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.
The largest amongst the island group is Pulau Gaya at 15sq km of untouched dense rainforest on which there is a small settlement of locals who have built wooden housing over the coastal edges while the rest is pristine jungle.
Gaya Island boasts some of the best coral and un-spoilt beaches in the entire park.
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.
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). 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).
It is best to try and go to these islands during the week as the islands are a popular destination for locals and it can get busy during the weekend. The further the island is that you visit the less amenities on the island and also the more secluded. An alternative that avoids the hassle and expense of staying on the islands is to stay in Kota Kinabalu and head over to the islands on day trips. If don't want to face the crowds then pre-book your trip with one of the operators below.
Sulug is the least developed of the isles with no facilities whatsoever, visitors can opt to camp if they wish to stay overnight. The island is inhabited and dive operators have daily trips there for diving off the corals on the northern shore as it is one of the best site around in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.
Mamutik island is also rather underdeveloped but is still accessible by jetty. Basic amenities like public toilet and shower are available. Chalets can be arranged with Sabah Parks if you don't wish to camp. This little island of slightly bigger than a football field is very diver friendly as it's ideal for shore dives, but due to the recent influx of the tourist hordes to this island, the shallow coral areas have mostly been trampled. Nevertheless, open water dive courses are conducted here with visibility ranging from 4 - 10m. PADI Instructor Examinations are also conducted here. Lifeguards are on patrol during the day. Bring along insect repellent, sandflies are a nuisance!. Gear up and walk to the shore for a dive!
Manukan is one of the most developed islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park due to it's 1km stretch of white sandy beach and pine-tree lined shores. Sutera Sanctuary Lodges have expensive beach and hill-side chalets here for rent, as well as a covered restaurant and a daily beach BBQ buffet spread. Other facilities include a snorkelling equipment rental hut, a small sundry shop, changing rooms. toilets and Scubadoo underwater scooters. Life guards are on duty on the main beach where there are also wooden tables and chairs for picnics. During the holiday season the island can get quite crowded, but makes for interesting people watching. Shallow water corals have all but been destroyed by stampeding holiday makers, but in deeper water and near the jetty area there are still vibrant fish life to be found. For those interested in hiking, there is a 1.5km "jungle trek" paved walking path which starts from the base of the dock, and leads hikers through the forest to the opposite end of the island. From the end, you can either turn back or clamber down an unmarked path to the beach below. It is possible to walk along the south side of the island all the way back to the dock and the main beach if you don't mind climbing over a lot of rocks (accessibility may depend on the tides; use your best judgment).
Sapi is like Manukan, but smaller and is the second most developed and popular island in the park. It has basic restaurant facilities, toilets, snorkelling equipment rental and a few representative stands for water sports agents. Shallow water snorkelling offers some excitement, especially as the fish react favourably to tourists who usually feed them bread. There is a sand bank to the north of the island, which, at low tide, makes it possible to cross over to the south western tip of Gaya island.
Gaya Island is undergoing some development on it's northern shores, and boasts 2 exclusive, upmarket resorts with a further two in early construction stages. Sabah Parks headquarters are further to the south-western, unspoiled part of Gaya island. Sabah Parks HQ and Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventures are set in a secluded bay with diving, snorkelling, jungle trekking, wildlife spotting and team building facilities. Gaya has a vibrant eco system both above and below the surface, lots of fauna and flora and beaches which boast no sand flies. Due to it's seclusion the island is not overrun by tourists and thus has beautiful, unspoiled corals near the shore. As it is not such a major tourist destination Gaya is the most difficult island to reach. 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.
Marine Ecology Research Center is located in the Gayana-Eco-Resort. The program focuses on Giant Clam propagation and coral restoration. The Marine Biologists at the MERC offers insights to visitors to help create awareness on the importance of taking care of the environment. The MERC is open to the public for day trip visits.
Marine informative museum is also found here and options for those not inclined to swim in the sea can opt for swimming in the pool or take a hike along the nature trail.
Water sports including boat and beach toy rentals are available on Manukan, Mamutik and Sapi.
Scuba diving & Snorkeling is offered on all of the islands, but Sapi & Mamutik are now the busiest. Diving is offered by the several dive centers offering certification courses like PADI, SDI, Scuba :School International and open water beginner courses. Coral beds and marine flora is abundant here and dive spots can be found along all the designated dive sites in the Park. Several dive operators with offices in Tanjung Aru Plaza, Wisma Sabah, Plaza Tanjung Aru & KK TIMES Square (South KK) in Kota Kinabalu organize day dive boat trips to these islands. During late January - mid March the diving conditions in TARP can be impacted by plankton blooms and jelly fish.
There are 2 full service Dive Centres providing services to TARP: Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventures, based on Gaya Island, and Borneo Dream based in Kota Kinabalu). Both centres have good access to the surrounding dive sites.
Borneo Dream, F-G-1 Plaza Tanjung Aru, Jl. Mat Salleh, ☎ 60 17 811 8149 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +60 88 244 931), . A boat transfer service is available to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park for snorkelling or diving trips. Over 20 sites for diving and protected areas for snorkelling. Suitable for day trips. Goes to four of the main wreck dive sites on a regular basis. PADI Dive Boat, 10mx4m catamaran and a 9mx3m RIB, SDI resort dive centre, BSAC diver training centre, TDI resort dive centre and IANTD facility. Also offer SCR courses and training certified via the PADI with both a semi closed rebreather diver speciality course and closed circuit rebreather (CCR) training courses.edit
Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventures (DiveDownbelow), Gaya Island (Based on Gaya Island at the Beach House, nearby to the Sabah Parks HQ), ☎ +60 12 866 1935, +60 88 232 375, . PADI 5 Star IDC Dive & Adventures Centre, PADI enriched air Nitrox diver courses. Offer structured and guided snorkelling, sea kayaking and trekking. Can accommodate very large groups for team building events and adventure training. Camping ground nearby with basic toilets and showers for guests. 3 dive boats, 37ft, 35ft & 32ft. Programs include a free pick up from Kota Kinabalu city hotelsedit
Gayana Resort  catering to tourists wishing to stay the night and enjoy the excursion in Gaya or island hop to the other islands. is built on stilts and is sited in a bay on the island and offer chalet style accommodations complete with restaurant, souvenir shops and conference facilities.
Manukan Island Resort  For the avid diver, the reefs at Manukan Island offers excellent crystal water and beautiful corals. For those who want to enjoy the scenery, take a leisurely stroll along the nature trail or simply laze by the long stretch of beautiful beach.
Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa is the award winning property that sits on Gaya Island. With 52 timbered villas that sits over the hills of Police Bay.
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. 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.