Tunku Abdul Rahman Park Islands, Sabah
Maritime traders gave Sabah the name 'Land Below The Wind' because it lies below the typhoon belt towards the northeastern part of Borneo. Sabah's coastline of 1,440 kilometres consists of beautiful sandy beaches on the west coast, mangrove swamps on the east coast and 38 islands scattered around the state.
Named after Malaysia's first Prime Minister who was instrumental in the merger of Sabah with Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is located merely 15 minutes from Kota Kinabalu. The park headquarters located on Pulau Manukan oversees Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug. Of the five islands, Pulau Gaya is the most developed with floating villages. Connected by a sand bar from Pulau Gaya is Pulau Sapi, an ideal snorkeling and diving site.
The largest of the islands is Pulau Gaya, with its rich flora and fauna, sea eagles and reptiles. Beautiful white sandy beaches encompass the shoreline. The most popular beach is at Bulijong Bay, popularly known as "Police Beach". Regular boat and ferry services from mainland make the islands an attractive tourist destination.
The South China Sea on the west and the Sulawesi Sea towards the east baths Sabah's coastline. The deep oceanic nature of the Sulawesi Sea brings rich nutrients and water clarity.
The convenience of a mere 15 minutes boat ride to the dive sites around the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park Islands makes excellent day trip dives. Much of the diving in the area is a gentle slope with hard coral gardens, sandy bottom and sporadic coral blocks. Several colourful species of nudibranchs, damsels, fusiliers and occasional visits of the whale shark spice up the dives. Encounters with pelagics are infrequent and are usually around submerged reefs. Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park islands are ideal for observing macro marine life either in the day or night. Night diving is usually pretty interesting, revealing some mollusks, echinoderms and crustaceans. The shallow, calm sea with depths varying between 15 to 20 metres makes it ideal for novices and scuba training.
Known as Police Bay or Bulijong Bay, this popular dive site is located towards the north of Pulau Gaya. A beautiful white sandy beach provides an excellent spot to relax after the dive 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.
Towards the southwestern portion of Pulau Gaya near Pulau Sapi is Clement Reef, named after Clement Lee of Borneo Divers who first dived this site. Large table corals, staghorn corals, brain corals and encrusting sponges dominate the reef. Invertebrates often observed are nudibranchs, starfish, cuttlefish and sea cucumbers, plus a mix of colourful tropical fishes like damsel fish, wrasses, squirrelfish and puffer fish. Mild currents sweep the reef, but is usually manageable for both novice and advance divers to enjoy diving in this area.
Popular with most dive operators, mid reefs is situated east of Pulau Manukan. The excellent coral reef makes it an ideal spot for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Mid Reef as the name suggests, is a submerged reef detached from the island. Several species of hard coral and encrusting sponges make up the reef topography. A feature of this site is the numerous patches of anemones and coral fish. You are likely to see lots of moray eels, stonefish, all sorts of crustaceans plus the cute Panda Clownfish (Amphiprion sp.) darting in and out of its host anemone. Towards the end of the year when the sea is rich with plankton, the world's largest fish, the giant whale shark (Rhincodon typus), cruise by to feed on the plankton.
Sabah is served by several international airlines with direct flights from Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, Brunei, Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo. It is also accessible worldwide via Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines and through Singapore via Singapore Airlines. Flights to major towns in Borneo like Kuching and matakingare also served by Malaysia Airlines.