The Mecca of muck diving and gateway to the amazing Sipadan Island, Mabul is a great place for any macro diving and underwater photography enthusiast. The two dive locations are like chalk and cheese, head to Sipidan for the big stuff and Mabul for the macro. Diving both locations will fulfil your diving needs for a long time to come!
The diving on Mabul is mostly sandy bottom and broken coral and if you can look past the rubbish then you’ll find some of the most interesting critters to be found on the planet. There is also some nice wall diving a little further out, making about 20 dive site available in the immediate area.
Things to see include cuttlefish, octopus, squid, many types of shrimp, crabs and nudibranchs, frogfish galore, lionfish, stone and scorpion fish, crocodile fish, anemone fish, seahorses including the very rare pigmy seahorse, flying gurnards, pipefish and the most amazing thing to find at dusk is the Mandarin Fish. It would take a whole page to explain the sea life around the island.
One of the coolest dives is the Seaventure Dive Platform (also known as the Oil Rig) which is right under an oil rig that’s been converted into a hotel. This site is home to the Pygmy Seahorse which is almost guaranteed to be seen as they never leave the one coral, just finding the little guy is the hard thing! Lobster Wall and Eel Garden are two great wall dives just a few minutes by boat on the surrounding fringe reef. Ribbon eels and lobsters are common here.
Right of the shore there’s so much to see whether you’re diving or snorkelling. Sometimes you can just hire a tank if you’re certified and go with your buddy but it’s best to go with a guide who knows the area and will find some great stuff for you. The Mabul House Reef (also known as Paradise) is home to the Mandarin Fish so a night dive on the site is a must as they come out only at dusk for their daily dance ritual. Frog fish are very common on this site.
Snorkelers can just grab their gear and jump into the water from anywhere around the island and see loads of cool things too. You’ll just want to get into the water again and again so give yourself a good couple of weeks for both Mabul and Sipadan. Hire or buy a camera for this trip because the shots you’ll capture here, you won’t get anywhere else and this is something you’ll want to remember everything!
(By Kelly Luckman)
A small island off the coast of Sabah in Borneo Malaysia, this fishing village became popular in the 1990’s due to its proximity to the world class dive area of Sipadan. You won’t find any roads or vehicles on this island, making it a getaway like no other and perfect for relaxing and getting away from it all.
Mabul is a 30 minute boat ride away from the coastal town of Semporna (1.5 hours by slow boat). There’s nothing really in Semporna and it’s extremely polluted so grab all your supplies and jump quickly on the boat. You can book the boat through most dive centres and the trip should be free if you’re diving with the company. The closest airport to Semporna is Tawau, which is an hour drive so ask your dive centre about transport and most of them do a pick up once a day or every two days. You can fly to Tawau with Air Asia from many Malaysian cities, the most popular being Kuala Lumpur.
Accommodation in Mabul is usually wooden huts built on stilts over the water and prices vary considerably. Cheap home stays with only a bed and fan are around $20 a night, midrange from about $50 and the high end, amazing water bungalows can be up to $400 a night! These prices are per person and include all food and water. If you book a diving package then the accommodation is usually cheaper.
There’s nothing really to do on Mabul other than diving and snorkelling and these activities are a must. Be careful of the rubbish in the water and boat traffic can make areas dangerous so check with the locals before entering the water. You can relax on the beach or take a walk around the town, there’s a small market with some lovely things for sale made by the local people.
There is no real place to shop on the island, other than a few little things like soft drink and chips so it’s best to bring your supplies from the mainland. Alcohol is expensive but usually available from wherever you’re staying; best to get that from the mainland as well if you’re on a budget. There is one small restaurant serving rice dishes at the top end of the island but other than that, you’re restricted to the food served in your home stay or resort which is usually all fried and includes, fish, vegetables and rice… every day for lunch and dinner. A week of this food can send you a little crazy!
Keep an eye out for the fishermen stopping at your resort, they’ll have a bag of treasures for you to purchase including live crabs, lobsters and fish. The chef in your accommodation should cook this for you -no worries, and it’s a nice change to the buffet you get every day.
Spend a week or two here off the grid and in the Mecca of diving and snorkelling and immerse yourself in island life. You won’t want to leave!
(By Kelly Luckman)