBQ tours. Sapi has one of the nicest beaches in TARP. The beach has clean white sand and coral reefs fringing the shoreline.
Also on the island: picnic shelters, barbecue pits, tables, toilets and changing rooms.
With the permission of the Park Warden it's allowed to camp.
Pulau Sulug A long sand spit jutting out into the ocean from a round hill, Sulug is the most remote (and consequently least
visited by tourists) of the five islands in the park. Pulau Sulug Island is 8actually a small rocky island with a long sand-spit that faces east. It's
well-known for its great swimming spots. Its major attraction are its coral reefs. There are restaurant and diving facilities on the island.