The Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, with a total area of 4929 hectares, consists of five unspoilt islands off the coast of Kota Kinabalu and the reefs in between. The islands are only a short boat ride from downtown Kota Kinabalu and have some of the better beaches in Sabah. Of the five islands, only Manukan and Mamutik have accomodation.
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park comprises a group of 5 islands located between 3 to 8 km off Kota Kinabalu. The park is spread over 4,929 hectares, two thirds of which cover the sea. Before the Ice Age, it formed part of the Crocker Range mass of sandstone and sedimentary rock on the mainland. However, about one million years ago, the melting ice brought about changes in the sea level and parts of the mainland were cut off by the sea to form the islands of Gaya Island, Sapi Island, Manukan Island, Mamutik Island and Sulug Island. Evidence of this can be seen from the exposed sandstone of the coastline forming the cliffs, caves, honeycombs and deep crevices.
Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in downtown Kota Kinabalu is the ferry terminal for those heading to the islands in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (Gaya Island, Sapi Island, Manukan Island, Mamutik Island and Sulug Island). This ferry terminal is also the departure point for patrons staying at either Manukan Island Resort or Gayana Resort.
The islands are underlaid by folded sandstone and sedimentary rock, are part of the Crocker Range rock formation of the western coast of Sabah. Towards the end of Ice Age happened about one million years ago, changes of the sea level occurred, resulting in portions of the mainland being cut off by the sea, thus forming the islands today. Exposed sandstone outcrops still feature the coasts of most of these islands forming cliffs, caves, honeycombs and deep crevasses along the shore.
Gaya island derived its name from the Bajau word “Gayo” which means big and occupies an area of 15 km² (3,700 acres) with an elevation of up to 300 metres. Several ridges rise more than 600 feet (180 m), peaking at 1,000 feet (300 m), along the backbone of Pulau Gaya.
Gaya island is the largest island in the park, closest to downtown Kota Kinabalu (KK) and is covered with dense virgin, tropical forest. It has been a forest reserve since 1923. The island has 20 km of hiking trails and two 5 star resorts named Gayana Eco Resort, home to the Marine Ecology Research Centre, and Bunga Raya Island Resort on the north-east part of the island.
Another resort is being constructed on what used to be Hornbill Bay near Gayana Eco Resort.
Gaya island is also host to a very large (and growing) stilt village located just opposite the KK waterfront. This village is occupied by illegal immigrants from the Philippines and is considered a dangerous, high crime or “no-go” area by the police and KK locals.
Sabah Parks, the body charged with protecting the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, is headquartered on the south-eastern part of Gaya Island in a bay shared with the Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventures dive station. A development on the edge of Gaya island nearest to Sapi island is also used by Sabah Parks and offers a small, quiet beach for public recreational use.
Gaya island is also known for a legendary beach at Police Bay. The 400 metres (0.25 mile) stretch of white sand, gently slopes out to the sea and makes Police Beach ideal for swimming in the crystal clear water. Police Beach fronts the upmarket Bunga Raya Island Resort.
The coral reefs along the entire coast of Gaya island are in excellent condition, making it a surprisingly good diving destination, considering its proximity to Kota Kinabalu city.
The second largest island in the park, Manukan is the most popular with Kota Kinabalu residents. Manukan has some good stretches of beaches on the southern coastline. The best beach is on the eastern tip of the island. Offshore of Manukan are coral reefs, which is ideal for snorkeling, diving and swimming.
Out of 5 islands, Manukan features the most developed tourist facilities that includes 20 units of chalets, a clubhouse, and few restaurants and a diving centre. Recreation facilities include a swimming pool, football field, Volleyball and Sepak Takraw courts. Infrastructural facilities include support-water, electricity, desalination plant, sewerage system, and even a solar public telephone. It is covered in dense vegetation and has hiking trails.
The 15 acres (61,000 m2) island makes Mamutik the smallest of the park. Despite being the smallest, the island offers some good beaches and coral reefs. It also has a jetty, a 3 bedroom resthouse for rent, and staff quarters for Rangers station. Facilities include changing rooms, toilets, picnic shelters, tables and barbecue pits. Fresh water and electricity are available. Mamutik would be an ideal venue to get away from it all. The corals to the north-eastern tip of the island are quite interesting. The beach is rocky and swimmers must be careful of sea urchins that exist in large numbers beside the corals and rocks.