Sabah, which is located at the west coast of northern Borneo is an incredible place. Not only the mixture of culture (Malay, native, Chinese & Philippines) but also the environment is quite interesting to see. With Kota Kinabalu as it main city, we are looking for getaways to nearby islands. Today we will discover Manukan island.
Gaya, Sapi, Manukan or Mamutik Island?
All of the islands are rather close to each other. The big difference between them is the size and thus the infrastructure on it.
Most speed boats will drive to all islands in the following order:
Gaya -> Sapi -> Manukan -> Mamutik
In this post I will focus on how to get to Manukan and what you can expect there.
Get ready for a bumpy ride
There are various boat operators who will bring you to the surrounding islands. For islands further away they usually have bigger boats. Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi and Gaya are relatively close, thus the boat is kinda small.
Tickets for non-Malaysian are at RM 10, tickets for Malaysian are RM 3. Get used to have price discrimination in most national parks and services in Malaysia. There is another entrance fee, around RM 8, at each islands, used for the cleaning and maintenance of it.
If you want any snorkeling equipment, you can rent it with the boat operator.
Buy any water and food before departure, as there is little to no food on the islands. Be prepared.
Many of the boats you can take look like this one. There is a life vest for each passenger (law) and you better wear it. Make sure that you have something to get a grip on and secure your bags. I don’t recommend bringing a lot of accessories or open bags to the islands. Most boats tend to go at full speed and it is easy to loose them. A lot to endure just for a quick getaway from Kota Kinabalu, isn’t it?
The ride should take between 20 and 45 minutes, depending on which island you want. Once you reach an island, the skipper will mention the name and you can get off the boat. If you are unsure or don’t understand what he says, just kindly show him your ticket and he will tell you yes or no.
First view on Manukan island
Beach, clear water and a bunch of small bungalows. This is most likely what you expect when arriving at Manukan island and it is also what you will find there.
Let’s start with the size of it. I did not do a complete walk around the island, but it would probably take around 15-20 minutes. The island is rather small, but big enough to have some houses (resorts) on it. This isn’t too bad because it means that you will be able to get some necessities if needed. Water and some standard foods, such as instant noodles are available on the island. I have spotted a few restaurants there as well but did not try them out. It is an island, so prices are higher than elsewhere.
This is not really a hidden secret as there are many local Malaysians spending their weekend or days of on the island. From all the visitors, around 90% were Malaysians. Seems to be a popular getaway destination among people from Kota Kinabalu and neighboring cities.
You can see quite a some animals roaming free on this island. There are a few water monitor lizards on the island and a bunch of cats. All animals are pretty much used to humans. So don’t get scared when a huge lizard walks along the beach. They are friendly and won’t hurt you, unless you get to close or annoy them.
Is the water in Manukan good for snorkeling?
Most of my free time I try spending near or at the ocean. I love the smell, the sounds and the view. Snorkeling, diving or free diving are one of my favorite activities.
Prior to Sabah I worked a lot on my free diving abilities and was super exciting when I could finally use them. Pictures I have seen online are promising, not spectacular but pretty much enough for some free diving. So I got my googles scuba mask and went in the water. First I took a look at the less popular area, turn left when you enter the island. The water is shallow and it takes probably around 20 meters until it steeply becomes deeper.
Unfortunately the water was very greenish, which isn’t too rare for shallow water. It did not bother me too much. The amount of trash in the water however, bothered me a lot. There were tired, plastic bags and bottles to a crazy extend. Had to abort my diving on that part of the island.
The more popular part of the beach was different. There was mostly sand and somehow it is pretty much clean. Right the first time diving in, I saw a giant octopus. After a few minutes, around 30 meters away from the beach I found a good spot. From around 3 meter depth, it suddenly went down to around 15 meter depth. Luckily there was a buoy, which chain helped me to for orientation. The water color changed from greenish to deep blue.
My diving buddy is with me and we started with some easy free dives. Since we were far from the shore and there was no platform to rest, we did not stay for too long. It was a fun experience and the small buoy can be used for resting to some extent.
It was fun, but don’t expect much marine life or living corals. Sadly most of marine life has suffered from pollution already. None the less it was a good exercise and the feeling of diving deep gives me a lot of satisfaction already.
Is Manukan island worth a trip?
All in all it was an interesting and relaxing half day trip, a perfect getaway from hot and busy Kota Kinabalu. The boat ride was fun and it brings you out of the city, great if you want to relax. Lay down at the beach and enjoy your time, eat the food that you just brought there.
Since there are some building on this island, having a shower is an option. Surprisingly it does not even cost any fee. Enjoy a good shower after your diving or swimming to make sure you can continue you day right away, without having to stop by your own place for a shower.
The speed boat that brought you here will also take you back. In the beginning you are asked by the operator what time you want to get back to Kota Kinabalu. Boats operate every hour and the last boat is around 4-5 pm, depending on the day and the operator. If you wish to change the return time, just give them a call.
All boat traffic goes from and to Jesselton Point. Here you can also buy water, accessories and warm food to bring on your trip. Buy yourself snacks, water and a great lunch and you will surely enjoy the time on Manukan island.