What? Island Resort
Where? Kuala Penyu, Sabah
Lost Ratings: *****
Of all the many wonderful natural attractions in this eco-paradise called Sabah, Pulau Tiga Park is perhaps one of the more unique ones. As its name suggests (Pulau Tiga means “three islands” in Malay), the national park is made up of three islands and all three are special in their own way. Established as a national park since 1978, Pulau Tiga only became “famous” after the first season of the popular reality game show, Survivor, was filmed there in 2000. Its remote location and unique features like mud volcanoes, tropical jungle and clear waters made it the perfect place for a deserted island adventure. Despite its new-found fame, the island has not been spoiled by hordes of holiday-makers, and it remains a quiet island getaway.
Getting to Pulau Tiga is not as convenient as, say Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, but that can be a blessing in disguise. Its distance from the capital city of Kota Kinabalu means that only those truly determined souls can enjoy the island. There are three ways of getting to the island. The first is by car. From Kota Kinabalu, it is a 140km (2 hours +) car ride to Kuala Penyu, the departing point for Pulau Tiga. The boat ride takes about 30 to 40 minutes from here. An alternative is to travel by speed boat directly from KK. This takes between 60 to 90 minutes. The last alternative is only for those who can afford it – a helicopter ride direct to the island.
The main island of Pulau Tiga Park is also called Pulau Tiga. There are currently two resorts on the island itself. Both have their own jetties and boats to transfer guests from Kuala Penyu. The other 2 islands, Kalampunian Besar and Kalampunian Damit, are nothing more than a sand cay and a rock respectively. Pulau Kalampunian Besar is a small sand cay built up from coral fragments. The shape of the island changes according to the whims of the strong winds and currents. Pulau Kalampunian Damit is more well-known as Snake Island. This is where the amphibious and very poisonous sea-snake Laticauda colubrine goes to lay eggs. Visits to this island can be arranged at RM20 per person. This however depends on the weather conditions. At the time I was there, strong winds prevented us from getting near the island.
On arrival at Pulau Tiga Resort, visitors will be greeted by a “Survivor Island” sign. A “wild man” sculpture is another reminder of its Survivor legacy. The blue, blue sea invites you to immediately jump in for a swim, but there is no rush. This is after all, the deserted island adventure, and the reason people come here is to relax. An overnight stay is recommended so that you can truly experience the island after the day-trippers have left.
Other than lazing around and swimming and snorkeling, the one thing that you must do is to soak in a mud volcano. Mud volcanoes are formed when natural gas builds up enough pressure to escape along cracks in the earth’s surface, carrying with it mud, water, and rocks. Pulau Tiga is believed to have been formed by the eruption of several mud volcanoes. There are 3 volcanoes all together. The last violent eruption occurred in 1941 when the eastern volcano erupted. The eruption was heard as far as 160 km away and almost 30 hectares of forest was smothered with boiling, hot liquid mud. Thankfully, the volcanoes are now largely dormant. Every few hours, bubbles of gas rise to the surface and splatter cold mud over the surrounding vegetation. Near to the mud volcanoes are mud pools, not unlike those that buffaloes wallow in. The nearest one is about 30 minutes trek through the jungle. You should do like the buffalo does and soak in the mud. The mud feels cool and some people believe that their skin feels smoother after a natural mud spa. There are not many places in Malaysia where this is possible and it is a unique and fun experience. Getting out of the mud pool, it is a race against time to get back to wash yourself as the mud begins to harden on your body and you start to walk, look and feel like a mudman. Don’t forget to take those once in a lifetime mudman photos!
Other activities on Pulau Tiga include jungle trekking, kayaking and diving. Since the islands are uninhabited and have been designated as a forest reserve since 1933, Pulau Tiga has retained much of its flora and fauna. The megapode, a chicken-like bird, is one of the rare fauna found here. You can trek around the island using the map from the resort as a guide. The highest point is 100m above sea level. Coral reefs can be found on the western end of Pulau Tiga. The rich marine life that can be seen here include bamboo sharks, cuttlefish, marbled stingray, and nudibranchs.
Last but not least, Pulau Tiga is meant to be a place to relax on the beach. Most of the time you will have the beach to yourself or there will only be a few other people there. And if it is not, there are always other more remote beaches to go to. Lie in a hammock and read a book while listening to the sea breeze. It is not everyday that you are happy to be stranded on a deserted island. But on Pulau Tiga, you will be.
Survivor trivia: The first season of Survivor was won by Richard Hatch. The name of that season was changed from Survivor: Pulau Tiga to Survivor: Borneo, to differentiate it from the tenth season, Survivor: Palau.
Pulau Tiga day trip
Pulau Tiga overnight trip
Pulau Tiga and Klias River Safari tour
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