Gaya Island, is a beautiful and unspoiled Malaysian island located a mere ten minutes off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah in Borneo. It is one of the five islands located within the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park.
The island has 20 kilometres of hiking trails, a Marine Ecology Research Centre, and many classy resorts you can call home for the duration of your holiday.
Because of its location within the Park, we have found that it is ideal for nature lovers and those who enjoy exploring real life.
For this reason, we recommend this destination if you enjoy tropical holidays in areas where you can view animals, birds and plants in their natural habitat.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Park spans more than 4,900 hectares. Prior to the Ice Age, the area was believed to be part of the Crocker Range, which is a mass of sedentary rock and sandstone on the mainland.
However, scientists believe that almost one million years ago, parts of the mainland were cut off by melting icebergs.
If you are thinking that this melting phenomenon helped to form the islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, you are on the right track.
Indeed, these changes in sea level were responsible for the formation of the islands of Gaya island, Sulug island, Mamutik island, Manukan island and Sapi island. In fact, you can see evidence of this from the exposed sandstone if you visit the coastline.
Diving at Gaya Island
We can also assure you that you will notice crevices, honeycombs and caves if you choose to scuba dive while visiting Gaya Island, which is also referred to as Pulau Gaya. The Park itself, and the islands from which it is comprised, was named after Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman.
You may also be interested to know that Pulau Gaya is the Park’s largest island and the closest one to downtown Kota Kinabalu, which is often referred to as simply “KK.” Since 1923, this area has been a forest reserve and is covered with dense, tropical vegetation.
You will be pleased to discover that amidst sheltered coral reefs, protected mangroves, and pristine beaches, there are several very pleasant places to stay. Many visitors have used fun and romantic terms to describe the area’s resorts, such as “a sanctuary” and “a tropical paradise featuring Mount Kinabalu’s mesmerising outline in the distance.”
We are certain that you will feel the same way when you visit this spectacular island. One of its best-loved characteristics is its ability to be both elegant and contemporary, yet still respectful of the environment with an obvious goal of conservation.
A sense of intimacy with nature, authentic unforgettable experiences, and discoveries about various ecosystems all await you in this ideal area that is distinctively Borneo. These characteristics make it unlike any other place on earth.
All the area’s resorts are committed to various practices that minimise their carbon footprint. This includes making restaurants and other areas of interest accessible through walking trails or minimal use of motorised vehicles.
Wildlife on this island
If you enjoy wildlife and exploring the flora and fauna of an area that you are visiting for the first time, you will not be disappointed with this island.
Below are just a few of the amazing, one-of-a-kind animals and plants you can view while on your trip:
The resorts on Gaya are attempting to establish a firefly habitat on their grounds. This is to create a majestic ambiance when guests walk out the door and are surrounded by unusual species of these interesting insects.
To lure the large fireflies they had in mind for the project, we discovered that they used a plant called the Excoecaria indica. The Pteroptyx fireflies find these plants’ nectar appealing for both foliage for nesting and a source of protein.
The long-nosed monkey, also known as the proboscis or bekantan monkey, is an Old World monkey first found in Indonesia.
When visiting Gaya island, you will have a rare opportunity to see this unique species of monkey, with its comical long nose and a coat that is almost red in color.
Giant Flying Squirrels
Another animal with red fur that you may see while walking around the Island is the giant flying squirrel. These squirrels glide from one tree to the next and almost look like red kites in the sky.
Some resorts offer to guide guests on an evening walk to search for these unusual mammals and watch them glide from branch to branch, forage for food and even play with each other.
Hollow trees are their natural home, but some of the island’s local businesses and resorts build artificial nesting boxes for them, which are installed in nearby trees.
Mangroves are medium-size trees that thrive in both tropical and subtropical climates. All the islands that make up the park are blessed with these lovely trees.
Certain resorts organize kayaking adventures with experienced guides, during which you have the opportunity to see 100-year-old mangrove jungles up close.
If you are lucky, you may also see monitor lizards, Oriental pied hornbill birds, mangrove crabs and many other exotic creatures.
If you love nature, but at the same time want to have loads of fun, you need to meet Timmy and his family. They are the Island’s resident wild boars, and yes, they really do have “beards.”
The technical name for this species is Sus barbatus, and these funny looking animals are quite rare, and only found in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Roaming around the bays at sunset, Timmy and his relatives comb the beach for fallen fruits and plants, which are their favourite foods.
