Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park (or Tunku Abdul Rahman - TAR - Marine Park) is located off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah (Borneo). It is made up of five islands; Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik. As the islands are only a short boat ride away from Kota Kinabalu it is a popular destination among day-trippers (locals and tourists); it can be quite crowded during weekends. There are a few resorts within the marine park, so people can also stay there for a few days. Yearly, well over 300,000 tourists visit the marine park.
"Named after Malaysia's first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, it was gazetted in 1974 as Sabah's second national park."
On this page:
Islands within the marine park
The five islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park are all located within a short boat ride from each other. Gaya and Manukan are the biggest islands within the marine park (though Manukan is tiny compared to Gaya). Both have a few trails for those that like walking through the jungles. Manukan and Sapi are most developed, followed by Gaya. Sulug and Mamutik have almost no facilities. All islands have stunning beaches (though some are more crowded than others, especially during weekends) and all are surrounded by nice dive sites and snorkeling sites. Resorts and basic accommodation can be found at Gaya, Manukan and Mamutik.
"The names of the islands are symbolic of their history and early discoverers. Pulau Gaya means 'big', Manukan means 'fish', Mamutik 'for shell collection', Sapi 'the sound of a mowing buffalo', and Sulug 'commemorating the ancestry of the Sulu peoples of Sabah'."
Best time to visit the marine park
The marine park can be visited throughout the year as there is no real monsoon season in these parts of Borneo. However, between the months of November and February you might experience more rainfall, occasionally rough seas and less visibility under water as a result of the typhoon ‘season’ north of Borneo.
Diving and snorkeling
There are quite a few nice dive spots around the islands within the marine park (well over 25 dive sites in total). Some of the resorts have their own dive center where you can make the necessary arrangements (preferably beforehand). Downbelow Dive Center is based at Pulau Gaya. There are also a few dive centers operating from out of Kota Kinabalu (for example Borneo Divers, Excel Dive Center and Borneo Dream). These dive centers also offer dive trips to nearby islands like Mantanani Island and Tiga Island. Most scuba diving enthusiasts however do not come all the way to Borneo to miss diving around islands like Sipadan and Mabul; where you can find many world renowned dive sites. Still there is some decent diving around the marine park, especially because it is has not been 'discovered' yet as a premier diving destination in Malaysia.
The islands within the marine park are perfect for those that like to do some snorkeling. There are many great snorkeling sites, especially around Manukan Island and Sapi Island. In most cases you will need to make arrangements with local scuba dive operators that will bring you to the best snorkeling sites, though you can always do some snorkeling directly from one of the many public beaches (though conditions are better at the actual snorkeling sites).
Most of the attractions at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park revolve around all that is to discover under water. Diving and snorkeling are the most popular activities; besides sun bathing along the many public beaches that can be found on all of the 5 islands that make up the marine park. Other activities include kayaking, sailing, picnicking, BBQing and beach sports. If you are staying at the biggest island, Pulau Gaya, then you can do some light jungle trekking, as there are over 20km of trails throughout the island. During these treks you might encounter bearded pigs, proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, monitor lizards, hornbills and even a few snake species.
There are three luxurious resorts within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. At Manukan Island you can stay at the wonderful Manukan Island Resort (boats to the resort depart from the Sutera Harbour Resort and the Jesselton Ferry Terminal).
The other two resorts are located at Gaya Island; Gayana Eco Resort and Bunga Raya Island Resort . Both are very exclusive, with private transport to the resorts, and private beaches surrounding the resorts.
Besides the more upmarket choices you can also stay at budget accommodaton (or camp sites) at most of the islands.
- Do not head out to the marine park during bad weather. Especially between November and February seas can be quote rough. Stay safe!
- The local community at the western part of Gaya Island should be avoided as the town mainly consists of illegal immigrants.
- Bring along enough sun lotion and insect repellant (especially the sand flies can be a nuisance).
- Some of the exclusive resorts around Kota Kinabalu offer private day tours to the marine park. This saves you the hassle of heading towards the ferry terminal yourself to get to the islands.
- If you are planning to visit the more secluded islands, be sure to bring along enough water (and perhaps some light snacks) as there are no facilities at these places.
- If you are visiting the marine park in the weekend, make sure you do not take the last boats back to Kota Kinabalu as they can be very crowded! Depart at 3pm instead of 4.30pm.
- There are a few exclusive resorts at the islands where you can stay overnight during your visit. Walk in rates are usually not the best rates, you are better off making reservations beforehand. These resorts often have their own ferry schedule, and the boat trip from Kota Kinabalu is usually included in your package.
- It is possible to camp at some of the islands. You can bring your own tent or rent one. To stay overnight at these camp sites you need to arrange a permit up front at Sabah Parks (see contact details below). When visiting the TAR Marine Park you will notice many tourists feeding bread to the fishes. Do not feed fish with bread as this ruins their eating habits, but also the remaining corals (as people tend to stand on corals to feed fish).
How to get to Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
Boats depart every hour from Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in Kota Kinabalu to the islands within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. There are multiple operators, but all charge the same fixed fee for a return ticket (RM23) to any of the islands within the marine park (excluding a RM7.20 tariff fee per person). Upon arrival at your first destination (in case you are going to do some island-hopping) you will have to pay an environmental conservation fee of RM10 per person (valid for 1 day). You pay a small fee for every next island that you visit, you depart from the jetty that you arrived at; each island has a few of these jetty points. You can also buy 'island hopping' tickets at Jesselton harbor. Children below 12 pay less for boat tickets and entrance fee. First boats to the islands depart at 7.30am, last one at 4.30pm. If you miss the last boat, you have to arrange private transport back to Kota Kinabalu; which will be very expensive compared to the regular fees. A boat ride from Jesselton Harbor to the islands will take about 15 to 20 minutes depending on which island you travel to.
Contact details Sabah Parks HQ
- Lot 45 & 46, Level 1-5
- Block H Signature Office
- KK Times Square Coastal Highway
- 88100 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
- Tel: +6088-486430, 486430, 486432
- Email address: [email protected] / [email protected]
Map of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
Below you can see the exact location of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park on the interactive map (in the middle).