Just three to eight kilometres off the coastline of Kota Kinabalu is the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, a group of five small islands; Gaya, Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi and Sulug. The islands are not only incredibly close, but are surrounded by coral – which also means fish. So I booked us a boat and snorkeling trip through Amazing Borneo Tours. We were aware that we could have just gone to Jesselton Point and jumped on a local boat to the islands, but I thought that we’d have a better experience if we were snorkeling from a boat. I am happy with that decision! Sometimes it’s worth paying more for convenience, expertise and comfort.
The fun actually started as we pulled out from the private marina at Sutera Harbour Resort. The resort itself was extremely fancy – no dodgy fittings or plastic instead of marble at this resort! Definitely not in our budget to stay at, but nice to see. Our boat was a Seatango boat, run very professionally. We cruised out to our first snorkeling location, with beautiful views of Kota Kinabalu and Mount Kinabalu behind it. Stella loves travelling fast with the wind in her hair – the boat was perfect for her! Clare and I on the other hand have a tendency toward motion sickness.
The skipper and snorkeling guides checked out the visibility of the water – there had been a lot of rain the night before, which affected how much you could see – then we moved to another spot and jumped in.
Snorkeling with decent gear that doesn’t leak really is a marvellous thing! Although the water was a bit cloudy at first, it cleared as we got a little closer to the islands and the water got shallower. The reefs were amazing. It was a bit clouded over, so the colours of the coral were mostly on the green spectrum, but the amount of life under the water was incredible! So many fish, in so many colours; sea urchins with their glowing ‘eye’ spots, sea cucumbers, anenomes waving their tentacles, and some little jellyfish (luckily the box jellyfish weren’t out in force yet). Some people even spotted some sharks, and others a sea turtle! I was pretty happy floating around in the water with my family, with the occasional kick of the flippers. It’s an amazing world down there. We shifted to a second site, but unfortunately bobbing around in the water in combination with not wearing my glasses was really setting off motion sickness for me, so I returned to the boat (I figured that it would be better to vomit off a boat than to vomit into my snorkel and surrounding water). After around a total of one and half hours in the water (across the two sites) we headed to an island to have lunch and to explore.
There were monitor lizards and the ubiquitous macaques up one end of the beach, looking for morsels to eat. We wriggled our toes in the sand, spotting little crabs and pretty shells. There were also some trees that I didn’t recognise – does anyone know what this fruit/flower is?
There were a few people swimming off the shore, but really, we’re not ‘beach people’. We all whinge and complain about sand in crevices, salt water up noses, and the potential for sunburn. We really do prefer rivers and lakes – so an hour to explore the beach area of the island was just right for us; we didn’t need longer.
Wow, that guy was super skilled with a very sharp knife on those coconuts! The liquid inside was so yummy – super fresh.
Even from the jetty you can see plenty of fish of various sizes in schools. Our trip back to the marina only took around fifteen minutes or so, at speed (much to the girls’ delight). An absolutely brilliant way to go snorkeling. I’ve been snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns, and enjoyed this just as much – maybe even more because the boat ride to get there was comparatively so short! Dan says that this day was one of the highlights of the holiday.
We were back at our Air BnB by mid-afternoon, which gave us for reading and device time. Dinner that night was over at Imago Mall again, at Madam Kwan’s. What a lovely restaurant! We’ve never had as many attentive staff at once, and the food and drinks were all top notch. Dan gave the special durian cendol dessert a try (cendol is a refreshing Malaysian dessert consisting of shaved ice, creamy coconut milk, red beans, corn, palm sugar syrup (gula melaka) and little green strands of dough made from rice flour. To add more flavour to this delicacy, durian pulp or other fruits like lychee, as well as nuts, jelly and ice-cream are added), and we squeezed in a little more shopping at E-teen. Clare is very happy with her new outfit, and is still giggling at the words on the jeans and the fact that her top has a Toy Story character on it.