The big finale for our trip was three days of diving in Mabul and then Sipadan – widely noted as one of the best diving sites in the world.
We had a one night stop off in Semporna – the base for getting to Mabul – which is easily one of the grottiest places we’ve been (and that’s saying a lot). The streets and the harbour are completely full of litter, piles and piles of it.
Early in the morning we set off with Big John’s Scuba to their accommodation on Mabul island. Big John himself picked us up and instantly made us feel at home – from insisting on carrying my bag to organising a dive master and separate boat just for us to make sure we had time for breakfast before diving (even though breakfast time was over and I don’t even think it was meant to be included in our package for that day).
The accommodation is all built on stilts in the water – the bad side being the constant slight sea sickness from wobbling around day and night, the good side being spotting huge turtles swimming past while we ate our dinner.
Our first two days of diving were in Mabul and Kapalai where we saw massive turtles (the biggest getting on to two metres long), a pygmy seahorse (so frickin tiny!), ghost pipefish, lion fish, stone fish (eee! So so so very poisonous. I was especially pleased when one swam off the coral towards me), the biggest moray eel you can imagine (I swear it was as big as a dolphin), as well as the usual clown fish, angel fish and parrot fish etc.
Our dive master was amazing – patient and ridiculously observant. I had a little trouble equalizing after my first dive though and spent the following days with water filled ears and getting nose bleeds whenever we surfaced – very lovely while wearing a diving mask!
At the end of each day we sat, exhausted, and watched the sunset before stuffing ourselves silly at the amazing buffet (for some reason I get ridiculously nervous before each and every dive so struggled to eat during the day, but more than made up for it in the evenings!).
On our third day we went out to Sipadan with another dive company (Big John’s doesn’t get any of the allotted 120 permits allowed each day) where we dived at Barracuda Point, South Point and Turtle Cave. I cannot even begin to describe how mind blowingly amazing it was!
For our first dive we dropped in over a school of more than 500 Jack fish, turned around to see a stunning coral garden and a white tipped reef shark then lowered ourselves to float along a bright and beautiful wall of coral before hovering below a barracuda tornado. By the third dive I was in a constant state of amazement, swimming around hugging myself, wide eyed and laughing (which is a bit tricky underwater). I nearly lost my mind when we swam into the opening of a cave on the third dive – surrounded by huge silver fish and standing in sand by the edge of the cave with a wall of coral as far as I could see above and below me. Had a nice little panic towards the end when I got caught in an upwards current and looked like I was going to surface very quickly, but was saved by Finn clinging onto my flipper and pulling me down while our dive master clung onto his flipper and pulled him down.
It was an absolutely incredible experience which I hope I never forget.
We then had a recovery day in Mabul, snorkeling (unfortunately not amazing) and lying on a pristine beach.
It all got a bit emotional when we realised we were having our last moments on the beach and our last dip in the sea for the trip.
Too soon we had to hop on a boat back to Semporna for a night before flying to KL for the last couple of days of the trip.