Elephant Foot Yam
The Elephant Foot Yam, or scientifically known as the morphophallus paeoniifolius, is a bizarre looking plant that we are certain you will enjoy seeing. It is actually a hybrid of over 150 species, and produces the world’s biggest inflorescence flower.
Resident naturalists on the island have been collecting and planting Elephant Foot Yams for decades. Depending on the time of year they are planted, these yams and their beautiful flowers may take as many as seven years to mature.
The flowering leaf resembles a small tree, which thrives and continues to bloom for almost four months before withering. Each flowering season is approximately one year from start to finish.
If you enjoy taking interesting pictures, plan your trip during the flowering season of this plant.
Activities and Attractions
Although Gaya Island is not as large as some tropical islands, we are pleased to inform you that there are activities and attractions in addition to the outstanding wildlife mentioned above. For example, many visitors enjoy the Coral Flyer zip-line, which actually goes from Gaya to the neighbouring island of Sapi island (Pulau Sapi).
Whichever direction you look, the view is simply magnificent. This is true whether you are taking the zip-line out, or making the return trip to Gaya island.
No one ever regret indulging in this quick but fun activity. Well worth the wait even if there is a line, you will never forget the amazing views from the Coral Flyer zip-line.
Downbelow Adventure Centre
If you enjoy exploring marine life, the Downbelow Adventure Centre is the place for you. This is true whether you are an experienced scuba diver or a novice.
Qualified guides will help you spot seahorses, giant turtles, “Nemo” fish and numerous other marine animals. Instructors are available for those who have never gone scuba diving before, and therefore regardless of who you are traveling with, the entire group can go on this fun excursion.
Marine Ecology Resource Centre
The Marine Ecology Research Centre is an educational aquarium establishment that is definitely worth your time when visiting Borneo. It displays giant clams, cuttlefish, bamboo sharks, and soft and hard living corals.
The populations of these various types of sea life are declining fast. They are listed as protected species, and therefore the Centre’s work is not only for tourist’s entertainment, but also to protect these creatures from extinction.
The Centre also has a tank in which two giant sea turtles live. Staff members do presentations about these and other endangered species, making a visit to this establishment one you will definitely remember.
Where to Stay
When planning a trip to Pulau Gaya, you may be wondering about the best places to stay. Below are some of the top-rated resorts on the island.
Situated directly on the beach, this establishment is within five kilometres of the Likas Stadium, Sabah State Mosque, and the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal. In addition, Wisma Merdeka and KK Esplanade are located within two kilometres of the resort.
The resort has four on-site restaurants, a full-service spa, and private beach access. Additionally, staff members attempt to make every person feel as if he or she is family.
The Gaya Resort has over 120 rooms, all of which feature balconies, free Wi-Fi and deep soaking tubs. LCD TVs with satellite channels are also provided in each room.
Situated directly on the Malaysian Coast, the Gayana Waterfront Eco Resort is less than two kilometres from Tunku Abdul Rahman Park in less than seven kilometres from the Sabah State Mosque and Likas Stadium.
The resort boasts a full-service health spa, where you can indulge in a variety of treatments. In addition, there are four on-site restaurants, children’s programs, kayaking and diving excursions for those who wish to sign up, and a heated swimming pool.
This resort features 52 villas, all of which are set over the water. They come with LCD TVs, CD and DVD players, comfortable beds, complimentary bottled water, mini bars and free Wi-Fi.
This coral reef island resort is situated on the shore of the South China Sea. It is a mere two kilometres from the Park and access to all of the islands is easy from this location.
Hillside hiking is a favourite activity among guests of the Bunga Raya Island Resort and Spa. With its own jungle trails, you can set off on an adventure of your own choosing, without having to worry about getting lost.
This is because each trail starts and ends at the same place, which is directly on the resort. In addition to this activity, you can also choose to go kayaking, snorkeling, or simply enjoy the resort’s three restaurants, hot tubs and outdoor pool.
All villas feature ocean-view balconies, glasswalled showers, hairdryers, bathrobes and complimentary bottled water and coffee.
Regardless of where you are travelling from, after reaching Borneo by plane, you will likely take the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in downtown KK to your final destination in Gaya.
This is the primary terminal for anyone headed to any of the islands that make up the Park.
The ferry terminal is also the main point of departure if you choose to stay at one of the three hotels mentioned above.
Regardless of your individual holiday plans, the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park and islands of which it is comprised provide the perfect backdrop against which to create the memories of a lifetime.