If scuba diving in turquoise waters filled with rich and colourful marine life near white-sand beaches and forested islands in a national park sounds like paradise, Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is your dream come true. What’s more, it’s only a quick 15-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu.

Five sandy islands – Manukan, Gaya, Sapi, Mamutik and Sulug – dot the waters off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in the South China Sea. These islands and their surrounds, with their underwater wonderland of reefs, constitute Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park.

Granted its national park status in 1974, the 49-square-kilometre zone (of which only one-third is land) enjoys increased protection in the hope of preserving its unique flora and fauna.

With Kota Kinabalu as your home base, plan a thrilling daytrip of island-hopping your way through this vibrant marine park. You’ll depart from the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal; ferries run daily, but it’s a good idea to book in advance.

The cost of your ticket depends on the combination of islands you visit and the activities you plan. The biggest drawcard of Tunku Abdul Rahman is what you’ll find underwater.

Snorkellers and scuba divers are in for a real treat as they get up close and personal with the inhabitants and coral environment below the surface. Keep your eyes peeled for the bright orange clownfish – you might just find Nemo. For those looking to complete scuba certification or do some accompanied diving, local dive centres are on hand at Gaya.

For those who prefer to stay above the surface, there’s plenty of fun on offer, too. Laze on one of the white sandy beaches, or go stand-up paddleboarding for stunning views of the humped, verdant islands from the water. Plus, you’ll get a good workout.

And fish aren’t the only wildlife you’ll see on your national park adventure. Hiking through the island forests, you just might have a close encounter with a wild boar, python, centipede or scorpion. Just don’t forget to pack the insect repellent. Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is open every day from 8:30am to 5pm.