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Dive Review of Kapalai in
Malaysia/Northeast Borneo

Kapalai, Apr, 2005,

by Laura Todd, CA, USA . Report 1715.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 251-500 dives
Where else diving Indonesia, Palau, Tonga, Fiji, Hawaii, Niue, Tahiti
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy Seas calm, currents
Water Temp 82 to 0 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 25 to 100 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions 45 minute limit
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 3 stars Tropical Fish 5 stars
Small Critters 4 stars Large Fish 3 stars
Large Pelagics 3 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 4 stars Boat Facilities 2 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 3 stars Shore Facilities 3 stars
UW Photo Comments Separate rinse tank on dive dock. No accomodations at all on boat - cameras must be held in lap.

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 4 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 3 stars Shore Diving 5 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ N/A
Beginners 5 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments Kapalai is an exquisite retreat - the long trip is worth it simply for this setting. Everybody gets an overwater bungalow with louvered windows, most of which swing open completely to better appreciate the fabulous views, a deck to watch the lagoon from and a gorgeous tiled bathroom with both tub and shower. Single guests will be assigned a roommate based on gender only (unless willing to pay a fairly steep single supplement). The snorkeling right around the resort is marvelous, with swirls of juvenile fish, needle fish, feeding shells, clownfish, lionfish and blue spot rays. It's a good deal as well, with room, 3 meals and 3 boat dives going for about $150 per person per day. Transfers from Tawau airport are also included. Meals are communal and good but not fancy. Coffee, tea, crackers, cookies and a Tang-like juice available all day. The bar appeared to have beer only. Decent gift shop with sundries and some replacement dive gear plus small library of ID books on site. The staff was organized and very friendly. A warning for my fellow Dramamine queens: the sea around Kapalai is mostly calm but when the wind picks up, your little bunglaow can really get to moving on its stilts. The only thing that marred the hotel side of the experience was construction noise. They are expanding now that accomodations on nearby Sipadan are closed. The dive operation is concentrating on Sipadan almost exclusively. Every morning there is a 2 tank trip to the island, about 20 minutes away. Diving can be crowded, with at least 3 other companies sending several boats each at the same time. The dives were satisfying, with several truly stunning bait balls. If you are mellow, the huge swirls of jacks, etc. will part to let you in the center - pretty fabulous. Don't worry about planning your trip around the July/Aug turtle season - we saw at least 6 on every dive, all very close, not shy at all. Also mating turtles on the surface. Many white tip sharks. A few people saw distant hammerheads. A couple leopard sharks. Nice small tropicals. The emphasis on Sipadan means that there is only 1 dive per day at Kapalai per day unless you want to do an unguided night dive. So there is much less focus on the small exotic critters this area is known for. We did see: ornate ghost pipefish, Napoleon snake eel, white eyed morays, longnose hawkfish, blue ribbon eels, peacock mantis shrimp, robust ghost pipefish, an assortment of beautiful small crabs and shrimp, a barrimundi (very shy), a stonefish, and several nudibranchs. A few nice flatworms as well, including the gorgeous pseudobiceros with yellow border about 1/4 inch and magenta center. Only one frogfish all week. No cephalopods at all. Only one trip to neighboring Mabul in a week. Unfortunately, there were further disappointments with the dive operation. The boats are poorly set up for diving with the tank wells in the bow, necessitating that staff bring divers their rigs one at a time. They tend to put 12-14 divers on the small boats so the gearing up is unpleasant in choppy seas. The boats have shade and overhead storage; they are in radio contact with the resort and carry leftover breakfast goodies but no other amenities. They also switch divers from one boat to another once or twice daily which among other things means you have to carry your weights around and for another that you never get used to one dive guide, nor they to you. For the afternoon dive, they make customers gear up completely, then walk down a set of uneven steps carrying mask, fins, camera, etc onto the gunwale of a bobbing boat - not fun. It's a boat dive with sites 5-15 minutes away = plenty of time to gear up so this approach remains a puzzlement. The quality of the guiding varied tremendously; my favorites were Leto and Andy. One divemaster picked up a little nudibranch and the poor thing tumbled down a coral face when he set it down carelessly. Make sure to devote some time to topside Malaysia. It's paradise for anybody interested in wildlife. They have primary rainforest, rare rhinos, pygmy elephants, tremendous assortment of birds, etc. The famous orangutan refuge is easy to see. The travel desk at my hotel arranged a tour with a private contractor and for the equivalent of $100 I got a customized day of sightseeing including the only Rafflesia (huge red strange flower) blooming in all of Sabah that day, lunch and admission to the national park with a guide whose knowledge of local ecology was truly encyclopedic. I stayed at the Beverly while in Kota Kinabalu and can highly recommend it. It's a modern business style hotel with some view rooms (Mt. Kinabalu) and a great breakfast buffet that is included in the very reasonable ($45!!) price. The trip was ably arranged by Katie of Reef and Rainforest.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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