Dive Downbelow is part of the Downbelow Marine and Wildlife Adventure Company, a fully licensed travel agent based in Kota Kinabalu. Not only are they a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development scuba diving centre but they are also an adventure travel centre and can arrange trips and accommodation throughout Borneo. These include wildlife adventure programs, the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre, trails and climbs in the Mount Kinabalu National Park, river cruises and white water rafting, cultural visits, team building and leadership adventure packages, accommodation, transport and even day spa packages!
For the SCUBA diver, they offer PADI training from Discover SCUBA Diving right through to instructor development courses. As well as the diving in the local Tunku Abdul Rahman Park area they can also arrange diving on the eastern side of Sabah in Sipadan and Mabul and some of the northern islands around Semporna.
Their modern well-stocked shop and classroom are located in KK Times Square, and their KK dive centre is on Pulau Gaya which is a 10-minute boat ride from the nearby Sutera Marina. At the island dive centre, they have all the gear you could possibly need to hire down to dive computers and cameras. So there’s no need to schlepp anything out there – you can get it all on the island.
Their fun dives are run daily from this beachside dive centre on Gaya. There are 40 odd dive sites scattered around the five islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (named after the first Malaysian Prime Minister and often shorted to TARP). These vary from scenic reef dives through coral gardens to muck dives where you might find such weird and wonderful creatures as a stargazer, razorfish, pipefish and zebra lionfish. You will be amazed at the quality of the coral reefs around these islands, the water clarity and the variety of marine life considering TARP is such a short distance a major city.
On request, they can also offer day trips to some of the more adventurous dive spots around KK, within 40-90 minute boat ride. For non-divers, there is plenty of snorkeling right off the beach, and on nearby Sapi Island; as well as the option for some bushwalking in the island’s leafy interior.
Whether you are in Borneo just to dive, or to dive and travel around, the Downbelow website will give you a wealth of information and ideas to make the most of your trip. The owners are keen conservationists and photographers and have included marine biology and field guides on their website too, so you can identify and understand the critters that you’ll see whilst diving down below.
Downbelow dive shop, class rooms and travel centre is located in Block L in KK Times Square off Jalan Coastal.
Here’s what to expect on a day’s leisure diving with Downbelow.
Downbelow includes your transfer to the KK’s Sutera Marina which is not far from KK Times Square. The boat takes just 10 minutes to get out to Pulau Gaya and will drop you at the jetty which leads directly to the Dive Centre.
On arrival there is the obligatory briefing of the island, facilities and protocols; and an introduction to the dive guides – all of whom I was on first name terms with throughout the day.
Once you have selected the gear you need it will be taken out to the boat for you while you listen to the dive brief which takes place on a blackboard. Each time the schematic is hand drawn by the dive guide so you know that they know the dive site inside out. There is a 10 m stroll across the beach and onto the boat. The short commute to the site is never more than 10 minutes even if you go round to the other side of the island. The dive sites are selected on the basis of the conditions, and where divers have been previously. As there are a variety of dive sites you will get plenty of variety in one day. If divers are doing a two-day course or out over a weekend new sites will be chosen so you’re not diving the same site over again.
As with almost all the dive boats in Sabah, the tanks are all set up and ready to go, towards the front of the boat, and the guests sit towards the back in the open, but covered area. Once over the site, the tanks are passed to each guest. Then it’s a buddy check, a simple backward roll in and we’re off diving. We hit the water on the first dive around 10 AM.
Almost all the sites around KK are of the type where you can do your safety stop on the reef, and if you’re lucky, like our group were, a turtle might just come by in those three minutes.
Getting back into the boat is by the ladder over the side. Then it’s straight back to base for coffee and biscuits or fruit. On the island there is a shower and toilet and a covered veranda/day area overlooking the beach. It’s here that snacks are served after the first dive and hot buffet style lunch after the second.
The second dive brief is as detailed as the first and once again, we’re in the boat and in the water 10 minutes later around 12 o’clock.
You can stay in your shorty for lunch or have a quick rinse and slip back into boardies and a T-shirt. Lunch is a tasty and generous portion of chicken, rice and salad. There’s also fruit and tea and coffee available throughout the day. There’s no rush after lunch to get back in the water. Time to chat with other divers or just mellow for a period on the beach in the shade. By the time the third dive comes around you know the drill: a detailed brief and a short boat ride and your diving down below once again.
After the dive the guys take care of your gear and you’re free to buy a cold drink or a beer and write up your dive log. At 4.30 PM the very friendly staff are waving you off on the boat for the short ride back to KK’s Sutera Marina where your transfer is waiting.
Once back at your accommodation, you can use Field Guides on the Downbelow website to remind yourself of the marine life that you’ve experienced that day.