Thanks to the rising of sea levels at the end of the last ice age, what were once sandstone mountains connected to the mainland are now a collection of five tropical islands left piercing the surface just off the coastline of Kota Kinabalu. Comprised of the islands of Manukan, Gaya, Sapi, Mamutuk, and Sulug, these five forested islets make up Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park (TARP), conveniently located an easy 20 minute speedboat ride from downtown Kota Kinabalu.
Though the reefs of the marine park aren’t quite as vibrant as those found down in Sipadan or Mabul in the southeastern corner of Sabah, the waters of Tunku Abdul Rahman nonetheless still teem with marine life such as blue spotted stingrays, mantis shrimp, and the occasional Hawksbill turtle, making them the most convenient options for Sabah visitors looking to snorkel or scuba dive the shallow waters directly off of Kota Kinabalu. Though Sabah is dealing with growing amounts of rubbish and marine debris, classifying the area as a national park and making efforts towards conservation are steps in the right direction for an area that, when combined with the white sand beaches, has tremendous potential for being one of the better regional excursions.
Pulau Gaya is the largest of the islands in the national park, and along with Manukan and Mamutik offers overnight eco-accommodations for visitors looking to escape the city for a night. Though the park headquarters is located on Pulau Gaya, it, too, is home to some downtrodden stilt villages which are considered unsafe by KK locals and visitors alike. Nonetheless, thousands of people annually make daytrips or overnight excursions into Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park and leave satisfied with the tropical simplicity found within such a short distance of the thumping industrial capital.