When I imagine an island paradise I picture clear turquoise water teeming with sea-life and lush tropical vegetation, lazy days spent snorkeling and enjoying fresh seafood feasts with ocean views.
The islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park do a good job of ticking all those boxes, with the convenience of being only a a short 15 minute boat ride away from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital.
Kitted out in our life jackets and with snorkeling gear in hand, we set of from the Sutera Harbour Marina just a short stroll from our hotel, The Magellan Sutera Resort.
After cruising past all the luxury yachts berthed in the harbour the speed boat driver let rip and we were off on an exhilarating island hopping adventure! It was one of the highlights of our trip in Sabah, Malaysia.
Some may find the ride a bit bumpy (maybe take some Kwells if you are prone to motion sickness), but as you can see in the video, we had a blast, and just like an amusement park ride, laughed and squealed the whole way.
There are five islands in total located within the protected marine park area, with the most accessible and convenient for day tripping being Manukan, Sapi and Gaya, which were the islands we visited.
If you are keen to trek off the beaten path try Sulug and Mamutik islands, they have fewer facilities but the upside of this is less crowds, which means you may get a beach all to yourself if you are lucky.
While many visitors are happy to go for a relaxing swim, enjoy a family picnic and soak up the sun on the beach, we had some more adventurous activities in mind.
Be adventurous and ride the Coral Flyer Zip-Line (temporarily closed)
Emma was a bit nervous about the idea, but the opportunity to experience the world’s longest island-to-island zip-line was too tempting to pass up.
The Coral Flyer (temporarily closed) is 250 meters long and takes you from Gaya Island to Sapi Island, our guide Roland, from Borneo Trails, purchased our tickets on Sapi Island before we took a transfer boat to Gaya Island where the zip-line starts.
Tips for riding the Coral Flyer Zip-Line (temporarily closed)
- Purchase tickets at the entrance counter on Sapi Island. Visit the ticket office first as time slots fill up fast on busy days.
- Boat transfer from Sapi Island to Gaya Island is included in the price.
- Minimum weight for a solo ride is 40kg, children below that weight can ride in tandem with a parent.
- Maximum weight for a ride (solo or tandem) is 120kg
- Wear shorts, leggings or pants as you need to wear a hefty harness over your legs.
- There is a bit of an uphill trek to reach the zip-line platform so I recommend wearing sneakers or sporty sandals as opposed to thongs (flip flops), which are hard to climb in and also may fall off during your ride.
- If you have bags or other gear, lockers are available on Sapi Island.
- Small cameras are allowed but make sure you have a wrist strap for safety just in case it slips.
- Enjoy the ride!
Apparently we’ve joined the ranks of some other famous Coral Flyers including Sir David Attenborough, Bear Grylls and HRH Prince William and Kate! I wonder if Kate squealed as much as I did.
After harnessing up (and getting thoroughly safety checked) we trekked up to the zip-line platform. Time for more safety checks and then it was time to go. Because Emma was under 40kg, we rode tandem. Watch the video and you can see Emma was a bit nervous, but she relaxed about halfway though, and in the end was ready to do it again.
I have no issue with heights and absolutely loved every second of the ride. The views over the water were pretty spectacular, but it was over way too quickly for me, (although if heights aren’t your thing, the 40 second ride may be way too long for you).
The one down-side is the harness can be a bit uncomfortable and as the brakes kick in at the end of the line, you may or may not (but you totally will) get a major wedgie!
We enjoyed our walk back to the pier, it gave us an opportunity to explore some of the jungle trails. There are walking trails on all of the islands, you may even spot some of the local wildlife if you are lucky. We encountered a very large monitor lizard on Manukan Island.
Beach fun, Snorkeling & Barbecue Lunch
I was dying for a swim after all that climbing, zipping and trekking. Another boat ride and this time we arrived at our third island for the day Manukan Island.
Manukan Island, was quite busy as it’s better geared to accommodate day trippers with lots of water activities on offer as well as restaurants and toilets/change rooms. If you walk a little further away from the main pier you can still find your own quite patch of beach to enjoy.
I had a little snorkel but sadly the visibility was not as clear as usual as there had been some recent storms which churned up fine sand and sediment.
Emma didn’t come out with me in the end because the whole ‘breathing through the snorkel’ thing made her anxious, we may need to practice in the pool before our next trip.
There were still plenty of colourful fish around, but not much coral in the shallow areas. The deeper water was much clearer, but with Emma playing on the beach, I stuck to the shallows so I could keep an eye on her.
There were so many fish swimming around the pier, it was tempting to jump in right there.
A barbeque seafood lunch was included in our tour, and it was super tasty. There was a selection of local style seafood dishes with an assortment of homemade sambals. The chilli crab was so good!
If you aren’t a fan of seafood there was also assorted vegetable dishes and chicken skewers. Desert was fresh fruit and coconut & melon puddings.
Check availability and book your full day snorkeling tour below
Exhausted from snorkeling, and with full bellies, it was time to hitch a boat back home. The last boats leave at around 4.30, but plan to leave a little earlier if you want to avoid the rush. We headed home around 1.30ish because we had afternoon plans.
This sweet couple from China were on their honeymoon and taking some wedding photos on the island. The poor things must have been boiling, but I bet they got some great photos.
We ended up sharing a boat back to the harbour together and I got chatting to them. A selfie was required!
What a great way to end an action packed day.
We packed a lot into half a day excursion, next time I’d love to stay on one of the resorts located on the islands.
There are three resorts in total that all look very luxurious, imagine having the whole place to yourself after the boats leave at the end of the day. Camping is also allowed on the islands if you are into roughing it.
I’d highly recommend a trip out to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park for a mini tropical island escape, or adventure! Relax on a beach or zip-line over the sea, the adrenaline level is up to you.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park Island Hopping
GETTING THERE: The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is accessible via 15 – 20 minutes speedboat ride from Kota Kinabalu.
Boats depart every hour from Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in Kota Kinabalu or Sutera Harbour Marina.
WHEN: The Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is open daily from 8.30am to 5pm. Take note of when the last boat leaves (usually around 4.30pm) miss the boat you’ll have to arrange private transport or camp overnight! The last boats can get very crowded (especially on weekends), aim to head back around 3pm to avoid the crowds.
Best time to visit is in calm weather from around March – October.
HOW MUCH: Boat transfers for one island can be purchased in person from the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal, prices start at Adult/Child RMB 35/30. View the schedule and price list.
Island hopping tickets and private charter boat tours are also available.
Each island also has an admission fee
Adult/Child: RM5/RM3 for Malaysians and RM20/RM15 for Non-Malaysians
WHEN: Temporarily closed, Tickets from Sapi Island Jetty