I see myself as an “island-o-phile.”
I welcome all islands with open arms, recognizing that no two islands are the same. One can be steep in culture and tradition like Bali while the other is a backpackers’ paradise like Phuket.
My keen interest for islands was rightly piqued when I heard our tour guide proclaimed that Pulau Rusukan Besar, an obscure islet in the Bay of Brunei, is an “untouched wonderland.”
An untouched wonderland. That’s a tall order to live up to.
A Maze of Steel
I’ve been on many boat rides before but the 30-minute cruise from Labuan to Rusukan Besar has to be the most visually interesting ride I ever encountered.
We felt like a gazelle squeezing our way through large herd of elephants as the high-powered boat navigated across hundreds of ships that lay idle in the bay. We even got the chance to be up close to a couple of towering oil rigs ubiquitous to the seascape of Borneo.
However, my waving at an oil rig at the attempt of getting noticed by any of the workers fell short as there was no one manning the rig early in the morning. It’s a clear sign that all is not well at this regional oil and gas hub.
As we finally escaped the steel maze, the deep blue waters impenetrable to light made way to a crystal clear ring surrounding the shores of Rusukan Besar.
Pioneers & Preservationists
At first glance, I would consider this island “untouched”. A wooden archway greeted us upon arrival followed by a hut for us to store our bags. Behind it were five cute A-frame chalets that serve as the only accommodation on the island.
All of these structures are painted a shocking pink – a good way to inject some zest into a new establishment.
We then met up with Mr Syahrizul Julai from the Department of Marine Park who informed us that Rusukan Besar together with neighboring Rusukan Kecil and Kuraman form one of the 42 marine parks in Malaysia. This also means rules and etiquette regarding the preservation of marine life are diligently enforced here.
We were also introduced to Mr Zulkafly Nasir who has been voluntarily helping the department run a turtle hatching center on the island. Mr Zulkafly used to be a part of the turtle egg trade but has since become a staunch supporter of turtle conservation in the area. To date, this hatchery has successfully released more than 10,000 hawksbill and green turtles into the wild.
It’s now time to see Rusukan Besar’s “wonderland.”
Once everyone had geared up, a throng of brightly lit snorkelers descended into the cool waters in hopes of finding Nemo. The ones who decided to stay dry were very lucky when they spotted a young black tip shark swimming so close to the shore!
The underwater scene is pretty but still has a long way to go in matching up with Perhentian Kecil’s treasure chest of corals. However, I did find interesting formations and shapes that dot the landscape as I randomly scuttle across the designated snorkel area.
There were many tiny colorful fishes darting around and I even encountered baby swordfishes swimming close to the surface. I was happily snorkeling alone when I suddenly saw something shiny and slithery moving on the sea floor. My heart skipped a beat when I saw a long spotted eel quickly shifting itself underneath a huge coral, presumably scared that I found him at such an open space.
I got spooked myself so I decided to swim closer to the beach and had this selfie to show!
A Make-Believe Desert Island
The part of Rusukan Besar we explored was only about a one third of the island’s shoreline.
We had a full view of the “parking lot” of ships throughout the whole time we were there while the ones who didn’t snorkel opted to roam around the island to capture snapshots of the uninhabited part of the island.
I felt that I was stranded on some sort of no-man’s land as Rusukan Besar lies halfway between Labuan and Brunei’s port of Muara, flanked by neighboring Sabah and Sarawak. That’s basically four different territories within eyesight!
I do have high hopes for this alluring cluster of islands. Its recent rediscovery should be managed in a sustainable manner and not left to be ravaged by uncontrolled mass tourism like the fate of many islands in Southeast Asia.
The beauty of Rusukan Besar is undeniable and with the right amount of care, this island would definitely be an untouched wonderland for many years to come.
If you want to know more on the “Top Things To Do & See In Labuan”, check out Ramble and Wander here.
Many thanks to Tourism Malaysia for inviting me on this three-day media familiarization trip to Labuan. All opinions and thoughts are my own.
- A snorkeling day trip to Pulau Rusukan Besar is priced at RM180 per person while overnight stay costs RM380 per person. Package includes accommodation (for overnight), snorkeling gear, hotel transfer, boat transfer and full board meals.
- Pulau Rusukan Besar has basic facilities at the moment so do stock up on snacks and supplies in Labuan before making your way to the island.
- At least 2 pax are needed for a booking and prices are negotiable for larger groups. For inquiries, do get in touch with Mr Tan via mobile at +60178180812.