Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (or TAR Marine Park) is a park off the coast of the island of Borneo in Malaysia made up of five islands: 5 islands: Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik. All islands are very popular among tourists from Kota Kinabalu, due to their close proximity to the city.
The marine park is under the administration of the Sabah Parks authority which has the mandate to oversee designated protected areas and ensure their maintenance and upkeep as reserves while catering to tourists wanting to enjoy the natural beauty that Sabah has to offer. Unfortunately, due to the high amounts of tourists that visit the islands every day, the once pristine coral has been damaged on all islands, and rubbish from the city and tourists alike is scattered along those beaches which are not cleaned on a regular basis.
The largest amongst the island group is Pulau Gaya at 15sq km of relatively untouched dense rainforest on which there is a small settlement of locals who have built wooden housing over the coastal edges just outside the national park boundaries, while the rest is pristine jungle.
Gaya Island used to boast some of the best coral and un-spoilt beaches in the entire park, but this is no longer the case as of November 2016.
All five islands are hilly and forested, with a mixture of rocky coastlines and white sand beaches. They are located closely together, well within sight of each other and of the Kota Kinabalu city on the mainland. Gaya is by far the largest of the islands, with Manukan coming in at a distant second, the remaining three are very small.
Flora and fauna
The TARP (Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park) islands are home to some areas of old growth forest. The Dipterocarpaceae family of tropical lowland rainforest trees can be found especially on the Gaya Island, the biggest of the group of five TARP islands. Tongkat Ali, a small everred treelet growing to 15m and Eucalyptus trees can be found on a nature walk within the islands. Mangrove trees also make up an important part of the coastal ecosystem within the park.
The Marine Park also has diverse wildlife. Some of the islands are home to wild boars, long-tailed macaques, monitor lizards and proboscis monkeys (found on Gaya island), although these are difficult to spot. Also on Gaya island, you are likely to find green pit viper and the yellow banded mangrove snake. An albino python has also been seen there.
Travel to the TAR Marine Park is easy as hourly speedboat rides can be caught at the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in the northern end of Kota Kinabalu, along Jalan Fuad Stephens. Once inside the terminal, pick from one of the tour boat companies who will all call out for your attention. Prices are fixed: It costs RM17 per person for each island visited (return to Jesselton Point included). A compulsory Tariff Fee of RM6 per person must also be paid at the Jesselton Point Terminal before departing. A RM10 per person Environmental Conservation Fee is payable upon arrival to the first island of the day visited (some unscrupulous vendors collect the RM10 fee prior to departure, pocketing the money). Each additional island you want to visit will cost an extra RM17 pp. Boats depart every hour to the island of your choice, with earliest departure at 7:30AM and last departure at 4:30PM. The last return boats are at 5PM. You can choose to spend as little as an hour on one island, or all day, or hop in between islands depending on how many trips you purchase at the terminal. The trip takes 15-20 minutes depending on the island. For unscheduled trips, you can charter a boat starting at about RM200 (though you may be able to bargain it down).
The islands are very popular among tourists on every day of the week, and among locals on weekends. The further the island is that you visit the less amenities on the island and also the more secluded, although all are busy during the day and beaches can be crowded. It is possible to stay on the islands as well to enjoy more quiet beaches in the morning hours, although this is somewhat expensive.
Sabah Parks diving permits are RM 50 for Non-Malaysians and RM 20 for Malaysians. Islanda conservation fee is RM 10 for adults.
The Gayana Resort and the dive operator will arrange for their customers' transport. Gayana's scheduled boats are for customers only, but if you aren't staying the night, you can by a "day package" for RM60 (ask about it in the Gayana Resort office on the second floor of the ticketing hall at Jesselton Point). Otherwise, you may have to arrange your own boat. To avoid charter prices (RM200+), try arriving early in the morning or with a group.
If wishing to travel to Sulug, Gaya and other islands please ensure you check with authoritative and reliable sources as to the safety of the trip prior to booking. The waters surrounding the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park can be subject to extreme weather events, especially in the middle of the Monsoon season when the seas may become quite rough.
You can stay on 3 of the islands, either camping or staying in lodges.
As always, swimmers should be careful of dangerous ocean creatures, especially jellyfish. The park authority posts warning signs during jellyfish season. Most jellyfish in the area will cause nothing more than a painful sting, but deadly box jellyfish have also been reported on rare occasions, and there is at least one reported case of a child dying from box jellyfish stings in the park. Jellyfish stings should be rinsed with seawater then treated with vinegar, if it is available. If you are stung by a box jellyfish, seek immediate medical attention, and they are known to be fatal.
The eastern tip of Gaya Island, directly opposite the city of Kota Kinabalu, is populated by a floating colony of mostly illegal immigrants. This part of the island is locally considered to be a dangerous area due to a high risk of crime or even abductions. Most other locations on Gaya Island, however, including the Gayana Resort, Police Beach, and the dive center, are far from this part of the island, so you shouldn't have any problems.
Unless you are spending the night on the islands, or have chartered a boat, the last boats back to the city leave at 5PM. Be on time, because the boat operators will charge you a large fee for after hours pickups.