Tucked in the northernmost tip of Borneo is the quaint town of Kudat. Having only recently been discovered by locals and foreigners, this quaint town is starting to develop as a retreat for travelers alike for its supreme beaches. Due to its isolated region up north of Sabah, Kudat was accessible primarily by boats up until 1960’s when a roadway began construction into the Kudat district. Even then, not many locals and even fewer foreigners were visiting due to the poor conditions of the roads in addition to the rough terrain leading up to Kudat. It was not until the early 1990’s, with the completion of a highway between Kota Kinabalu and Kota Belud, and the upgrading of the road to Kudat that started the increase of visiting locals and foreigners to Kudat.
Home to Sabah’s most traditional tribal group, the Rungus is a sub-group of the native Kadazandusun who inhabit the Kudat district. They still remain the most traditional among the other ethnic groups due to the remote location of Kudat which leads to their lack of exposure to bigger towns and from mainstream development. Although the Rungus have now settled with modern living styles, the elderly still live within their traditional ways and the woman can still be seen wearing traditional brass coils on their arms, and adorned with the vibrant colours of their beaded necklaces. It is these Rungus women who are known for producing some of Sabah’s finest handicrafts such as woven fabrics, beadwork, and fine basketware.
One of the main attractions in Kudat Sabah is the Tip of Borneo. Many have claimed that Sabah is shaped somewhat like a dog’s head, and if that is so, then Kudat is its very pointy left ear. Beautiful secluded beaches line the west coast of Kudat for more than 10km of white sandy shores that lead up to Simpang Mengayau, the Tip of Borneo. With a magnificent cliff view of the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea clashing below dramatic sunsets in the evening time, Kudat is a genuine little town that presents Sabah in its natural beauty. Held annually at the Tip of Borneo is the Sunset Music Festival, a unique outdoor musical event bringing forth local and international acts serenading you against the backdrop of crashing waves and the radiant sun setting on the horizon.
But before arriving at the Tip of Borneo, there are 3 prime pit stops to be made. Located 43 km south from Kudat town, Kg. Gombizau will be the first stop when approaching Kudat town. Kg. Gombizau is an active village producing locally gathered honey. Watch the villagers exhibit how the bees are smoked out of their hives and how the honey is gathered, then bottled and made available for purchases for visitors, at a very reasonable price. Less than a kilometer up from Kampung Gombizau is Kampung Sumangkap, a gong-making village. Either set horizontally in a frame or hung vertically, gongs are a major instrument in the Rungus and Kadazan community, commonly featured in cultural and ethnic celebrations. Here, artisans will demonstrate the making of gongs in various stages beginning with presenting the thick sheets of aluminum alloys used to make gongs. Ranging from tiny souvenirs to giant-sized gongs, visitors can purchase gongs on the spot at the village.
And finally a little further ahead at 41 km from Kudat town is Kampung Bavanggazo, a Traditional Rungus Longhouse. It is built using the same materials used by the Rungus from decades ago. Go for a short visit or stay overnight to get a glimpse into the traditional communal living conditions within a Rungus Longhouse but with the added comforts of modern living with facilities such as showers and toilets. If your visit to Kudat is a little longer than a day, be sure to visit the local markets called Tamu. Weekly Tamu’s are the best way of experiencing the sight, sounds, and smells of Kudat. Expect locally grown vegetables, fruits, and traditional Rungus handicrafts all at reasonable prices. These tamu’s open from as early as 6 am to late afternoons, and varies on operating days according to their respective village. So it’s best to ask your tour guide or the locals nearby for the Tamu days.
Following the growth of visitors to the Kudat District, a number of budget hotels, resorts, guesthouses and backpackers have sprouted at close proximity to the Tip of Borneo and in the town itself. For golf enthusiasts, play a game of golf at one of the oldest golf clubs in Sabah. Established in 1906, the Kudat Golf Club at The Kudat Golf & Marina Resort is acknowledged as one of the oldest golf clubs in Sabah with a membership drive dating back to 1906 that appeared in the British North Borneo Herald. Upgraded in 2002, it is now an 18 hole par-72 course nestled between the waters of Marudu Bay.
In 1752, a British fleet took temporary control of Manila from the colonial Spanish and released the imprisoned Sultan of Sulu. In gratitude, he gave the British control of part of the northern coast of Borneo, together with Banggi and Balambangan Islands. Alexander Dalrymple, an Englishman who has visited Balambangan, conceived the idea of developing the islands as a staging post for the British’s developing trade with China. However, the East India Company refused to meet Dalrymple’s demands for total control over the settlement, as well as a commission on all cargo, so John Herbert was appointed chief of Britain’s first Southeast Asian trading post.
Herbert landed in Balambangan with a couple of vessels in December 1773, building military barracks, a stockade, housing and warehouses. Unfortunately for the East India Company, they choose the wrong man, as Herbert embezzled large sums of money and goods. Furthermore, he mistreated the Suluks who settled there, and eventually, they rebelled, raiding the settlement in 1775, burning it to the ground and making off with cannons, muskets, gold bars, Spanish silver dollars and a huge quantity of goods. Balambangan was reoccupied in 1803 but failed to prosper and was abandoned for the second time in 1805. The discovery of oil by Franz Witti (an explorer hired by the British North Borneo Chartered Company) in the region known as Kampung Minyak (26 km from Kudat Town) was perhaps one of the reasons why the Company chose Kudat as the site for their first settlement.
A group of British landed in the area near the present location of Kudat town in December 1881, together with some Brunei Malays, and began clearing the land. The following year, the British North Borneo Chartered Company (which had bought rights to Sabah from the Sultans of Brunei and Sulu) officially established Kudat as the headquarters of their new settlement, which they named British North Borneo. However, Kudat remained the capital for only two years, when water shortage forced the administration to move to Sandakan.
*History was taken from Sabah Colour Guide, Kudat By Wendy Hutton. Natural History Publications (Borneo) 2003