Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bitten By The Travel Bug: An Island Day Trip Close to Kota Kinabalu - Sepanggar Island

Fishermen walked past me, tourists with large bags and brightly coloured bathers wandered past me and boats at Jesselton Point began to fill; all heading to different islands in search of sun, snorkelling or sleep (yes, there are hotels on some of the islands just off Kota Kinabalu!). I was people watching, picking up freshly baked Malaysian delights and a fresh coconut on the way.

Sabahan’s are known for being relaxed and easy-going. After a few weeks travelling through Indonesia, it was nice to be told that the only thing I had to do was “relax and enjoy life“. I was off in search of some quality island time at Mari Mari Sepanggar Island.

Welcome to Mari Mari Sepanggar Island

Set a 15-minute boat ride from Jesselton Point, you’ll be docking at Sepanggar Island. This private island has recently been opened to the public who come through local business, Mari Mari who also run lodging on Sepanggar Island and nearby Mantanani Island.

Each day, just a few dozen people are allowed to visit the island. When I visited, there was eight of us, including one family and a couple who had stayed overnight on the island, plus the staff, on this island paradise.

For a half day trip, it’s great! Escape from the bustle of downtown Kota Kinabalu to the white sandy beaches, fishing, snorkelling and diving opportunities, and a jungle walk. Hammocks strung between trees  call to you to come nap, beach volleyball and a few other games to play, but trust me – you’ll be distracted by the bright aquamarine coloured waters.

Should you want to stay overnight, the island offers basic rooms at a very reasonable price. There are a sprinkling of hill chalets and one spacious beach chalet. All of them have views of the beach and cityscape beyond.

One of the main appeals of Sepanggar Island is the opportunity to go snorkelling to see some of Sabah’s brightly coloured fish!

The coral at Sepanggar Island is little worse for wear near the island due to the proximity of the city, local villages and boat use in the area. If snorkelling if important to you, I’ve been told that the waters at Mantanani Island is a little further away (around 45 minutes by boat) but offers much better diving opportunities with visibility of around 30 – 40 metres!

Meeting the locals

Sepanggar Island is home to a mix of animals and (temporary!) humans. Many of the staff who run day-to-day operations are locals from the nearby village and the guides often spend nights there. Then there are the animals.

As I sat on the deck to dry myself off before lunch, I couldn’t help myself and patiently waited for the cats to approach. One was so busy cleaning herself that she looked up in surprise mid-lick.