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 Kinabalu

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Islands in the Stream ...... Survival of the Fittest ....... Reefs and Coral ......  fish to die for ..............

Whatever takes your fancy, whether it is diving amongst the beautiful marine life or just snorkeling on the surface in waist deep water, the islands here in the South China Sea have it all.

Many are totally uninhabited (you need plenty of shade and water to live in this climate) and only visited in the daytime by fishermen in canoes; some, like Pulau Tiga where the Survivor series is being filmed, have been taken under the protection of the Government and Fisheries Department and made into "National Park" areas or given a resident Warden.

This is good in some respects as it tends to prevent such acts as fish-bombing which destroys the coral; bad in other respects as you sometimes have to pay (only a couple of dollars admittedly) to go on them and also because one or two are flooded by hundreds of  tourists during the daytime.

Off the coast of Labuan Island are some charming sandy islets, two of which were taken over by "illegal" immigrants who fished and built grass huts until one day an epidemic swept through their village, decimating the population and causing the remainder to move to another island; now there is only one house left and a collection of tiny graves .....

Nearby, on a neighbouring island, someone has tried to start a resort with small huts and a little restaurant - it might be there this year but gone the next. The beauty will remain.

Opposite our favourite holiday location in Kinabalu, the Seaside Inn, are 3 almost unvisited coral islands in such shallow water that you can wade to 2 of them at low tide. At one end of the third one, along a white sandy beach and set back behind a little lagoon is the remains of a backpackers hostel - gone for ever,  leaving just an old man and his 5 puppies to look after the falling down huts and old toilet block ......... but surprise, surprise! At the other end of the same island a new "luxury resort" has sprung up - beautiful little wooden huts made from the best hardwoods and with en-suite shower rooms and a huge restaurant complex. But will it ever get off the ground? It has been deserted apart from 5 or 10 workmen for the last few years!

Easiest to reach and most popular amongst visitors are the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, opposite Kinabalu City. A short speedboat ride from downtown brings you ashore on Sapi, an island so idyllic it makes you want to stay for ever at first glance. There is crystal clear water, white beaches and a little hill in the centre. The whole island measures only a couple of square miles and you can walk round it easily in an hour. Now there is a jetty, entrance fee and a large freezer full of ice creams and lollies. Water sports are provided by the Tanjung Aru Hotel staff, including Para sending, banana boating, jet skis and kayaks, all at a price. There is no restaurant or accommodation, but regular barbecues are provided now for the ever increasing number of foreign visitors (mostly from Japan).

Just a mile away is Manukan Island, which is much larger and boasts a good Chinese-style restaurant and 20 or so wooden cabins to overnight in.

Further on is Sulug Island - now a centre for diving and with semi-permanent tented accommodation and a cafe.

Lastly Mamutik with its solitary white house which can be rented by the week; but walk 200 metres in any direction and you come to the seashore. Now a haven for new divers to practice.....

All these are just 20 minutes from downtown Kinabalu, yet you could be light-years away from civilization; not to be missed on your visit to Borneo.

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