Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

by Audrey Lim, Jan 1, 2002 | Destinations: Malaysia / Sabah

Tunku Abdul Rahman Park was named after the first illustrious Prime Minister of Malaysia. The park is made up of five beautiful islands and is a well-known sanctuary where peace and tranquility prevails. Once you step foot into the park, you will immediately find yourself engulfed in its inner beauty and quietness. The park (and its islands) is also a natural protection ground for the flora and fauna in that area. It is also home to many unique and beautiful underwater creatures as well as coral reefs. This haven has, over many years, proven to be one of man's most favorite spot, offering visitors many hours of fun under the sun. The islands at Tunku Abdul Rahman Park include Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is easily reachable by boat. The boat ride from Malaysia's youngest city, Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, takes only a mere 20 minutes. The park's refreshing and crystal clear waters as well as its wonderful corals has given the place both fame and recognition. It is with no doubt that Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is one of Sabah's main landmarks. To add to its wonderment, the park is only a short distance away from the heart of the city, yet remained untouched by the growth around it. Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is very famous for a few activities. Amongst them include diving, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, and windsurfing. It is also a great spot for a BBQ picnic while you take in the generously long hours of golden sunshine. Another activity, parasailing, has been added to the list of fun stuff that you can do at Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. If you want to capture the fabulous view of Mount Kinabalu and the surrounding islands, I advice you to check out parasailing!

Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and its islands have their little history that continues to enthrall visitors for years. The first known fact took place in 1879, when the native chief by the name of Pengiran Diraup of Menkabong gave a Mr. White and his teammates the rights to fell and collect timber on the isle of Gaya. Although this form of "exploitation" is deeply frowned upon now, it is however, good to note that the island remained pretty much untouched despite the plundering. It was in the year 1881 that the islands were taken over and became a part of the North Borneo Chartered Company. A small settlement had started towards the eastern side of Gaya Island but it was destroyed in 1897, a mere 15 years later, by the notorious native chief, Mat Salleh. Only one little Bajau village survived the inferno and is today an active fishing village.

Two years later, Gaya Island was abandoned when Jesselton (former name of current Kota Kinabalu) became the deep-water port that was needed by the Chartered Company. Perhaps this was a good thing after all, as the islands remained largely undisturbed and in the year 1974, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park was gazetted as Sabah's second national park.

Gaya Island
The largest island on Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is Gaya Island with a total land area of 3,665 acres. This island is a lovely place with many private bays and fine sandy beaches. So private are these beaches that many of them had never been touched by a man's footstep. However, two of them are highly popular - Bulijong Bay (or Police Beach) and Camp Bay. Bulijong Bay, a semi-circular bay, is located on the northern end of Gaya whilst Camp Bay is on the southern side. If you want to camp overnight at Bulijong Bay, you may do so. On the other hand, Camp Bay is good as a starting point for trails. The water at Camp Bay is simply too shallow for swimming but is wonderful to frolic in. if you are interested in the forest trails, you can try out the 13-miles long trail that covers most of the island. The shorter one takes up only a few minutes and goes through a small mangrove forest.

Gaya Island is the perfect getaway for those looking for a lazy time on the beach. If swimming, diving or snorkeling are on your agenda, then you must head over to Police Beach where the waters are crystal clear and goes about 50 feet down. Because this area is so secluded, there is no place for you to rent swimming equipment/diving gears. You can either bring your own or hire them from your tour operator or hotel before you get to the island. There is only one resort on this island. The Gayana Island EcoResort has 44 chalets, a seafood restaurant, a reef rehabilitation research center, environmental interpretation center and a beach side bar. If you want to know more about the environment, this resort is also able to give you better insights and lectures, thanks to their marine biologist and forest ecologist.

Sapi Island
During very low tide, you may even visit two islands on one day. From Gaya Island, you can walk over to Sapi Island via the connecting sandbar. Only a mere 25 acres in size, Sapi Island has one of the best swimming and picnic spots in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, highly popular as a center for water sports activities. It is also famous amongst tour operators handling island BBQ tours.

