Island Adventure in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah


On the third day of our trip, we went on an island experience tour at the famous Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. This Marine Park is one of the key activities (apart from Mt Kinabalu) that tourists would visit as part of their itinerary when visiting Kota Kinabalu.

These are 5 islands are actually not very far from mainland. It is only a 10 to 15 minutes boat ride and the current is usually very calm.

Gaya Island is the biggest island, at 15 square kilometers. Apart from the usual greenery, it is home to a less-spoken-about community in Sabah – the (illegal) Filipinos, who were mainly refugees. While we were in the cruise/boat, we were steered away from that area and I did not manage to take any photos of that area. Now that I’m googling online, it was a struggled to find information about this unspoken stilt villages.

Photo Cr:

According to this blog, he had successfully ventured into the village, against all the advise from the local community.

This guy here (back in 2010) also managed to go on an (unofficial) tour of the village for RM50.

Another blogger who visited this place:

It’s funny how the other side of Gaya Island (beyond the water villages at the eastern corner) is also home to luxurious and beautiful resorts. In fact, the zipline which I will be taking later starts from Gaya Island.

Sapi Island is the most popular island among all 5. It is home to white sandy beach and crystal clear turquoise water. It is also the starting point for the zipline.

Pulau Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug are the three other three islands. Sadly, we did not have time to explore them.

We started off our journey at a private jetty which only caters to tour customers. The tour company engaged for this trip was Borneo Passages. They had arranged an itinerary with Borneo Reef World, a floating pontoon which was opened specially for us. We were given a wrist tag with our names at the jetty and we went to the pontoon via speedboat as their bigger boat was under maintenance.

Borneo Reef World houses Asia’s largest pontoon (flat bottom boat) which is anchored to the seabed. To comply to the rules of the Marine Park, they actually shift their pontoon every 3 months to allow sunlight to reach the bottom of the seabed. It is a pretty big pontoon and I think it can accommodate 200 people without any issue/

After reaching the pontoon, we deposited our bags. We were all ready for our first adventure of the day – Para-sailing, followed by Zipline. The GM’s suggestion was a brilliant one as it was not very crowded during the earlier part of the day.

We departed on a speedboat for our para-sailing. Initially, I was a little hesitant as had not been part of the itinerary. Usually, when it comes to high elements like this, I would need some mental preparation. Not wanting to be spoil sport, I hid my fear and accepted the challenge.

If you have tried the ones in Thailand (Phuket/Krabi) or Bali, it’s a little more high tech and safe. You don’t have to run or fly/land from the beach. Instead, you sit down comfortably on the hull of the boat.

Using the retractable string system which is fixed onto the boat, you will lift off from the ground comfortably while sitting down. Before take off, you can indicate your preference of getting wet or staying dry to the boatman and he will give you your desire. The takeoff was very smooth and gradual and I was given a splash of water (thigh deep if I’m not wrong) just for the thrill of it. It kind of scared me off initially as I didn’t expect it to be right at the start.

The parachute will rise slowly and steadily, determined by the speed of the boat and also the adjustable tension of the string. Boatman was nice to me and my time up in the sky did not have much “turbulence”. If the boatman is playing a punk, knowing that you are adventurous, they might steer their boat in such a way which may make your stomach/heart go queasy.

The two photos below were taken by my iPhone5 camera while I was in the para-sailing. There were no other rules apart from wearing the life jacket and harness properly. You could bring your GoPro, camera, handphone or whatever nonsense you want, all at your own risk. For me, I placed my phone in a waterproof pouch and hanged it over my neck. My only regret is that I didn’t bring my GoPro up there. It would have been a beautiful video.

Anyways, you can also opt for a double sitting para-sailing too and both people would be lifted up into the sky at the same time. It would have been lovely for a photo opportunity among couples.

After the para-sailing, we went to Sapi Island for our Coral Flyer experience. We were really excited for this as it was the worlds longest island to island zipline and it had only officially opened a few weeks ago! It was a surprise for me as it wasn’t in the itinerary but thankfully I had plans to take the zipline at Nami Island in South Korea. Thus, I was kind of mentally prepared for this.

I was pretty amazed with the green waters. Its one of my favourite shade of green.

Upon reaching Sapi Island, there would be a counter right at the entrance.

It cost RM10 to enter the Tungku Abdul Rahman Marine Park for non-malaysians.

Click for ferry charges and other info.

