Learning to dive on Mabul Island: our experience with Scuba Junkie
Learning to dive in the Celebes Sea off Borneo is like learning to read in a library; there are few better places to do it.
Our instructor struggled to keep our attention as turtles floated between us and a shoal of the brightest pink, yellow and blue fish surrounded the group... it really was magical. If you’re debating whether to learn to dive in Borneo, read on.
Whilst South East Asia offers cheaper places to dive, the seas off Semporna consistently appear in posts about the world’s top 10 dive spots and the slightly higher prices keep the masses away and better preserve the reef and marine life.
Scuba Junkie's Mabul Beach Resort offered us the best value for money. There are a number of live-aboards that tour the area (and a converted oil rig off the coast of Mabul), but if you want to live the 'island life' in an ecologically responsible way and learn how to dive from some of the friendliest and most professional divers in the region, Scuba Junkie are a sound option.
what to expect
Before we got to Mabul, we stayed at Scuba Junkie's Semporna Dive Lodge for 1 night. It has a relaxed restaurant and bar where you can exchange stories and have a few beers. People spoke of hammerhead sightings, green turtles, huge rays and a myriad of weird and wonderful creatures.
After a short boat ride to Mabul the next day, we headed to the communal area to start the theory part of our Open Water course. This area also doubles up as the dining/chillout space which serves fantastic food and all-day cold drinks. You won’t find any fish on the menu as Scuba Junkie don’t agree with the local fishing practices.
The course itself was very well taught. Each instructor had a maximum of 4 students, ensuring that we were well looked after and given the individual encouragement that is often needed when first learning to breath underwater.
If you have any hesitations or uncertainties, the instructors are more than happy to talk it all through with you; they want you to share their passion for diving and be confident doing so.
Matt's favourite dive spot was the drift dive off Kapalai Island: "We let the current take us between a huge wall of coral and a backdrop of triggerfish. If we’d have visited in August we could have seen the turtles lay their eggs on the beach at night... that's something for next time!"
For RM1,400 / £260 / $340 per person we received:
- 4D/3N on Mabul Beach Resort (including food & an ensuite fan room)
- 3 day PADI Open Water Course (including equipment rental)
- Transfers to Mabul from Semporna, and back again
Check their website for the latest rates.
Getting to Mabul Island is an easy journey, if a little time consuming. Fly to Tawau from Kota Kinabalu (45 mins) or Kuala Lumpur (3 hours) and then hop on a transfer to Semporna (1.5 hours) before taking the fast boat to resort (30 mins). Break up your journey by staying one night in Semporna at Scuba Junkie's Dive Lodge!