Pulau Tiga

by Audrey Lim, Jan 14, 2003 | Destinations: Indonesia / Malaysia / Brunei / Borneo

Not many have heard of this island before although it was more than a hundred years old. A tiny piece of land owned by my country, yet it was not until about three years ago that it was made popular by CBS' famed reality TV show, Survivor.

Pulau Tiga was formed when a volcanic eruption took place off the coast of Borneo and while the rest of the world was essentially ignorant of the place, Pulau Tiga actually has a lot to offer to everyone. It was, in reality, a rough uncut gem... waiting to be discovered.

The meaning of Pulau Tiga, when translated from the Malay language, literally means "Island of Three". Historical and geographical input placed the formation of the island sometime in September 21st, 1897. It was on this very day that a huge earthquake on Mindanao Island, a Philippine's domain, sparked off this volcanic eruption towards the northern side of Borneo. The eruption of rock and mud gave birth to a new island. Back then, the island was only 66 feet wide. That was not the true form of Pulau Tiga yet. It took about a span of 40 years with subsequent eruptions from the same volcano and thereafter further eruptions from two more adjacent mud volcanoes to fuse together what is today known as Pulau Tiga. The last eruption took place about 60 over years ago but to date, there are still warm mud oozing from geothermal vents of this island. Not a tall island, Pulau Tiga peaks at 330 feet and is about 2.8 miles long and 1 mile wide with a total area of eight square miles.

Within the vicinity, Pulau Tiga is not the only island present. There are two more neighboring lands known as Pulau Kalampunian Besar and Pulau Kalampunian Damit (Snake Island). It was in 1978 that the authorities realized that these three isles are unique ecosystem of flora and fauna and coral reef that fringe almost the whole area. To protect the place, the three islands were gazetted as the "Pulau Tiga Park". Under this enactment, each of these islands' unique features was protected with a total area of 15,864 hectares falling under the jurisdiction of the State Park. The 15,000 plus hectares of land includes sea and underwater habitat as well as the three islands.

Pulau Tiga Park lies just 50 kilometers towards the west-southwest of Kota Kinabalu or northwest of Kuala Penyu, which is just 15 km away from the park, so access by boats is possible. Of the three, Pulau Tiga is the largest and perhaps one of the more unique islands found in Malaysia. It has lush forests that are soothing to the soul as well as white unpolluted sandy beaches and clear refreshing waters of the coral fringed seas. You probably would not be able to find a far more interesting variety of flora on any island or mainland in the country confined within such a small space. Because the island has thick growth, many fauna are able to survive there well and not forgetting the birds too, in which many are famous creatures including the famed chicken-like creature that "meows" like a cat. This mound building incubator bird is known as the megapodes (Megapodus Freycinet).

For those who enjoy diving, Pulau Tiga is a haven for you. The southern and eastern side of the island is superb for diving as it has fringing coral reefs where you can snorkel or scuba dive for hours on end amidst a myriad of beautiful colors and sea creatures. So far, 132 species of fishes from 62 generic groups in 32 families have been identified. Because of the wide array of corals surrounding the island, hundreds species of fishes and invertebrates have been able to survive and thrive in the waters. There are also species of mollusks such as giant clams. Some have spotted octopus as well as other interesting species such as lionfish, shrimp, lobsters, sea horses and many more. If you dive nearer to the corals or coral patches, you will also see sponges and crinoids as well as a variety of marine algae or known as seaweeds to many of us.

The best news of all for divers is that diving is an all-year round activity at Pulau Tiga. A great place for all, sea surface temperatures are generally wonderful all year round at 25 - 30°C whilst average visibility is clear to a range of 10 to 15 meters. While diving is generally great throughout the year, sea temperature tends to hit an all low during the months from November to February. However, it is still suitable for those who do not mind the cold as much.

Boarding facilities include a rest house and hostel facilities. It can however cater only to a group of 20 at any one time; therefore it is suitable for diving activities or general overnight stay. If you are a fan of Survivor, then you might want to make a visit to Pulau Tiga for this was the first spot that got the ball rolling. Pulau Tiga is now being dubbed as the Survivor Island and interestingly enough, you can still see the elaborate props used during the first series lying around the island. Perhaps you might be interested in reliving the dream Survivor-style?

* * * * *