Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park by Herman (March 2003, updated 01/07)

Short: The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park (TAR) is off the shores of Kota Kinabalu, some 20 minutes by speed-boat. Established in 1974 it comprises five islands in a 49 km˛ marine national park.  


Sea, Sun and... just 20 minutes from KK!

The Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park was established in 1974, just offshore Kota Kinabalu or some 20 minutes by speed-boat. The park was named after the Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Within its 49 square kilometres, of which two-thirds are sea and coral reefs there are five islands, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik, Pulau Suluk, Pulau Sapi and Pulau Gaya.

Pulau Gaya

Pulau Gaya derives its name from the Bajau word "gayo," meaning ‘big.’ The island occupies an area of 15km˛ (3,700 acres) and an elevation of 300 meters. Several ridges, rising more than 600 feet (180 m) and peaking at 1,000 feet (300 m), form the backbone of Pulau Gaya. It is the largest island of the park, closest to downtown KK and is covered with dense virgin tropical forest. It has been a forest reserve since 1923. The island has a Marine Ecology Research Centre, hiking trails and one resort built on stilts. The island also hosts very large stilt villages, the biggest of them located just opposite the KK waterfront. The villages are mainly occupied by illegal immigrants and are not considered a tourist attraction! 

The major beach area in Gaya is located at Police Bay, a quarter mile of white sand gently sloping out to the sea and making it ideal for swimming in the crystal clear water. Where the coral reefs have not been damaged by commercial and other human activities they are in excellent condition.

Pulau Manukan

Pulau Manukan is the second largest island in the park, and the most popular with Kota Kinabalu residents since KK has no beach of its own despite its location right on the South China Sea. Offshore of Manukan are coral reefs ideal for snorkelling, diving and swimming. There are restaurants with excellent food, fine overnight facilities and other beach-related activities on the island, such as jet-ski, parasailing, banana boat rides and more, and over week-ends the place is positively crowded with local tourists.

There is also a small but interesting Marine Museum well worth a visit.

Pulau Sapi, Mamutik and Suluk

Sapi is the smallest of all the islands within the park, with basic facilities (changing rooms, showers and toilets, BBQ pits). It used to be a popular venue for those wanting to escape the week-end crowds of Manukan but the island has been discovered by major hotels as an ideal venue for beach BBQs. Thus the island can be overrun with Taiwanese.

Suluk Island offers now the best option for those who want to escape it all and experience a little bit of that ‘Robinson Crusoe feeling’. As with Sapi there are only the most basic necessities on the island, and one can camp overnight but has to be aware of the thievish long tail macaques and giant monitor lizards that tend to go through the visitors’ possessions in search of anything edible.

Pulau Mamutik is now almost exclusively for divers. A local dive operator runs SCUBA diving from the island, an ideal spot because of its pristine coral reefs and drops.

How to Get to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park & Accommodation

By speedboat (chartered or shuttle), from the KK Jetty at the northern end of KK. Accommodation on the island should be pre-booked through Sutera Sanctuary Lodges but since SSL has taken over the chalets and rooms they have been refurbished and provide an excellent alternative to town hotels.


three of the five islands

a little paradise...

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Note: while every care has been taken in compiling the above information the Flying Dusun Sdn Bhd, its authors and associates cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracy, omission or alteration that may occur. Please contact us or the respective authors for further details and confirmation of facts and figures. © The Flying Dusun Sdn Bhd, 2005-2006; all rights reserved; reproduction in whole or in part without written permission strictly prohibited. 


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