Over the past month I have been based in Pulau Tengah, Malaysia. I am here primarily to complete a PADI Divemaster internship with Batu Batu Dive Centre and work with Tengah Island Conservation. The reason for my choice of location is partly also to experience life on a small remote island and assess whether I would prefer such a lifestyle.
The climate, mosquitos and separation from mainstream society and luxuries have been the largest adaptations of remote island living for me. I am all about indulging in nature, but living so remotely for long periods of time is certainly different (not necessarily worse). Tengah island is 900m x 700m big, it takes about 1 hour to walk around the island and it hosts one small eco-conscious resort (Batu Batu) with 22 villas, 1 restaurant and 1 beach bar. Historically the island hosted Vietnam war refugees and has been the film site for Expedition Robinson (the original Hunger Games) and parts of the South African Survivor (which mainly took place on Pulau Besar next to Tengah island).
Ranch: Our living quarters are truly ‘open plan’ – exposed to the elements – with only poly-vinyl blinds to close in case of a storm. Towards the back we have the forest, inhabited by Joanna and Sasha (two large resident water monitors), some rats, frogs, snakes* and sometimes Flying Foxes that visit our island at night to feed on our local fruit trees. The front of The Ranch faces the sea. With only a few steps you are on the beach with the turquoise waters at your feet.
We are quite separated from guest accommodation and can therefore most often find ourselves alone on the beach. In fact, you can pretty much always find a beach to yourself on this small island as the guests seldomly wander far from the resort facilities – the island experience here is real – a lot of wildlife, and very few people.
The staff canteen: All our meals are prepared for us in buffet style by local cooks. The canteen is about a 10-minute walk from The Ranch along the boardwalk and past the jetty. The walk is quite beautiful along the sea and I always make sure to look down to spot the juvenile black tip reef sharks that patrol the coastline. The food here is quite good if you like spicy Malay food; rice, chicken, eggs, fish (the whole fish – head and all) and curry is part of most meals here. A treat for us westerners is always the French fries and fried chicken.
Diving: With an average water temperature of 30˚C and healthy coral reefs, the diving here is world class. Most days the water is flat, currents are slight or completely lacking and fish diversity is noteworthy. The reefs are in shallow waters, easily accessible from shore for snorkelling and visibility ranges from 3 meters to 14 meters depending on rainfall and currents. It is definitely the best coral reefs I have ever dived on and how lucky am I to have 2 months to get to know these reefs and its critters. The dive team at Batu Batu Dive Centre is simply superb. Brad and Asia have been brilliant instructors and mentors throughout my internship and I can’t be happier with my choice to complete my Divemaster here. They have diving experience in Mexico, Gili Islands, Bali, Philippines, the Red Sea and above all are just fantastic humans with a love for marine life.
Conservation: Tengah Island Conservation is an organisation based on the island focused on turtle and coral conservation. They host around 6 volunteers at a time who assist in boat patrols in search of turtle nests, coral surveys, fish surveys, mangrove restoration, beach clean-ups and much more. Next to the Dive centre you will find the turtle hatchery where recovered turtle nests have been replanted. At the moment we have Green turtle and Hawksbill nests and it takes between 50 and 70 days for them to hatch. We are expecting our first hatchlings within the next week! It’ll be my first time observing turtle hatchlings and I cannot wait!
The island life so far has been blissful. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here soaking up the sun, hanging with the fish and building relationships with some great people.