Published: December 9th 2006December 2nd 2006
Trace: After our time at Uncle Tan's we travelled south to the coastal town of Semporna, then over to Mabul Island where we stayed at "Uncle Chang's" diving lodge in the middle of a fishing village for four nights. We used this as a base to do some diving at Sipadan, an island famous for it's fantastic diving. I had the best six dives of my life here, Mat and I dived with huge turtles (about 1.5m in shell length), sharks (leopard and white tipped reef sharks), loads of coral and squillions of fish including bump-head parrot fish, unicorn fish etc etc. Absolutely fantastic.
We also had Mat's 30th last night - a big party with a live local band ... pictures will follow shortly.
The people from Sabah have all been so friendly, welcoming and helpful so far, we have met some inspirational individuals and are enjoying travelling the country. The most amazing thing has been how well people from different religions seem to get along here. There are many Muslims here, but also quite a few Christians, and each of these seem to happily tolerate not only each other but also those of differing or no religion.
No wonder Chin from my work spoke so highly of his home country!
Mat: It was going be hard to beat our time along the Kinabatangan river, but heading towards Sipadan for a couple of dives was still pretty damn exciting. The last dive I did was in a drysuit at the Poor Knights, so heading for 30 degree water and an entirely different and massively diverse marine life area was going to be a great follow up to Uncle Tan's.
After some scouting of dive operations we went with our new second Bornean uncle: "Uncle Chang". What a legend. He has a hostel out in stilts on "Mabul" an island 20mins north of Sipadan, and 45mins south of Semporna. He has been building a MASSIVE covered deck over the water, and the rooms are also over the water. I especially liked the door to the en suite of our room because the en suite had not been built and it opened to a 2m drop to the water (see photo). Great feeling of space when the door was left open. The whole place was fantastic to chill out at, and we were whisked off to
Sipadan 10m front our front doors in a great dive boat.
Sipadan and the surrounding area had an amazing variety of marine life. If you are diving at Sipadan you can just about be guaranteed to be able to look about at any time during the dive and spot a turtle. They are pretty relaxed and you can drift next to them as they cruise the currents of Sipadan. Speaking of currents, Sipadan is the ultimate in lazy diving, the currents are quite strong so most dives are drift dives - just hang in the water as the walls and marine life passes by. At the end of the dive the boat just picks you up.
You also see many turtles sleeping on the rocks, soft corals etc of Sipadan. Definitely looks like a good life being a turtle. Cruise about, kip, cruise about...
There are also many white tip reef sharks, and I got a good close up look at a leopard shark.
The number of fish is so impressive at Sipadan. At Koh Tao you would see a group of 5 bat fish, at Sipadan there would be a school of 100. Ko Tao
- school of 6 bannerfish, Sipadan a school of 200. We missed the big school of barracuda, but still saw a few hundred together. Saw a huge school of trevally with a single giant trevally crusing with the smaller bothers.
The colourful reef fish were so common that you got used to them, but the numbers and variety of butterfly fish and other genera blew me away. So much colour.
Probably my favourite dive was on my birthday at the "Hanging Gardens". It is a site with a sheer drop to god knows how deep, with various projections from the wall, and with the wall covered in a abundance of soft corals and other life. Like a tropical Poor Knights. I dropped down to 40m and wound my way up as the dive progressed. Wicked.
I between dives we would head to the pristine beach and have drink or lunch. The island now is patrolled by the army after a few tourists were kidnapped by pirates a couple of years ago and held for 6 months or so (Sipadan was only really "discovered" in the 80s because of the wild west nature of the waters around there).
I had 6 dives at Sipadan and another two at Mabul and one at Kapalai, which were great for micro life.
So Sipadan was all it was cracked up to be, apart from the inevitable coral damage that any dive area experiences if enough divers head there, not too big a deal, but the coral is not pristine. For this we headed to Maiga Island 1hr by small boat to the east of Semporna. Apparently nobody heads there to dive, which I would believe because the coral IS pristine, 3m wide table corals, massive areas of staghorn coral without one finger broken, just amazing and hard to put into words. AND the micro life is just incredible. We saw nudibranchs of every description - I pointed one out with fire red antennae to the divemaster, and he gestured that he had never seen one of that species before. We saw a pair of "robust ghost pipefish" which even 20cm away looked and moved like a piece of sea grass, just incredible. Saw a great frogfish perched on the top of a soft tube coral. Also very large hand-sized flat worm waving its way across the bottom. Not to
mention scorpionfish, crocodile fish, countless blue spotted rays zooming about the place, a giant pipefish, beautiful soft corals blah blah blah. Wish I had a camera down there.
There are still Filipino fishermen dynamite fishing in the area (although for some reason they do not seem to have damaged Maiga). 2 minutes into our first dive of the day we felt the body thumping impact of a blast. Quite disconcerting. Was probably quite a way away though because there were not any boats close when we descended.
As you can see from a few of the photos, Trace and Uncle Chang organised a party for my birthday on our last night on Mabul. Complete with cake (thanks Uncle Chang), balloon, Filipino rum, Tiger beer, and the local musicians. Could not think of a better day for my 30th - 3 dives at Sipadan, then a party on a deck over the water facing the sunset.
Mat and Trace ><">
There are more photos below