Named after Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the five islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TARP) and their surrounding seas have long been a haven of peace and tranquility. The islands protect the natural vegetation, animals and the underwater gardens of the coral reefs that provide visitors with endless hours of enjoyment. TARP encompasses the islands of Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug . The marine national park is only 20 minutes by boat from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital and is very popular for activities such as sun bathing, BBQ, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing and parasailing which offers visitors a great bird’s eye view of the city and the islands with Mt. Kinabalu as the back drop!
The first historical reference to the islands comes from a native chief, Pengiran Diraup of Menkabong, when he issued rights to fell and collect timber on Gaya to a Mr. White and his colleagues, in 1879. It is not known how much of the island, if indeed any, was affected, as little trace of exploitation remains today. In 1881, the islands were acquired as part of the North Borneo Chartered Company, which in 1898 started a small settlement on the eastern tip of Gaya Island, outside the present Park boundary and where now there is a thriving fishing community. After only two turbulent years, and when the need for a deep water port came up, Gaya was abandoned and the Chartered Company established Jesselton, (now Kota Kinabalu). The islands are left largely undisturbed, and in 1974 the government gazetted the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park as Sabah’s second National Park.
By far the largest of the islands, Pulau Gaya has many secluded bays and sandy beaches, most of which are unfrequented and un-named. Two are especially popular: Bulijong Bay or Police Beach is a semi-circular bay on the northern side of Gaya, where it is possible to camp overnight. Camp Bay on Gaya’s southern side is the side of the former Park Headquarters and the starting point for most of the trails on Gaya, though the bay itself is too shallow for comfortable swimming. The forest trail system of 13 miles covers most of the island, and an interesting boardwalk through a small mangrove forest is only a few minutes from Camp Bay.
If you are looking for a quite and lazy day on a deserted beach then this will be a great island to visit. Water at Police Beach is crystal clear, up to 50 feet and it is a great place to dive and snorkel. Please remember to bring your own food and drinks/swimming gear/snorkeling gear as none are available on the island. Alternatively you can hire them from your tour operator or your hotel before your trip.
A sand-bar connects Sapi Island to the largest island in the TAR Park, Gaya Island, and it is possible to walk across in shallow water at very low tides. This is also one of the best spots for swimming and picnicking and it is very popular for island BBQ tours. Sapi Island is the most interesting island when it comes to corals and the island is a favourite spot for ‘discover SCUBA’ and other diving courses. Otherwise the island is offers a rather quiet retreat and it is not as crowded as Manukan Island.
They are no overnight facilities available on this island but during week-ends light refreshments are sold, and snorkelling gear is available for rent. Please also make sure that you don’t leave your clothing or belongings near the edge of the forest as Monkeys are reputed to run away which many items, including sun glasses!
Manukan was the site of an old stone quarry before WWII and the remains of the old manager’s house and some old graves can still be seen. It is now the site of the Park Headquarters. They were moved form Camp Bay on Gaya Island a few years ago.
Manukan Island is the island with the most complete facilities: tropical timber chalets, restaurants, swimming pool, tennis court and a marine exhibition centre. Snorkelling equipment hire and water sports, as well as daily beach BBQ’s are also available.
Manukan Island is the most visited island in the TAR Park, and it is popular with locals and foreign visitors alike. One of the star attractions and must see on Manukan Island is the fish feeding at the jetty where large school of fishes have made their home. You can even snorkel and dive amongst the fish here! There is a 1.5 km paved trail right to the tip of the island. You pass through tropical forest and enjoy a different view of Kota Kinabalu
his is the smallest island in the TAR Park, and the nearest island to Kota Kinabalu. From here popular day-dive trips are organised, and you can learn SCUBA diving. There are no overnight facilities are on this island. A trail leading to the top of the island gives a good view over the surrounding seas and reefs.
Sulug Island is a small round rocky island with one long sand-spit facing east. It is a good swimming spot, but the island only offers the most basic facilities (changing rooms and washrooms). Sulug is located furthest from town, but for those seeking a truly quiet place Sulug will be the choice!
Reefs fringe all the islands, especially on the sheltered eastern and southern sides where the sandy beaches slope gradually into the water to the reef drop-off. Pink-and-green Parrot fish, the Turquoise Moon Wrasse and Butterfly fish in all combinations of colours are available as are Clown fish, sea cucumbers and star fish. TARP is a great place to begin your diving experience as a training ground to the ultimate diving place – Sipadan Island.
PLANTS & ANIMALS
The plants of Pulau Gaya reflect the connection of the island to the mainland. Gaya Island today remains one of the few areas of largely undisturbed coastal dipterocarp forests left in Sabah. On the other islands, most of the vegetation is old secondary forest. On Gaya Island, a plank walk has been laid across an inlet of mangrove trees which allows visitors to a closer look at the botanical curiosities and their adaptations to a watery existence. The occasional Pangolin or Scaly anteater, monkey or wild boar may be seen along the trails and quiet picnickers may be visited by large monitor lizards in search of a few scraps, but there is no great variety in the animal life on the islands themselves. Bird life is similar to that of the mainland coast, though there are some special species of note.
There are currently three resorts occupying the eastern side of Gaya Island. Gayana Eco Resort is a collection of villas built over water and has its own Marine Ecological Research Centre. The more upscale Bunga Raya Resort & Spa is located in a more secluded corner of the island offering blissful tranquility and luxury of its well-appointed chalets with jaw-dropping vistas of the ocean. The Gaya Island Resort (YTL Luxury Resorts) is a relative new resort which was open in mid 2012.
Reaching there is easy via Jesselton Jetty Point, Sutera Harbour Resort or Shangri-La Tg Aru Resort. Ports operating in front of Main Market, Filipino Market and Hyatt Hotel are no longer available.