Kota Kinabalu (KK) was our bridging stay between the wild of Kurakura and the wild of the upcoming Sepilok region. While we parked in KK, one of the big “must-do” items for B and the boys was ISLAND HOPPING.
We had read all about the fantastic diving/snorkelling spots around Sabah. We were warned, however, to avoid as many of the heavy tourist destinations – but that is pretty hard around KK.
The islands off KK are part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. It comprises of five recognised islands – Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik, and Sulug. The diving and snorkelling is supposed to be pretty good around here, but the touristy feel stretches to the islands as well. Gaya is HUGE with its own resort, and Manukan is pretty developed as well. We decided to chance it with two of the smaller islands – Mamutik and Sapi.
We headed to the jetty, hoping to find a group called Beach Bums who (reportedly – from many travel forums) hire out sailing boats by the hour. Unfortunately, we had no luck finding them – we only found ourselves in the usual hub of tourists looking for boats to get out for the day. Alas, we purchased our standard tickets for speedboats and headed out.
The islands are beautiful, and the day was fantastic for being out in the water. A little hazy, but both heat and humidity were moderate. They even have real beaches, akin to Australia (not like the beach we found in the Cinque Terre region of Italy – pebble?!?)
But the snorkelling – it was not all it had been hyped up to be. A lot of the designated areas allowed for snorkelling had been trodden on a fair bit; the visibility was fairly average in an area said to have crystal clear water. N’s camera was a water-proof kids camera so even though the quality of the images isn’t going to be top-range, the photos here are pretty spot-on to give you an idea.
We started on Mamutik, the larger of the two. It has a number of designated snorkelling and diving areas. You can attempt other areas but with a few “no go” zones scattered around the island, you better make sure you know exactly where you are going at all times. They have some pretty hefty penalties involved – including escorting off the island.
Mamutik also has a “day-tripper” feel to it. A number of the resorts have Mamutik as THEIR island for their guests. Tired of luxury by the pool or the air-conditioned comfort of your villa? Why not join a small group of guests on one of the many islands! I was lucky enough to chat to a few, including one family with kids the same age as ours. The mother was stunned that non-resort guests were allowed on the island with them. The father was more interested in how we were “roughing” it in the streets. Even though I explained many times how we were staying in a very nice hotel, he was more surprised we were willing to “risk our children’s health” by eating with street vendors and markets. That was until he realised we were spending the same amount per day that he was spending on one small family meal. And our kids were eating more.
After lunch we moved on to Sapi – it also has a little kiosk for food and drink, but I was very glad to have brought some of our own. Sapi’s snorkelling areas did have better visibility and fewer people there, but as the sun was going down it did tend to lose some of its ‘sparkle’. By this stage, N had finally started showing an interest in the water, but B and I were starting to tire.
My biggest problem with this part of the holiday is that I spent my childhood Summers in North Queensland. Yes, I even had a cool grandfather with a boat to take us out to the Whitsunday Islands for fishing and swimming. Though, his attempts to teach me to snorkel were in vain – and probably what stopped him from teaching me how to surf. With these memories in mind, I was disappointed that the boys’ first experience wasn’t as outstanding. The Islands around KK are nice, but if you have the opportunity to snorkel around the Whitsunday Islands in Australia, do that instead.
Nevertheless, S had his first taste of snorkelling – riding on B’s back as they went searching for marine life. We all took turns with the camera and made the most of our island hopping experience.
Tips for future travellers: If you walk South of the jetty, back towards the markets, you will find another grouping of boats. The next night after our island-hopping, B had a wander down here and is almost certain he found the “locals jetty”, rather than the tourist hub. After speaking to a few other regular travellers in the area, this is the place you will find local boat operators willing to take you out the islands cheaper than the others, and possible with a more scenic tour thrown in. However, when negotiating, make sure you arrange for one of them to come and collect you at the right time and place.