What comes to mind when you think of Borneo? Lush green rainforests? Wild jungle? A plethora of fascinating animals? A bloody tough mountain to climb? Limestone caves? Orangutans? Monkeys with big noses?? Well it should be all this and more. High on that list should be amazing reefs and marine wildlife, gorgeous beaches and pristine waters.
WHERE WE WENT
Surrounding the beautiful huge island of Borneo lies many stunning smaller islands with brilliant diving and snorkelling opportunities. Marine life is abundant in these beautiful tropical waters and the chance to sight rare and exquisite sea creatures and corals is high as the coral reefs of Borneo are the second most diverse on the Earth. We visited the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park which is is easily accessible and very close to the main city of Kota Kinabalu.
When I think of a national park I imagine it to be Aussie-style. Bushy, shrubs, lots of trees; a typical inland kind of forest with a few kangaroos hopping around and a curious emu to eye off whatever you have in your handbag. What an awesome surprise I got when we arrived at the jetty and I discovered that it’s actually a MARINE park and is composed entirely of an underwater world and the islands that jut above it. I had read this of course, but it certainly didn’t prepare me for the reality of the natural beauty and feeling of openness as we got in the boat and began sailing through the pristine waters in the most un-park like park I’d ever been in.
HOW WE GOT THERE
We planned our trip out to the islands with Amazing Borneo, using their Sea Tango branch. You can also book through them via Sea Tango Facebook page or through the Amazing Borneo website as they are essentially the same company. We were happy to support Amazing Borneo as its a locally run company with great family values and support for its staff.
All boats going out to the islands will leave at Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal which is located easily on the Kota Kinabalu foreshore, close to the open air markets, shopping complexes and various accommodation. There is a building complex called the Wisma Sabah which has a long corridor of various local travel agents who organise island trips, jungle adventures and some selling snorkelling and diving gear if you want to purchase your own.
Arriving at the jetty not far from our hotel we were met by our Divemaster Kalani, who proved to be very professional, informative and a genuinely good guy to spend the day on the boat with. We had a flash two-story boat with all brand new and good quality equipment and were spoilt with hot drinks and cake for a little morning tea mid-snorkel. Kalani and our captain were flexible in moving around until we got the best dive sites and were really happy to accommodate exactly what we wanted. Life was good!
WHAT WE DID
We had the pleasure of visiting three of the five islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, an area covering a huge 4,929 hectares of land and sea. We snorkelled around the islands of Mamuki and Sapi and saw a huge array of brightly coloured fish and coral beneath the clear azure ocean. There was some evidence of coral bleaching with is really sad and highlights the importance of caring for our environment, our waterways and attempting to reduce our carbon footprint to prolong the life of these amazing natural wonders.
This would have been a good time to have an underwater camera, although just being able to enjoy it its natural beauty and not have to focus on getting the perfect shot or capturing each and every fish was really liberating. It was lovely just to enjoy and be in the moment without looking through a lens.
Snorkelling all morning makes you extremely hungry! We had lunch at Gaya Island and tried to spot the proboscis monkeys (those ones with the big noses) hiding in the trees above us. The food was good and the fresh juices incredible. A lazy afternoon was spent floating in the beautiful warm waters around the island and watching as the daily 4pm storm came rolling in.
The daily downpour doesn’t appear to affect every day life whatsoever and certainly didn’t affect our trip, in fact the breeze was glorious and watching the dark clouds come in over the blue waters was stunning. At this point we had discovered that we had, in blissful unawareness, become ferociously sunburnt! Despite layering ourselves with proper sunscreen 😦 and we were happy to head back for some much needed Aloe Vera!
Of course, travelling further out around the coast would give amazing opportunities to snorkel or dive in even more diverse waters and see a wider range of marine life as there is just so much to experience under the sea, something we plan to do the next time we have the pleasure of visiting Borneo.
Our biggest tip: sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! Also, remember to bring some extra cash if you want to do parasailing (Rm180) or zip-lining (RM60).