Sabah, the perfect destination for stargazing


There are many stargazing spots in Sabah. — RYAN JACOBSON/Unsplash

You will likely find yourself bewitched by the sight of the glistening stars in the sky when you are in Sabah, home to Malaysia’s highest mountain.

The state is known for having a rich natural diversity, but besides that, it has also become quite the “star” when it comes to astronomy activities.

Thanks to low light pollution, skywatchers and stargazing enthusiasts get to enjoy this night-time activity in various parts of the state.

For instance, located not too far away from the capital city Kota Kinabalu, is the Sugud Milky Way Plain in Penampang. Beginner stargazers should head to this spot as it is quite accessible and easy to get to.

By day, it plays host to many avid cyclists and hikers (the place is usually packed on weekends). At night, it transforms into a peaceful area, as the sky is enveloped by millions of stars.

Here are a few other stargazing spots in Sabah.

Kundasang and Ranau

The town of Ranau, which sits at the foot of Mount Kinabalu alongside Kundasang, greets its visitors with pleasant cool weather, and of course, gorgeous vistas of verdant mountain range. When night falls, the town continues to charm everyone with a sky full of stars.

Sometimes shrouded in light mist, the Hounon Ridge at Bundu Tuhan in Ranau, is a farmstay and campsite overlooking the majestic mountain. It is also the go-to spot for stargazing activities.

Another spot in Ranau you can check out is Tambiau Forest House (Tambiau Forest Ranau on Facebook).

In Kundasang, meanwhile, head to the top of Maragang Hill in the evenings for a good view of the sky at night. The sun goes down about an hour earlier in Sabah, so by about 7.30pm it should be dark enough to see all the stars there.

If you’re game for it, you can book a tour to hike up the hill at pre-dawn, and arrive at the summit by sunrise – usually between 5.30am and 6am – but you may need to be in good physical health to do this. For more information, check out the Mesilou Ecotourism Association website (maraganghill.com.my).

Remember to bring a jacket with you when you go to the highlands as it can get very cold at night and in the early morning.

Kota Kinabalu

While light pollution exists in KK city itself, there are a few places nearby that you can go for a night of stargazing.

One of those places is the Tanjung Aru beach, which is about 10 minutes away from down town. It is popular with locals, and by far the best place to catch KK’s epic sunset. For stargazing activities, you may need to wait until about 9pm for darkness to fully set in.

Another spot you can head to is Bukit Kokol, a 45-minute drive from the city. There are a few tourist attractions around, namely Kokol Haven Resort and Kokol Hill Elf, which are great for taking photos as you get a panoramic view of the city. While you can hang around these places at night to see the stars, you may be asked to pay a small fee.

Alternatively, there are also a few rest stops and camping sites that you can head to for stargazing activities.

During the daytime, Bukit Kokol is a truly scenic area where you can sometimes see runners, joggers and hikers trudging along the hills. However, you would need to drive there yourself, or hire a guide to take you there.

Kota Belud

In the town of Kota Belud, nearly 70km from KK, several spots have been known for the arresting beauty of their night skies. Among them are Kampung Tambatuon, Bukit Bongol and Pantai Nanamun.

Tambatuon Eco-Village is a homestay that offers visitors a chance to get close to nature. Apart from stargazing, visitors can also try their hand at river tubing here.

Another hotspot is the Tegudon Tourism Village camping ground, which specialises in stargazing experiences. Camping spots fill up fast during meteor shower seasons, but you can also clearly see the Milky Way in this village too.

Keningau

One of the favourite destinations among astronomy buffs is Bukit Matanoi in Keningau. Ideal for stargazing experiences, camping and hiking, visitors can also go up the hill to visit the popular Bukit Matanoi Sarang Burung, a man-made photo spot.

Tawau

Apart from diving and hiking, astrotourism is another attraction that’s gaining popularity in Tawau. One of the most popular tourist spots here is the Tawau Hills Park, where even locals go to for a spot of hiking during the day – some of the country’s tallest trees can be found here.

You can stay the night at one of the cabins in this park and enjoy a good view of the stars from the one of the surrounding hills.

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