Gaya Island Resort – A Snorkellers and Divers Paradise

Gaya Island Resort

Nothing is more exciting than a day filled with snorkelling, diving and simply partaking in water activities while you are at Gaya Island Resort (GIR).  Located just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu and set on the shores of Pulau Gaya, the largest island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, GIR offers the perfect backdrop to uncover the underwater world of sea creatures and coral reefs.

With the private picnic and sunset cruise ticked of our list of things to do at GIR, it was time to dive into the crystalline waters of Malohom Bay.  The resort is committed to conserving its marine life and its corals reef which in turn creates an extra special treat for guests wanting to savour a truly exceptional underwater experience.

Since neither of us knew how to dive, we decided to try snorkelling instead, one of the many water activities under the “Discovery” activity program. While Joseph has 20/20 vision, I am completely dependent on my spectacles and was gnawed with worry about how I would enjoy snorkelling if I couldn’t see anything but blurry shapes. “Let me have your goggles”, said one of the resort’s underwater guides.  He efficiently attached a snorkel to my prescription goggles and voilà, I was ready for the experience of a lifetime!

It’s not that I have not snorkelled before. But without the right diving mask, I always ended up snorkelling without really appreciating what I was looking at since nothing seemed clear. Though this makeshift arrangement of attaching the snorkel to goggles is innovative, your nose isn’t covered by the diving mask. This makes it sometimes difficult to keep reminding yourself that you shouldn’t breathe out through your nose. That got me flustered in the beginning when I hit the water, but I soon got the hang of it.

Follow the leader - we were all in line as we left the jetty!

Follow the leader – we were all in line as we left the jetty!

Once I figured out my breathing technique, a mesmerising world awakened beneath me. I was hypnotised by salmon and beige coloured corals swaying with the current. Spiny sea urchins dotted the sea bed and large groupers and schools of butterfly fishes swam by. It was gaspingly A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

I never knew snorkelling could be such a fascinating experience. What made the guided snorkelling experience more special was that our underwater guide would free dive to Davy Jones’s locker so to speak and emerge with different species of sea cucumber. We were even allowed to briefly touch their leathery skin covered in warty bumps and they came in a bizarre array of colours. I was awestruck. I knew so little of sea cucumbers and never imagined them to be so unique.

The clear waters around Malohom Bay also feature many turquoise patches which create beautiful scenic photographs. These turquoise waters that we swam towards are cause by green pigment chlorophyll contained in very small, single-celled plants called phytoplankton. The striking turquoise colour is caused in part by sunlight reflecting off of the chlorophyll in the phytoplankton. Hence, the greener the water, the more phytoplankton there are.

This is once of the areas where the water is more turquoise in colour.

This is once of the areas where the water is more turquoise in colour.

An hour quickly passed by and as we made our way back to the jetty, we passed a shoal of squids. It was so riveting to see them in such numbers. Thankfully, none of them squirted ink at us. We also chanced to encounter and touch a spiny cushion starfish that looked nothing like the starfishes we had seen in aquariums.

Back in the jetty, we were all smiles! We mulled over the unforgettable snorkelling expedition over tropical fruits and with our noses buried in the books they had in the office listing the marine life we had just encountered. Twenty minutes later, we were back on shore and lounging on the ivory white beach chairs, gazing at Mt. Kinabalu in the horizon. We spent the rest of the day taking a dip in the sea and hopping on board the resorts speedboat towards Tavajun Bay.

While the guided snorkelling sessions take place daily at 9am and 11am, guests can choose to rent snorkelling equipment to snorkel on their own in the designated areas. I would highly recommend a guided session with the Resident Marine Biologist if you want to learn more about marine life.

One of our favourite spots to lounge!

One of our favourite spots to lounge!

We would laze around here as well - At the pool!

We would laze around here as well – At the pool!

In fact there are many places to just relax!

In fact there are many places to just relax!

Some days we swam here - in Malohom Bay...

Some days we swam here – in Malohom Bay…

Other days, we headed to Tavajun Bay - the private beach on the other side of the island.

Other days, we headed to Tavajun Bay – the private beach on the other side of the island.

Diving Activities

The Tunku Abdul Rahman marine park is located in the famed Coral Triangle; often called the ‘Amazon of the sea’ and recognized as the global centre of marine biodiversity. This makes Gaya Island Resort an ideal base for guests wanting to explore protected reefs teeming with around 600 species of hard and soft corals, as well as 3000 species of fish such as whale sharks and the beautiful but venomous, lionfish. Marine explorations such as scuba diving adventures, PADI courses and PADI Underwater Digital Photography Class are also available.

The resort also has various packages for adventurous guests wishing to take a dip into the region’s abundant marine life.

The Magnificent Marine Discovery package is inclusive of four nights’ accommodation in a Bayu Villa, daily breakfasts, a set number of dives with fully licensed PADI instructors. This is inclusive of lunches, return speedboat transfers and Sabah Parks’ conservation and diving permit fees.  For certified divers, the Marine Magnificence package begins at USD1176 for single travellers and includes five dives, while double occupancy prices begin at USD1317.

The Diver’s Dream package, which includes PADI certification and two days of diving instruction starts at USD1270 for single travellers and USD1505 for doubles. An extension of room nights dives and sunset cruises are available at additional cost. For non-diving partners, activity replacements such as snorkelling and spa treatments are available.

These experiences are booked directly at Gaya Island Resort. The nearest airport is Kota Kinabalu International Airport and land transfer is approximately 15 minutes from the airport to Sutera Harbour Marina. The journey time from Sutera Harbour Marina is approximately 15 minutes by speedboat.

Disclaimer: We thank YTL Hotels for inviting Travel and Beyond to an exclusive stay at Gaya Island Resort. However, as always all opinions expressed are exclusively that of the author(s).

Rosemarie John

Travel and Beyond by Rosemarie John and Joseph Ellis portrays a kaleidoscope of all things travel related mixed with just the right dosage of history and culture.

View stories