Manukan Island
Doubled the size of Sapi Island but small nonetheless, Manukan Island is only 51 acres in size and used to be the site of an old stone quarry before World War II. Currently, Manukan Island is home to the park's HQ (the former HQ was located at Camp Bay on Gaya Island). If you are missing all the creature comforts of home, then Manukan Island is the place for you. This island is one with all the comfortable trappings including cute tropical timber chalets, restaurants, swimming pool, tennis court, and even a marine exhibition center. Because of this, it is no wonder that Manukan Island is one that has the highest number of visitors to the park. Of course, with it having the longest stretch of beaches amongst the rest of the islands remains its main attraction. If you are at Manukan Island, you must go on the 1.5 km trail. Along this trail, you will go past forest and be able to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the city of Kota Kinabalu. Do go and check out the fish feeding at the jetty as well. Here, divers will get to swim with the fishes.

Mamutik Island
If Gaya Island is the biggest island on Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, then you must not miss Mamutik Island. It is the smallest isle on this park and also the most convenient one to visit, as it is located the nearest from Kota Kinabalu. You can stay at this popular spot overnight. You can also rent diving equipment and pick up diving courses on this island. If you are up to it, it will be great to check out the trail on Mamutik Island. The view at the end of the trail will show you the surrounding seas and reefs, and a fabulous scenery it is too!

Sulug Island
Swimmers will love the small 20-acres Sulug Island. Well-known for its great swimming spot, Sulug Island is actually a small rocky island with a long sand-spit that faces east. Right now, there are restaurant and diving facilities here. This is the perfect place for a getaway!

On a general note, all of the islands are fringed by reefs, especially so towards the eastern and southern sides where it is normally sheltered. The sandy beaches here slope gently downwards into the water to meet the reefs. On the other hand, the western and northern sides are frequently battered by the pounding of the waves from the open sea thus resulting in rocky cliffs, monsoon winds and coral rubble. Fishes here are aplenty, to each more colorful than the one before it while the corals come in a variety of shapes and sizes. You will get to see the common starfish, sea cucumber and clown fish. You may even get to see the pink-and-green Parrotfish, the Turquoise Moon Wrasse and Butterfly fish. The underwater creatures are simply amazing!

Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is also home to the popular Sipadan Island. Although the reputation of the island had been marred by the kidnapping incidents, yet it is still one of the best training grounds for those who are interested in learning how to dive. If you are truly lucky, you might even get to spot the Whale Shark! Out of the water and onto dry land, the flora life on Pulau Gaya shows it connection to mainland. It has a few large areas along the coast that is covered by dipterocarp forest, just like those found in the forests of Sabah. If you want to view the vegetation on Pulau Gaya, you can easily access it via a plank walk that has been laid across an inlet of mangrove trees. This way, you can check out the plants up close. To date, the dipterocarp forest here remained one of the few that can be considered as virgin land. As for the rest of the islands, most of the plants here are made up of secondary forest.

Plants aside, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park has a rather limited species of animals. You may get to see the Pangolin or scaly anteater. Sometimes, monkeys and wild boars will cross your path. Watch out also for the large monitor lizards that come out looking for scraps of food.

Of course, as Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is a state park, one that is gazetted to protect the natural environment, there are certain rules and regulations that visitors must adhere to. Here are the rules and regulations as laid out by the Sabah Parks Trustees:


  • Observe the rules and regulations of the Park
  • Keep the place clean during your stay and when leaving the Park
  • Contact Park Rangers on duty for assistance and information
  • Please bring along your towels and personal toiletries


  • Hunt or carry firearms, poison, spear guns, and dangerous weapons within the Park
  • Harm or disturb any plant, animal or other living things
  • Pick, cut or collect plants, insects, corals, shells and any other materials, dead or alive
  • Write names on rocks, trees or shelters
  • Bring pets into the Park

Collecting of any plant, animal or other living or non-living things is strictly forbidden without prior written permission from the Director of Sabah Parks. Fishing however, is permitted with hook and line only. As long as you adhere to the simple rules here, you should be able to enjoy yourself tremendously at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park.

Let the fun begin!