The Land Below the Wind is famous for its clear and blue beaches, as well as their diving sites. In northwest of Kota Belud, there are a group of three islands called Mantanani Islands. It consists of Mantanani Besar, Mantanani Kecil and Lungisan Island.
The island was once famous for its dugong (sea cow), but lately, the sightings are less frequent. However, do not let this dampen your spirit. There are still plenty of things to see and experience at Mantanani Island.
There are many species of rays such as blue spotted ray and marbled sting ray that can be spotted there. Turtles are frequently sighted at Mantanani, though most of them are juvenile turtles.
Nearby, there are three dive wrecks, dated back to World War II at Usukan Bay. The wrecks are believed to be Japanese warships Hikane Maru, Hiyori Maru and Kokusei Maru, but the locals often refer to them as Rice Bowk Wreck, the Upside Down Wreck and the Usukan Wreck. The first two wrecks are located at 26m underwater, while the latter is the deepest of the three, laid at 35m – 45m and it is only available to technical divers. The main reason these wrecks attract divers is because of the corals covering the surface, along with amazing range of marine life such as Nurse Sharks, Barracuda, Yellow Snappers and others.
Another activity that you can do here is muck diving. Macro photography enthusiasts will love it here. There are seahorses, pink-eye gobies, imperial shrimps, ribbon eels and nudibranch. You can also do kayaking here.
Besides water activities, you can also do some bird watching. Some of them are rarely seen on the mainland. There is one species of bird that exists exclusively on Mantanani Besar which is called Mantanani Scops Owl. The island also has four breeding pigeon species; Pied imperial-pigeon, Pink-necked green pigeon, Grey imperial-pigeon and Metallic pigeon.
There are two budget accommodations on Mantanani Besar Island, namely Mari-Mari Backpackers Lodge and Sayang-Sayang Hostel. Mari-Mari Backpackers Lodge are most tourists favourite because of its design. Every room is actually individual wooden hut, with palm leaves roof. Sayang-Sayang Hostel is a dormitory style accommodation and each room can accommodate 6 to 8 people.
For those who prefer staying at a nicer hotel, there is Mantanani Dream Resort, a new resort that opened in January 2014. Another resort there is Bembaran Beach Resort (Dive Lodge), which is located right on dugong beach, one of Mantanani’s most beautiful and private beaches.
To get to this amazing island, you need to go to Kota Belud, which is about an hour and a half’s drive from the state capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu. Then, hop on a speedboat from Kuala Abai Jetty. The boat ride will take approximately 45 minutes. Although it takes some time to reach this island, it will be worth the trouble since you will be rewarded with spectacular view of the island and its surrounding. So on your next trip to Sabah, do check out Mantanani Island.