The Coral Flyer is a joint project between two business partners and the caucasian in yellow manning the sales counter was one of them. The cost of this flyer is RM 50 which I felt was pretty decent as the prices are somewhat similar to the other option in this region.

After you have paid, you will be given a ticket which you will be required to hold on to the ticket until you reach your zipline platform on the island (I guess this is something that they have to work on as it doesn’t really make sense for us to hold a slip of paper for 20 minutes).

Also, if you have bigger bags and you feel unsafe to bring it with you on the zipline (you can bring anything/everything at your own risk and liability), you can leave it at the counter.

We were then instructed to return to the jetty we came from and board this boat with a yellow roof. The boat would bring you across from Sapi Island to Gaya Island and you will have to follow the signs which will bring you to an area whereby the staff would assist you to put on the harness and helmet. Then,you will have to climb up some steps (maybe 3 to 4 floors high), to the starting point of the zipline.

From the height, it looked really intimidating at first but I was more distracted with the fear of dropping my phone and goPro camera. Also, it is advisable to wear sandals/shoes instead of slippers or you would have to grip to your slippers really tight..

The only rule they had for the zipline was that you had to keep at least one hand on the bar. Otherwise, you might end up spinning, getting stuck in the middle or fly down backwards and the view of the beautiful scenery might be short-changed.

I had a handphone pouch hanged to my neck (video turned on) and my left hand holding on to the GoPro and my right hand holding on to the bar. I was so ready to zoom zoom zoom down.

Here’s the video-cut that I’ve done for this part of the adventure (Zipline + Para-sailing). Hope it gives you a feel of what it is like.

The slope of the zipline is rather gentle thus it didn’t feel scary at all! I only felt the rush in my heart “push” at the first 3 seconds. The remaining 20-something seconds was an eye-feast of beautiful nature. It’s really worth a try! With the wind breezing through your face and the colours of the sea and sky blending in perfect harmony, it was definitely something I would try again and again.

After completing the “flight” and removing our harness, we followed a dirt path and soon we were back at the counter we bought our tickets from. Be careful of mosquitoes as we got bitten quite a bit while trekking through the foresty area.

The beach and water at Sapi Island was clean (at least on the earlier part of the day) and it wasn’t very crowded as it was probably off-peak. There were quite a number of people who came on ‘tours’ as they were wearing life jackets with tour companies names printed on them. I read online that it is cheaper to rent these items from the boat compared to on land.

The waters are pretty clean and if you bring food, there will be fishes BUT, i’ve recently learnt about the dangers of feeding bread/biscuits to such fishes.

“Bread contains yeast and when eaten by fish, it will expand and can cause constipation for most fish.  The most resilient fish will survive however others will disappear as they suffer and the predators take them.  People feeding the fish think it is amazing to see so many fish so close but if they look at the big picture, they would realise the damage they are causing.

Some people feed them pellets and this is a better option however fish need to be left to their own devices.  They’ll be there in greater species as long as we leave them alone.”

Info Cr:

We lazed around Sapi Island while waiting for our guide to enjoy his zipline experience. After which, we proceeded back to the Pontoon. The boat which took us for para-sailing came back to ferry us.

Johno, the new manager for the pontoon gave us a quick tour of the two-storey place which is really impressive given the limitations of floating at the sea. It almost felt like a private session as there were so few of us that day.

Here’s the kitchen which cooks the lunch and dinner. Lunch will be included in the package.

Lunch will be served in a buffet spread and it tastes pretty decent on this floating kitchen.

There’s sufficient tables and chairs for everyone.

If you’re not a fan of water sports, you can also laze around on the many sun chairs at the second deck of the pontoon. Depending on the time of the day, you may or may not get a tan.

Beautiful Scenery can be seen while you are in the Pontoon. It is pretty big so I don’t think the chances of getting sea-sick is high.

Do you realise that the water here is so blue compared to the turquoise green colour at the islands?

From the Pontoon, you will be able to see many different types of fishes swimming around.

If you are able to notice, there’s a bigger fish in the photo below and if I’m not wrong, it’s a species of a crocodile fish family (if I don’t remember wrongly).

This is the sea walking platform which we did our sea-walking from.

These are the helmet hats that provide you with oxygen while you’re underwater. So basically, this sea-walking experience allows you to breathe normally underwater without any scuba equipment. Anyone strong enough to support the weight of these helmets will be able to enjoy the experience. It’s pretty interesting because you will be looking at fishes and corals in 3D view.

