One of the perks of being a mother to relatively young children is the fact that, in their eyes, you are still an all powerful god who can always tell right from wrong.
In that sense, taking my two boys on a holiday abroad must’ve felt like walking into heaven for them, especially since I chose the Malaysian island of Sipadan for our first journey together.
I’ve always been a sucker for exotic islands, but Sipadan is more than just a sight for sore eyes. I’d been coming here since my early 30’s, when I first learned how to dive, but familial responsibilities in the past few years had kept me away from this little slice of paradise for far too long. But now, with the kids reasonably grown-up, I figured it was time to let them see the beauty of nature with their own two eyes.
The thing about Sipadan is that it’s a heavily protected area, so much so that there aren’t any accommodation options on the island itself. Instead, all visitors have to find housing in nearby islands like Kapalai, Mabul and Mataking. We chose the latter due to their impressive beach amenities and booked a one-week stay at a cute beach chalet. From there on out, Sipadan was only a quick boat ride away.
After spending our first day just lounging on the beach and sipping pina coladas (banana daiquiris for the boys), we decided to head out to Sipadan the very next morning so we could finally get our feet wet. Everyone who comes here is pretty much in it for the diving opportunities, so I figured it was time to introduce my kids to the joys of underwater exploration. For both Jared and Jason, the past school year had been quite challenging, so I figured they could use the distraction.
Since my boys were barely older than the cut-off age for scuba diving, I took great care in renting the best possible equipment and making sure that everything fit just perfectly. We found an excellent local diving instructor who was extremely patient with the boys and taught them all about buoyancy control and how to breathe underwater. Jared, the eldest son, was actually more nervous than Jason, but they both pulled through in the end.
Now, diving in Sipadan is truly an unforgettable experience, the kind of thing that has justifiably garnered raves from the likes of Jacques Costeau in the past. The waters are clear and shallow, while visibility clocks out at 10 to 30 metres, depending on weather conditions. As far as underwater life is concerned, there’s a little bit of everything here, from lazy hawksbill turtles, and colourful feather stars, to various species of fish such as angelfish and humpback unicornfish. If you’re lucky, you can even see hammerhead sharks, although those guys usually stay at depths of over 40 metres. Since my boys had accidentally caught a glimpse of “Jaws” on TV last year, the last thing they wanted to meet was a shark, so I didn’t insist. Instead, we had an encounter with a swarm of barracudas down at the aptly-named Barracuda Point, which nearly left us speechless. Out of nowhere, a veritable vortex of them passed by us, seemingly oblivious to our presence in their home waters.
In between bouts of diving, we also found the time to engage in other fun activities. Snorkelling was a big hit, as Jason could practice his somewhat-lacklustre swimming skills with the help of ancillary fins, while Jared could take the time to really get comfortable in the water. Sea kayaking was also great fun, if a bit tough on my exercise-deprived hands. And just lying on the beach with a good book in hand was a blessing after a long day of swimming around.
As we reached our final day of vacation, I felt that the bond between myself and my sons had only grown throughout our time on Sipadan Island. Watching them experience the joys of diving made a strong impression on me, and I truly hope we can continue to have such wonderful trips together in the future. What I do know by now is that Sipadan Island will forever remain a shared piece of history between us, one that we’ll remember wistfully in the years to come.
Where have you been on holiday with your children? Share with us below.