Finding Nemo Snorkeling Around Mamutik Island in Borneo

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There are some adventures that stick with you for a lifetime. I’m sure that learning to snorkel at Mamutik Island off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo is one of those for my daughter. What I’m not sure about is how to top a snorkeling experience like this which included a private guided reef tour, loads of colorful fish even in shallow water and a picnic lunch on the private beach belonging to our host, Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa.

Anyone can visit Mamutik Island, but visiting as a guest of the resort is a different, more intimate experience. But if visiting Kota Kinabalu with kids, snorkeling here with them is easy due to calm and shallow water. And, you just might see clownfish, blacktip reef sharks, eels and so much more.

How to Get to Mamutik Island

At only 15 acres, Mamutik Island (or Pulau Mamutik) is the smallest of the five islands that make up Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. It’s a lovely place to spend a beach day and you can take a boat easily from Kota Kinabalu.

Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa’s STAR Marina—which was literally steps from our room—offers daily transport for resort guests to Mamutik and other islands as well as a wide range of water sports ranging from from diving to waterskiing. They have gear rentals, too.

Our first order of business before catching the first 9:00 a.m. boat out was to get outfitted with snorkeling gear and life vests.

The STAR Marina at Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa has plenty of snorkel gear for all ages

Staff will help determine fit and give you a handy bag to carry everything in. Directly outside, we boarded our boat from the resort’s private jetty and set off on the quick trip to Mamutik Island.

The private STAR Marina jetty at Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, Kota Kinabalu

I wasn’t counting but I would say it took about five awesome minutes at sea, maybe less.

Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa STAR Marina boat

The short distance makes Mamutik Island an easy half-day trip, though a full day of leisure would be even better.

A Tranquil Private Beach

The water was so clear that we could see thousands of fish swarming between the underwater posts of the arrival jetty. After walking a minute or two through a public area—where locals and tourists gather at picnic tables to eat or prepare to swim—we arrived at Shangri-la’s secluded private beach. A canopy of trees shade the provided lounge chairs which are located steps away from the designated area for snorkeling.

Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa's private beach on Mamutik Island

Hotel staff here make sure that guests are comfortable, assist with snorkel gear and point out where the fish are. Valuables can be placed in lockers onsite for safe-keeping. The resort was at fully-booked during our stay but there is so much to do on and off the property that the private beach here was still quiet.

Snorkeling on Mamutik Island

This trip was a test-run for my brand new GoPro Hero4 and I was so grateful to have an underwater camera, even if I wasn’t yet experienced using it.

There are far more fish than my photos portray and they’re much closer in real life. And, they’re beautiful.

Snorkeling off Mamutik Island in Kota Kinabalu

My daughter struggled trying to get into the water with fins on but once we ditched them she was fine and off exploring on her own.

“You have to see Nemo’s house!” one of the other resort guests enthusiastically shouted at her from across the beach. The woman had just taken advantage of the guided snorkel tour available to Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa guests. I thought it would be too much swimming for my daughter but the guide attached a lifeguard buoy to himself and gave the floatation end to my daughter to hold as she swam. Off we went into deeper Borneo water to literally find Nemo.

Snorkeling in South China Sea off Mamutik Island

Finless, I did just fine though they would have been helpful on hindsight. Life jackets kept us afloat anyway. At one point, we swam through a giant swarm of small, harmless jellyfish that are so transparent they didn’t show up in any GoPro photos. Our guide reassured us that he could see everything we could and not to worry. So, we didn’t and what we saw was incredibly cool.

Clownfish feed on blue anemones which is why they can be reliably found in this spot. Now, we understand why the resort’s mascot is a clownfish named Jaga.

In shallower water, we searched for rays in the sand but, unfortunately, none were found.

My daughter loved matching sea life we saw to their names by scrolling these helpful posters which were set up on a table near the beach. Looking at the chart now, we did see quite a few of these creatures.

Sea Life of Southeast Asia - Borneo

Dining on Mamutik Island

While vendors sell fresh coconuts to drink from and food is available for purchase, we ordered the picnic lunch through Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa which was delivered in a cooler to the beach before 11:00 a.m. The three-course lunch came with a choice of drink, salad, sandwich, fruit and dessert—more than we could eat and at an extraordinarily reasonable price.

Our picnic lunch on Mamutik Island ordered through Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru

Sandcastles, Hikes and More

My daughter spent hours building cool sandcastles using bits of coral, branches, sea shells and the like, but her prize discovery was this old coral rock that revealed new shells and crevices every time you poured water over it.

Coral in the sand on Mamutik Island, Malaysian Borneo

You never know what you might find in such a cool part of the world. Some people come to Mamutik Island and skip the beach to hike. We heard reports of close encounters with rather large lizards which sounded up my alley.

Tips for Your Visit

Washed up coral on the beach of Mamutik Island, Malaysian Borneo

We were told that it’s best to arrive early when the water is the most clear. However, I would say it was clear on both days we visited up until our afternoon departure and possibly beyond.

The sand at the water’s edge is filled with small bits of coral, shells and some rock. We didn’t have problems in bare feet but water shoes might be helpful. Plan to spend time exploring for sea shells.

Make sure to bring sunscreen and bug spray… it’s Malaysia, after all!

Our day of snorkeling around Mamutik Island was a more exclusive experience as a guest of Shangri'la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa and one of our most memorable days in Kota Kinabalu.

Just Go

Mamutik Island is one of the best things to do in Kota Kinabalu with kids and it’s made especially convenient if you are a guest of Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa. We’ve been home barely a month now and my daughter is already asking to return, which we  spring break 2016.

Have you visited Mamutik Island?

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1 Comment

  1. June 12, 2015 at 12:32 am — Reply

    I love the sound of this resort and the snorkeling looks fantastic. I plan to add the Shangri-la Tanjung Aru Resort to our list of future vacation destinations.

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