Saturday, December 04, 2010

Mataking Island is full of delights

Mataking Island is indeed full of royal delights.

A 45-minute speedboat- ride from Semporna in eastern Sabah, crossing aquamarine seas and passing by sea gypsy villages on stilts, brings me to the warm embrace of a welcome band on the jetty of the Reef Dive Resort, Mataking Island.

While having my buffet lunch, which included a delightfully fragrant rosemary roast chicken, I am asked by the staff to add one more aroma from a choice of lemongrass, avocado, passion fruit, chempaka flower or frangipani. Not to the food of course; rather which oil I want to infuse my villa with.

My first dive here is led by Luke Cox, resort manager and master scuba instructor, who warns me to look out for Charlie, the 2m-long resident barracuda.

“The house reef is his feeding ground,” smiles Cox. “After eating, he hangs around, and smaller wrasse clean his teeth for him. At night, he sleeps underneath the jetty. He eats, gets cleaned and sleeps, what a life!”

It has been seven years since I first came to Mataking, and the house reef has indeed grown with both coral and fish life. Clouds of damsel and razor fish, plus an assortment of groupers and unicorn fish, greet me soon after entry into the blue waters made brilliant beneath the afternoon sun. But these are just the warm-up for some 400 silvery jacks closely packed into a stunningly shimmery formation.

And under the jetty’s shade, there are more rich pickings — bat and butterfly fish, groupers and yet more jacks. What’s also interesting here is that the numerous concrete Reef Balls (aimed at encouraging coral growth), placed here about four years ago, are showing encouraging signs of coral growth.

Diving is just part of the attraction here. The island lies on the very edge of Sabah’s waters, close to the marine border with the Philippines, and truly has an “away from it all” feeling. On past trips, I had walked around the whole island in under an hour and felt as if I was a ship-wrecked Robinson Crusoe.

This time, after my dive, I take a 10 minute stroll to the island’s tip and am surrounded on three sides by gently lapping waves, the perfect place to just breathe, listen and BE.

I return there a few hours later after dinner and feel as if Moses had parted the Red Sea, as a sinuous sandbar has magically emerged at low tide, creating a natural causeway to the adjacent small island of Mataking Kecil.

The sea is now grey and strangely silent, seemingly asleep in mirror-like tranquillity as it is bathed in the soft glow of a full moon . . .

My dive the next morning is at a site called Frog Fish Farm. Amelia Ng, the resident marine biologist who doubles up as a dive master, leads us to see two lobsters with 1m long antennae, two moray eels and a turtle. She has a knack for spotting impossibly small sea critters camouflaged amidst soft corals, such as several 1cm-wide orang utan crabs, so named for their orange “hair”.

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