A water wonderland
A water wonderland

Shame on me. My mobile phone has already buzzed with a text from Dean Alston (my phone often buzzes in the night, when I am away, with dire and humorous warnings from our cartoonist of the fates that may befall me in foreign climes).

I wasn't asleep this time. I was lying in a room big enough to host a table-tennis tournament, on stilts over the ocean off the north-east coast of Sabah. With all the windows open, rejoicing in the lack of insects out here, I was listening to the fans whir in the warm night, and the water lap around the piles, the cries of the heron, and a more distant one of a baby in another room, and outbreak of singsong Asian voices and the odd explosion of fish-frenzy in the water. One of the staff passed quietly along the jetty on a bicycle - like running a finger along a note-less piano keyboard.

It is a languid, still night, with barely a breath of movement in the air, and I have dined on rice and salad and supped a Tiger beer at the Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort's big restaurant. Out here, 100m along a wooden boardwalk, sort-of at sea, surrounded by reef and dive sites. Happy and relaxed.

But, shame on me, I reply to Alston (trust me, one should never reply to Alston's texts - it's asking for trouble), and with my brain now ticking over, I start to list all the things I need to do in the morning. And my brain starts composing emails. Shame on me. I give up, get up, get the laptop out and sit outside on the back deck, in the night, tapping those emails up and into the drafts box, wearing the head torch so I can see the keys to type.

Well, I start to.

But the night takes over. The deck is about 4m above the gently lapping water, and big - 7mx4m. It is slatted and there are lights underneath, so I can see the water between each slat, and the floor of the ocean under the shallow water.

A pipefish the size of my leg cruises past, with three more, slightly smaller, in tow behind. I look over the rail and the floor is dotted with starfish.

A parrot fish. A small stingray. Myriad clouds of tiny but colourful reef fish.

It is the sort of night you want to relish. You don't want to go to sleep.

All around me, the other over-water suites are quiet, and I just lie out here on the deck, watching the fish, feeling the night, letting the stillness soak into me.

Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort is a 45-minute boat trip from Semporna, which is 70-odd kilometres, or an hour and a half in a minibus, from Tawau, on the east coast of the Malaysian State of Sabah, on the northern end of Borneo. Tawau is an 80-minute flight from Kota Kinabalu, which is five hours and 45 minutes direct with Malaysia Airlines from Perth.

So, now we know where we are.

But where are we?

Well, we are in one of the world's most respected dive areas, and that is what most people on Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort are here for. The area is widely considered one of the world's top five dive destinations, with myriad fish, turtles, shallow corals and a 700m drop into the Celebes Sea.

Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort lists 28 close-by dive sites, from blue spotted garden to sweet-tips table, twin peak to coral garden. All can be reached in a few minutes by boat. Diving around Kapalai is shallow and easy.

There's macro, small-fish and reef life around Kapalai, big fish and turtles at nearby Sipadan and muddy bottoms at Mabul.

Most of the guests are Asian - I overhear Malaysians, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese. Some will snorkel but there is a full dive centre and that is what many spend their time doing.

At lunchtime, there's a line of the guests' pretty serious underwater camera gear around the edge of the room. Most divers will bring some of their own gear, of course, but the dive centre hires out all equipment.

Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort has 51 rooms over the water, a big restaurant, platforms to enter the water and a man-made sandy beach.

It is part of a group of three resorts, along with Lankayan Island Dive Resort, where there are 23 wooden seafront chalets and which is famous for whale shark sightings, and Sepilok Nature Resort, within walking distance of Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, home of orang-utans.

They are all immersed in the remarkable environment, landscapes and seascapes of Sabah. Just as I am now, in this warm, still night.

I look over the rail again. There are now eight stingrays, three lion fish, their stripped fins fanned out, at least 20 starfish and a whole organ of pipefish.

I yawn involuntarily and think of that big comfortable bed under the fans. Shame on me. The night's too good to miss.

And then the phone rings. My inner voice says, "Don't answer it, don't answer it, don't answer it . . ." But I answer it. It's Alston. "Wherethehellareya?"

·Stephen Scourfield was a guest of the resort.


  • fact file *

·Passengers with Malaysia Airlines can fly direct from Perth to Kota Kinabalu, and can also book and connect straight through to Tawau, as I did. There was a comfortable 80-minute connection in Kota Kinabalu. See travel agents, malaysiaairlines.com or call 9263 7007.

·Pulau Sipadan Resort and Tours, in Tawau, east Sabah, is very helpful and books for all three resorts. Call +6089 765200 (same time zone as Perth, ask for Thomas and say I sent you) or visit sipadan-resort.com, lankayan-resort.com and sepilok.com.

·Packages are priced for divers at about $655 (Malaysian ringgit 1900) for three nights and two days, $880 (Malaysian ringgit 2550) for four days and three nights. These are until March 21 next year and include the Sipadan dive permit fee.

For non-divers, it is $524 (Malaysian ringgit 1520) and $700 (Malaysian ringgit 2030).

The packages include being met at Tawau airport and the 90-minute land transfer to Semporna (return); the 45-minute boat transfer to Kapalai Island and return; accommodation on a twin-sharing basis; three boat dives daily except on arrival and departure days; unlimited dives in front of Kapalai dive centre; all meals, buffet style; afternoon snacks served after third dive; tea, coffee, cold water and cordial throughout the day; tanks, weight and belt. No extra charge for night dives in front of the dive centre for advanced divers or divers with night dive experience.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save