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Leisure - Diving

Diverse dive spots in Malaysia

By MICHAEL D’OLIVEIRO

It’s peak season for diving now and dive resorts will be bracing themselves for the horde of scuba-divers descending on them.

Islands like Sipadan, Redang and Tioman are familiar names, but do we really know where they are? Here’s a geographical guide of the best diving spots.

Malaysia’s abundant islands can be divided into four distinct groups - Borneo, Tioman, the Northeast and Straits.

Borneo

The islands around Sabah are renowned for attracting seasoned divers from around the world. Few realise that popular Pulau Layang-Layang is located 167km out in the South China Sea. It is, in fact, a giant atoll, and features great aquatic life along with a magnificent 1,875m seawall. Hammerhead sharks are a key attraction.

Southeast of the state is Pulau Sipadan. Calm waters and stunning wall reefs provide an amazing variety of aquatic life and pelagics. The diversity is such that Jacques-Yves Cousteau declared it one of the most beautiful islands he’d ever seen. Around this national gem are also the sister islands of Mabul, Kagilan and Ligitan.

Sipadan Island's chalet

Reputation tarnished by the hostage-taking incident, Sipadan is becoming safe place to come back to because of the beefed-up security.

If you don’t want to leave too far from Kota Kinabalu, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TAR Park) is an ideal divespot. Pulau Labuan offers wonderful wreck diving opportunites while Turtle Island Park, which lies to the northeast of Sabah, is famous for obvious reasons.

Sarawak boasts a few gems of its own too. Off Kuching are the remarkable Pulau Satang and Pulau Talang-Talang which are both natural and strictly protected sanctuaries for turtles. In fact, no overnight visitors are allowed on these islands.

Tioman

Located off Johor, this group comprises Pulau Tioman, Pulau Besar, Pulau Aur and its tiny but idyllic offshoot, Pulau Dayang. Tioman is our third largest island and even boasts its own airstrip. As such, dive centres are scattered in each corner while divers are exposed to a myriad of excellent diving sites around it.

Pulau Chebeh (located northeast) was where a group of divers and I spotted a 15m Giant Manta on our very last dive. Of the smaller islands, Dayang is perhaps the best as it’s still a pristine paradise. Its idyllic waters are popular with open water dive students from Malaysia and Singapore.

Further south are Pulau Besar and Pulau Tinggi, with the latter noted for its ancient volcanic peak.

Northeast

For ravishing beaches and beautiful coral, nothing in Malaysia can match the Northeast group of islands. We begin with Kelantan-controlled Pulau Perhentian in the north. Rich in coral, Perhentian (it is actually two islands: Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil) is also famous for attracting turtles to its beaches. Off Trengganu, Pulau Lang Tengah and Pulau Redang follow. Both are popular but Redang’s rich coral diversity and pelagic attractions have led to major resorts being built on it. An airstrip is being built soon to cater for the increasing demand from local and international arrivals.

Pulau Perhentian

The water around Pulau Perhentian is so pristine, divers and snorkellers gain continuous delight.

Pulau Kapas and Tenggol complete the chain with the latter already having its own airstrip. The rocky underwater terrain is a distinct feature here. In general, the reputation of the Northeast islands have only been tarnished by the state government’s restrictions on beachwear.

Straits/West Coast

Although primarily noted for its availability when monsoons strike the rest of the nation, the Straits group of islands provide choppy waters and a different experience. Starting with Langkawi (a group in itself) diving can be expensive due to the remoteness of good dive sites. Also, the island’s resort status makes the cost prohibitive as a mere two dives can cost up to RM280 or more. Pulau Payar further south probably has the best sites.

Pulau Perak is even further out, but boasts unusually blue waters and a chance of sighting larger pelagics. Right in the middle of the straits, Pulau Jarak has better visibility due to its remoteness. Dolphins and sailfish have been sighted here.

A better choice is Pulau Sembilan which lies further south, near Lumut. Of course, there are many more islands in between that are probably well-kept secrets to everyone but the most hardcore divers. Divers would do well to explore as many as possible here before setting out for foreign shores.

Malaysia offers no shortage of diving choices. It is the combined uniqueness of our islands that makes them so attractive. Just like our cultural diversity.

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5D/4N Sipadan-Mabul-Kapalai Diving Holiday

Source: The Star

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