Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

The 5 small islands that make up Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park can be reached from the jetty in downtown Kota Kinabalu by a 30 minute boat ride, just pick one of the 8(!) somewhat chaotic boat companies and wait for their next boat.

Me at the western tip of Manukan

The 4 smaller islands have good beaches and are are very popular with day trippers from the city, especially on weekends. Most people come to relax on the beach or for some snorkeling. There are showers, changing rooms and basic restaurants on all of them and at least 2 have a small scuba diving base. You can also rent snorkels, masks and fins. While the sand on the beaches is great, the water is very shallow and the ground is a bit rocky which can be annoying, especially at low tide. Sea urchins hide between the corals so watch out. The water is pretty clear and the coral and snorkeling are ok, but many corals are damaged and if you watch people you‘ll know why.

We visited 3 of the islands: Manukan, Manutik and Sapi. Sapi and Manutik are very small and the trails on them are only a few hundred meters long, but still we encountered three water monitor lizards on the trail at Manutik, two of which were about 2m long and really impressive.

juvenile water monitor at the beach, Sapi

Bees and South China Sea, Manukan

We liked Manukan best. This island is larger with good snorkeling at one spot (south of the eastern tip) and deeper water without rocks near the jetty that allows for swimming without worrying about crashing into corals. It also has a good 1.5km jungle trail to a view point at the western tip. Park staff said the trail was closed and we had to take the paved jogging trail to the viewpoint. Accidentally we still took the trail on our way there and I have no idea why it should be closed. It was a good and interesting but very hot trail through spiky palm trees (Sago palms I guess) and we encountered another monitor lizard on it. Watch out for the large bee hive on an overhanging tree about 1km into the trail, it’s in the first spot that allows an open view of the South China Sea, towards the north. On the way back we took the paved jogging trail which was less interesting.

Water monitor in the jungle, Manukan