The depth wasn’t too deep also. It was perhaps about 3 to 4m down and you have to walk down this sloping platform and stairs to get to the bottom. Even though the distance and walking area is pretty small underneath, the experience of having these living things within your reach is pretty amazing.

Here’s a video of the coral garden which I have filmed using the GoPro.

From this photo, you can judge for yourself the amount of fishes in this area.

Don’t worry if you do not want to get wet at all. There is this submerged area which you can go down (about 1.5 floors down) and see the marine life from the bottom. The photos below are taken from the dry underground walking area.

The guide was very enthusiastic about sharing information about the world’s most famous fish – nemo the clown fish. I guess this is the #1 story of all time. Can’t wait for finding nemo 2.

This is the first time I’ve seen such huge schools of fishes in the sea. Do you remember the scene in finding nemo where dory asked the school of fishes for the direction and how the schooled together to form an arrow? I was really impressed with this sight.

We were very privileged to be given the chance to do Sea Walking and Discovery Scuba with 1 dive in the same afternoon. It was a very tight itinerary and we really appreciate the staff in accommodating to our request after hearing on how none of us have done scuba diving before.

Unlike the usual beginner diving lessons which takes place in the swimming pool or out in the deep sea, we had the perfect environment for learning. There were shallow platforms and proper safety bars to allow us to practice the drills in the comfort of a protected environment.

We were not affected by the currents and the entry and exit is very simple with proper stairs. If you’re diving from a boat, you would have to climb up and down the ladder with your heavy gear and oxygen kit which can make it very tough.

Photos taken by the underwater photographer during the dive.

For discovery scuba, you are not allowed to swim and wander on your own. There will be one Dive Master/Instructor following you throughout your dive. They will be hold on to your oxygen tank and check the air pressure and oxygen level.

I have no idea why some photos look more blue while the others look more green..

Video cut using my GoPro before the battery screwed up or died.

I don’t know how long the dive was but I felt it was really short but then again time flies when you’re having fun. I finally understand why people get addicted to scuba diving. It’s really a different world down there and the things you get to see is limitless.

After my dive, I got a few scratches on my legs and it was probably caused by the corals. I might have accidentally kicked them or brushed passed them. It’s a little hard to control while you’re underwater with so much gear and restriction. I guess I would have to go for a full open water diving course in the near future. At least now I know my ears can be unblocked if I do the descend properly 😀

On the pontoon, there is sufficient washrooms for you to take a quick freshwater shower. They do not allow the usage of any soap or shampoo as the waste water will fall back into the sea. Please follow their regulations closely in order to conserve the existing marine life.

Apart from the smaller fishes, they do have some big fishes which (according to them) were rescued from the fisherman. I guess they don’t know what to do with them for now but they feed and care for them regularly and I guess it’s gonna be a mini education point where kids can learn about Cobia, (Queensland) Grouper and Batfish.

Well, they said we could enter if we want to and I jumped in with the intention of taking better photos of the Grouper and Cobia but it was a wasted attempt as we ended up disturbing their comfort zone and the fishes (obviously) swam deeper and my photos were dark and crappy. The only thing I gained out of this is I can say that I have “swam with a big Grouper and many Cobias”. heh.

There was a feeding session and they gave us some smaller fishes to feed them. (Yes big fishes eat small fishes)

Do you know what caused the big splash? The smart and intelligent queensland grouper. It is a fish which pretends to be slow, big and clumsy but the moment it opens its mouth, it will scare the hell out of you.

If you have no idea what a queensland grouper look like, here’s one grouper in the SEA Aquarium at RWS.

At the end of our stay in the pontoon, we were given a certificate for our Sea Walking experience and a CD containing all the underwater photos that we have taken. It was pretty sad to leave as I felt that I could live on board for a few more days, just enjoying the nature surroundings.

I do know that they are looking at the options of having sleepovers and I would be really keen on it. Imagine watching the sunset and sky brightening in the middle of the sea. It would have been a beautiful sight.

Check out my other entries in this series:

(1) Bloggers Sponsored trip to Kota Kinabalu (June 2014)

(2) Air Asia Red Carpet Experience to Kota Kinabalu

(3) Sutera Harbour – Luxurious 5-Star resort in Kota Kinabalu

(4) Sutera Harbour – North Borneo Railway Experience

(5) Sutera Harbour – Sunset Cruise on Puteri Sutera Yacht

(6) Island Adventure in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

(7) Kota Kinabalu – Half Day City Tour by Sutera Tourism Board

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