Manukan Island is one of three islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Located off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia and a short speedboat ride from Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal, the island is popular with both tourists and residents of Kota Kinabalu.
Most visitors to the island are day-trippers, but a lucky handful can stay overnight in one of the islands two eco-lodges. Knowing nothing about the lodges before we arrived I had expected the accommodations to be basic: bare lightbulbs, wafer-thin mattresses and lights out at 7:30.
Happily, I was wrong.
Our “beach suite” accommodations were one of only two types available on the island. The other being the larger, pricier, more private “Hillside Villas”.
Overnight visitors to the island are kept to a strict minimum and this, in theory, lessens the environmental impact on the island and the surrounding coral reefs.
On the surface, in photos and advertising, Manukan Island looks like an unspoilt, tranquil paradise. And there’s no doubt it can be tranquil, but, at least on my visit, that tranquillity occurred after 5pm; when the last sunburnt day tripper had boarded the last outbound ferry.
Before that, the island was busy. Theme park busy.
The first visitors arrived at around 9 am and they kept coming in a steady flow all day. They packed the island’s restaurants, dive shop and public beaches. They swam, snorkelled, dived, parasailed and sea walked. They also littered. A lot.
Combine what the day trippers discarded with the garbage already floating the South China Sea and you have a place where it’s possible to swim alongside a variety of plastic bottles and bags, snorkel with exotic candy wrappers, and soak up the sun on a white sandy beach scattered with plastic bottle caps, old toothbrushes (?) and the odd steel radial tyre.
Although when I look through my photos of the place, I don’t see any of that.
And that’s the thing about travel, it’s often one thing in your head, another when you’re there and, if you’re lucky, perfection in your photos.