The TARP offers excellent diving on Kota Kinabalu’s doorstep

A turtle hovering over a coral patch in the TAR Park

There are not many places in the world that offer a bustling city full of modern facilities and then right on the doorstep, just 8 minutes by speedboat from the central entertainment district, a stunning tropical marine paradise.

Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, is such a place and the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, locally known as the TAR Park, is home to Downbelow’s PADI 5 Star IDC Dive & Adventure Centre on Gaya Island, just 8 minutes by speedboat from the mainland.

Named after Malaysia’s first prime minister, covering and area of 50km², the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park was gazetted as a national park in 1974.

Consequently the area’s fauna, flora and marine eco-systems enjoy the protection of the government appointed environmental body, Sabah Parks.

One of a wide variety of nudibranchs found in the TAR Park

Five beautiful tropical islands make up the land mass of the TAR Park, a 49km² national park:

  • Pulau Sapi
  • Pulau Manukan
  • Pulau Mamutik
  • Pulau Sulug
  • Pulau Gaya

At 15km², Pulau Gaya, or Gaya Island in English, is the largest of the 5 islands and home to a local stilt village on the eastern shore nearest to the city.

Excellent walking trails criss-cross the rest of the island, meandering through virgin, tropical rain forests.

Gaya Island is surrounded by tropical waters, abundant with diverse and fascinating marine life and sheltered reefs with year round dive access.

Divers getting ready to dive in the TAR Park

It’s an idilic island paradise setting to relax and while away surface intervals in.

All this is within view of the KK city centre and Mt. Kinabalu in the distance.

There are three 5-star resorts within the park with accommodation starting from RM 600 per chalet per night. Accommodation is located on Manukan Island & Gaya Island.

There are 3 public beaches located at Pulau Sapi, Manukan & Mamutik.

They can become overcrowded and sadly, as a result, some of the surrounding coral off the public beaches has been destroyed.

However, based at The Beach House, Gaya Island and surrounded by primary rain forest, Downbelow’s PADI 5-Star IDC Dive & Adventure Centre is a haven for watersports and wildlife lovers.

The beautiful lagoon fronting Downbelow's 5-Star IDC Dive Centre on Gaya Island in the TAR Park

Here Downbelow offers daily scuba diving, PADI dive courses, snorkeling, skin diving, trekking, sea kayaking and sailing.

This is why we say a visit to our Beach House and Scuba Diving Centre is a must when in Kota Kinabalu.

Scuba Diving – Dive Trips Gaya Island & West Coast Sabah

Our full service PADI 5 Star IDC Centre, offers the widest range of scuba diving opportunities on West Coast Sabah.

We visit locations such as:

Diving and Snorkeling in the TAR Park

  • Gaya Island & Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TARP)
  • Offshore Dive Sites ( including The Rock & Edgell Patches)
  • Gaya Wreck
  • Pulau Tiga
  • Deluar Shoals
  • Mayne Rock
  • Usukan WWII Wrecks
  • Mantanani

Our scuba diving guests are always very surprised to see such a variety of marine life and healthy corals.

The dive sites offer some great scuba diving for beginners and experienced divers alike.

It features lots of hard and soft coral, great macro life, schools of tropical fish and many prized critters.

Plus, experience permitting, wreck diving.

Dive sites within the park are predominantly sloping coral reefs, mangrove areas and sand slopes with plenty of fish life and macro subjects.

The TAR Park’s diving sites are ideal for photographers of all levels.

The park provides an ideal location for conducting PADI dive courses.

Island Paradise is to be found just off Kota Kinabalu in the TAR Park

Many people choose to complete Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water Diver or Refresher courses with us before continue their journey to Kapalai, Sipadan or dive sites elsewhere.

What can I see in the TAR Park

Macro life is what we are passionate about, but having said that, there are plenty of larger marine creatures to be found.

We regularly see turtles and rays, especially at Turtles House dive site and recently one of our nearby dive sites became home to a small group of Black Tip Reef Sharks.

If this was not enough, March & April is traditionally Whaleshark season.

Schools of barracuda, snappers, fusiliers and anthias are common.

A diver using a flashlight to bring out the pink colour in this frogfish found in the TAR Park

We often see cuttlefish, moray eels, lionfish and pufferfish.

Nudibranchs are common, so too are all 7 species of clownfish, all of which can be seen in just one dive site!

Many species of crustaceans, scorpionfish, pipefish, demon stingers, cuttlefish and stonefish are also usual suspects.

We often find frogfish, ghostpipefish and, once in a while, the highly prized blue ringed octopus!

Multiple day dive packages offer great value for money and you won’t see the same dive site twice – unless you wanted to of course, which does happen!

We have 37ft , 35ft and 32ft dive boats, which are very spacious and comfortable to dive from.

Although not plentiful yet, seahorses can also be found in the TAR Park

A great variety of dives sites can be found just minutes from our island dive center.

That way even student divers still get to dive some of the most beautiful dive sites.

We limit the number of divers on the boat and try to keep people with similar levels of experience on the same boat.

Snorkelers join snorkel boats, unless special requests are made and the site permits.

But we all meet up again after every dive at our island paradise.

Our staff to client ratio is very low, so we can accommodate all levels of divers with their own dive guides.

We offer NITROX and dive computer rentals.

Please view our TARP Photo Gallery to see more images of the fascinating underwater marine life of TAR Park. All images were photographed in TARP by Richard Swann, Downbelow’s Managing Director.

Safety is paramount, we adhere to PADI standards and procedures and follow British HSE guidelines.

Read more about our dive centre facilities plus equipment & safety.

Read Richard & Joanne Swann’s most recent article: Destination TARP in Sport Diving Australia!!

Surface intervals are spent at Downbelow's PADI 5-Star IDC Dive Centre on Gaya Island