While exploring Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo it is an absolute must to get out to the nearby islands for spectacular nature, fun in the sun, and blissful relaxation. Luckily, we were invited to visit Manukan Island with Sutera Sanctuary Lodges. The banana-shaped island is quite popular with tourists as it’s only a quick 15-minute speedboat ride from downtown KK. We were shipped over to the island for a couples getaway in the lodge’s private yacht, aptly named Amazing Love. I’ve always loved marinas and the Sutera Harbor was absolutely stunning with incredible yachts and sailboats, I almost felt like I was back in Las Olas, Ft. Lauderdale! Three islands loom in the distance across the South China Sea from the marina, the largest which is Manukan Island. But Manukan is actually the second largest island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park (TARP).
Manukan Island Resort, which is managed by Sutera Sanctuary, is the only accommodation on Manukan Island. The island is projected by the government as it is located in a Malaysian National Park. The property consists of an assortment of hillside jungle and beachside villas, each with sweeping views of the South China Sea. There are also several dining establishments, a sweet circular swimming pool, and several hammocks where we lazily dazed in the sun.
Jungle lovers and beach lovers can rejoice because at the Manukan Island Resort they don’t have to choose between the two. Our premium Hilltop Villa, number 14, has jungle views from the back and sea views from the front. The villa was more like a massive apartment than a guest room and was easily the most comfortable place we’ve ever stayed. It is the layout of my dream flat, minus a kitchen–there’s even a guest bathroom. My favorite part of our villa was the multiple sitting areas including an area of huge throw pillows set up in front of the floor to ceiling windows, a lounge area, where we promptly had a pillow fight, and a family room with sofas and a TV. We never turned on the TV and never do when we travel, how could we when the sea is beckoning us a mere stone’s throw away?
By day we enjoyed our morning coffee on our balcony in ultra-soft robes and by night we star gazed using the telescope provided in our room. Our luxurious Hilltop Villa was extra welcoming due to these special little details. It was also ultra colorful with beautiful decor items such as artisan crafted traditional hats used as decorations and fresh flowers. The master bathroom is nearly just as large as the living space with a huge tub for two, rain shower, his and her sinks, and cotton robes to don post bathing. The bedroom was pine with a lush massive bed and windows that flooded the room with crisp jungle light when the curtains were pulled back and left us in complete darkness when they were closed. Needless to say, we had a very restful sleep here.
As dusk approached we set off on the 45-minute trek to the Sunset Point located on the western edge of Manukan Island. We had the trail and the viewpoint completely to ourselves. It was the most tranquil moment of our day as we watched the sea crash into the rocks below as the sun made a dramatic exit behind brooding clouds. The day trip tourists that populate the beach must leave on the last ferry at 5 PM and are unable to view the sunset which is likely why were the only two at the spot. We made a rookie mistake and did not test out the flashlight that was provided in our room before leaving–it must have had a low battery as it hardly glowed and we had to trek back to the resort in the pitch black.
We returned to the Manukan Island Resort and were treated to a sea-front BBQ feast at Perahu restaurant. I was served a flavorful combo of shrimp and grilled veggies and Julio enjoyed an assortment of grilled meats. Our meal was accompanied with fantastic wine paired with a trio of local musicians who serenaded us with our favorite Beatles songs. It was an incredibly romantic night that we’re sure not to forget. The following morning we returned for the buffet style breakfast that serves a never-ending supply of west and eastern specialties along with real coffee (which can be a rare find in Mayalsia, even at high-end establishments) and fresh fruits. For lunch, we dined at the poolside bar where we had traditional dishes but the portions were quite small. There is also a hawker (street food stall) stand on the island that prepares affordable local dishes and is open only during the day. From the reception to the restaurants, the staff at Manukan Island Resort were incredibly courteous and helpful. Manukan Island Resort is also a member of Secret Retreats.
As beautiful as the sunset point is the sunrise views are even more incredible. A 10-minute stroll along the beach at dawn will take you to the eastern end of the island. On a clear day, you’ll be able to watch the sun rise into the sky behind Mount Kinabalu. The Mountain is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is the tallest peak in Malaysia at 13,455 ft above sea level. These pictures are completely unfiltered (I don’t filter any of my pictures actually) but they don’t even begin to do the sunrise justice. We are not morning people at all but the 5:30 A.M. alarm was well worth it to experience this sunrise together. We’ll never forget this spectacular natural beauty.
From our Hillside Villa, we had incredible views of the sea and Kota Kinabalu in the distance. The calm sea waters combined with long stretches of soft white sand beaches were absolute paradise, at least on the right side of the pier which is restricted for guests only. The rest of the island sees thousands of tourist every day–200,000 visitors come to the island each year. These are the worst kind of tourists who throw trash directly into the ocean off of their boats which pollutes the water and endangers the vulnerable sea life that lives on the reef just off of Manukan island. We rented snorkels but didn’t stay in the water long as it was so filthy from the constant oozing gasoline from the public ferry boats that bring loads of tourists and their endless litter. The sea is crystal clear and we were able to see trash floating and dead coral but hardly saw any aquatic life. Sutera Sanctuary Lodges works hard to keep their side of the island clean but it is nearly impossible as the trash returns each and every day. This was very disappointing to see in a national park and I hope the Malaysian government will implement stricter recycling rules to reduce waste on the island.
Thank you, Sutera Sanctuary Lodges for hosting us at Manukan Island Resort! All opinions and photos are my own. This post contains affiliate links, please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.