By Catharine Goh
Popular tourist spot in Sabah, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
, is a cluster of islands which is only about 10 to 20 minutes speedboat ride from the capital city of Kota Kinabalu.
The five islands, comprising Gaya island
, Sapi island
, Manukan island
, Mamutik island
and Sulug island
, are characterised by shallow waters, sump-tuous coral gardens and all boast splendid white sandy beaches.
While the reefs lie in shallow waters with little current making it an ideal location for novice divers, the diverse and sometimes rare marine creatures also make it an interesting dive location for experienced divers and underwater photographers.
Along the sandy seabed a good variety of marine life can be found such as Scorpion fish, Blue-spotted rays, cuttlefish, mantis shrimps and the occasional green or hawksbill turtle. At some locations, rare creatures such as harlequin ghost pipefish and mandarin fish can be found especially with the help from local dive guides.
A popular tourist spot, especially in view of the "Visit Malaysia 2007 " programme, an increase number of tourists are expected to visit it in comparison to more than 150,000 tourists visited the islands, including about 90,000 to Sapi Island from January to October last year.
A State Park created to protect the natural environment, including the coral reefs, marine life, the fauna and flora, there is however, a need to be extra careful in the wake of the two recent drownings, involving tourists from South Korea and Japan, off Sapi Island.
Although sited between three-eight km from Kota Kinabalu, the Sabah government has requested all tour operators to prioritise safety aspects when taking tourists to resort islands, especially scenic islands within the Park.
To dive in the marine park a tourist must contact one of the local dive centres based in Kota Kinabalu who also offer a full variety of PADI courses ranging from Discover Scuba to Instructor.
Sabah Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Karim Bujang says this is part of the precautionary measures taken by his ministry to ensure the safety of tourists visiting the islands.
"They (tour operators) were the ones who brought tourists to the islands and to a certain extent, they were equally responsible. Of course, nobody wants such tragedy to happen but it just happened," he discloses.
In fact during the cooler months from November to February, plankton blooms attract krill which in turn attract whale sharks, the world's largest fish.
At times, the density of the krill can be so thick in these murky conditions underwater encounters with these colossal animals can be exciting as they suddenly appear out of the gloom.
Back in the city, the discerning visitor can also have a scenic view from the Signal Hill Observatory Platform. Signal Hill, the highest point in the city, is one of the best places to get a good view of Kota Kinabalu.
Just a couple of minutes drive from Padang Merdeka will bring you to the airy deck where amazing views that extend to the outlying islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and further can be seen.Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin