Just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu 5 islands make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (TAR Park). From large to small the islands are Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik and Sulug.
Of the 5, Manukan, Sapi and Mamutik are the top 3 most popular among daily island hoppers because of the white sandy beaches, BBQ buffets and snorkeling on the shallow corals.
Sulug, the smallest island with no facilities at all, is relative quiet and not often visited by tourists in general. It is, however, a favourite spot for divers exploring the depths of North Reef.
The 5th island, pulau Gaya, is 1,465ha of mostly undeveloped tropical jungle terrain, although hot spots of development dot the island near the beaches, including 2 resorts, Sabah Park’s head quarters and a dive station.
How to Get to the TAR Park Islands
The islands are techincally always open, however, getting there relies on ferry transportation, which, for safety reasons, usually doesn’t operate in bad weather, stormy conditions or when the sea is excessively choppy.
Ferries are available from 2 locations.
Public Ferries at Jessleton Point
- Return trip to 1 island: RM 35 per adult
- Return trip to 1 island: RM 25 per child
- Boats usually leave when they are full
- Excludes the Sabah Parks fee payable at your first island per day.
Sutera Harbour Marina
- Return trip to 1 island: RM 50 per adult
- Return trip to 1 island: RM 35 per child
- Boats leave every half hour from 08:30 – 15:30 and return from 10:00 – 17:00
Pulau Gaya is the largest in the park, although the most populated area of the island, a large water village facing the city, technically falls outside the park limits.
The rest of Gaya is largely undeveloped and is mountainous terrain covered with dense tropical forest.
Surprising numbers of wildlife inhabits the island including various bird species, monkeys, wild boar, snakes and lizards. Interesting plant and insect species abound.
There are 3 resorts on Gaya. The Gayana Eco Resort and Bunga Raya Resort are both hidden in coves facing away from the city, whilst the recently opened Gaya Island Resort is on what used to be Hornbill Bay not far from Gayana Eco Resort.
Along with the Sabah Parks headquarters in another cove along the island shore, lies the Downbelow dive station, a launching point for great diving around Gaya and in the rest of the park, as well as jungle trekking across the island.
Day Tripper Points of Interest
- Sabah Parks headquarters – starting point for Gaya island jungle trekking
- Snorkeling and diving excursions
Of all the islands in the park – resorts aside – Manukan island is the most developed.
It too has a resort, dive station, a few smaller shops, a restaurant and a regular beach BBQ.
It also has the nicest stretch of white sandy beach of all the islands, and relatively good coral coverage in slightly deeper waters where they are just beyond the trampling feet of marauding tourists.
Regular ferries by several operators serve the island, making Manukan very accessible. It’s nearest to Sutera Harbour Resort, a 10 minute journey, but is further from Jessleton Point, which will take 15 – 20 minutes to reach.
Day Tripper Points of Interest
- Long stretch of white, sandy beach;
- Easy 3km return trip jungle trekking path to Look Out Point at the island’s southern tip;
- Dive station for underwater adventures;
- Water sports option including fly fish, banana boat, jet skis and para-sailing;
- Fully equipped restaurant with local and international food;
- Beach BBQ buffet;
- Sundry shops and snorkeling equipment rental;