The Borneo part of our Malaysian adventure started in Kota Kinabalu. With originally 2.5 days to spend in the area, this quickly reduced to one full day – delays with our flight meant we didn’t arrive until evening on our first day, and our last day was taken up by a visit to the Aussie pub in KK to watch our AFL team play in the Grand Final (that ended up being a waste of time, but we aren’t going to talk about that here…).
We wanted to make sure that we made good use of our one and only full day in Kota Kinabalu, and had a friend recommend visiting one of the islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, easily accessible by speedboat from the ferry terminal in KK. Despite the weather forecasting thunderstorms and waking to ominous looking grey clouds, we decided to continue with our visit.
The Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal is easily walkable if you’re staying within the CBD of Kota Kinabalu. On arrival at the ticketing office, you will get bombarded with calls from all the agents of the different ferry companies, shouting names of islands and calls of ‘please’ and ‘yes sir!’ Our approach was to head to the agents furthest away that didn’t bombard us with calls and we bought our tickets for Manukan Island there.
Once there were enough numbers, we boarded our speed boat to Manukan island – the second largest in the area and the most popular for tourists and locals. It took just 15 minutes to get there, and whilst I felt somewhat ill and that the trip over was totally bumpy, Mike who has plenty of experience with speed boats claims that it was incredibly smooth -so believe what he says, as I’m just a wuss who hates being out in open water!
Accessed by a long jetty, on arrival at Manukan island we paid our marine park fee of 10 RM and set out exploring the island. The island is equipped with everything you could possibly need – a shop for the hire of gear, a number of establishments for eating, tennis courts, change rooms and accommodation if you wish to stay the night.
The island is incredibly picturesque, with palm lined white sandy beaches and the ocean is neither cold nor warm but a comfortable temperature where you can walk straight in without cringing at the iciness of the water! Snorkelling is super popular, as there are schools of all sorts of tropical fish in the waters surrounding the beach – and the water is clear enough that you can see them with the naked eye. Swim out further and there is even greater diversity, as well as coral and sea urchins!
If you’re on the island for the entire day, chances are you’ll want to stop for a meal. We were quite surprised by the dining options available. There was a buffet lunch, available for 75 RM per person (I think our jaws dropped at this price!), an a-la-carte restaurant with main meals starting from 28 RM, or a beachside shack where you can enjoy a deliciously nutritious bowl of Maggi instant noodles for just 5 RM. No guesses for which option we went for… !
We absolutely loved our day on Manukan Island – swimming, making sand-angels, tanning and fish-spotting – it was the first time we’d done anything like this on our travels so far. The weather turned out beautifully, with bright blue skies and was such a gorgeous contrast against the greenish turquoise colour of the ocean. We highly recommend a trip to the islands of the Marine Park if you’re ever in Kota Kinabalu!
How to get there
You can access any of the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi, Gaya Sulug) from the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in Kota Kinabalu, with boats leaving from 8.30AM in the morning and returning from the islands by 5PM.
How much is it?
The going ‘advertised’ rate is 23 RM for one island – however once you approach a counter you’ll soon learn that there is an additional ferry terminal tariff, and 6% GST. Our return boat tickets cost 31.50 RM per person. In addition to this, there’s also the marine park entrance fee of 10 RM that you pay on arrival to the island.
Whilst the prices seem to all be around the same amount, the difference is in the vessel – if you’re not a fan of the ocean or being on boats, it might pay to ask to see the speedboat first. It didn’t cross our minds to do this and we had the smallest speed boat in the harbour!
Where to go?
As mentioned above, there are several islands to visit and its possible to do 2 or 3 in the one day, depending on how much time you spend at each one. Mamukan, Sapi and Mamutik are the main picks for visitors, and all have facilities for dining and renting of gear.
Any other tips?
We found as the day went on and there was more traffic in the ocean that the visibility of the water was not as good. If you’re visiting for the express purpose of snorkelling, try arriving first thing in the morning to enjoy snorkelling for longer.
If you’re on a budget, it might be best to bring over your own packed lunch and snacks as the established dining options we found were quite expensive – unless you fancy noodles of course!