Located just off the eastern coast peninsular Malaysia in the state of Terengganu are two small tropical islands called Perhentian Besar (big) and Perhentian Kecil (small). They used to be merchant trading posts but are now paradise isles for travellers and divers.
The islands can be reached by boat from Kuala Besut just 14 nautical miles away. Accommodation is mostly small beach hut resorts. Perhentian Besar has the most facilities and dive centres on the beach run morning and afternoon dive trips.
Dive sites are close to shore so most dives are by local boat and are pretty cheap. There are about 10 regularly dived sites in what is now part of the Terengganu marine park.
The best season to dive at the Perhentian Islands is April to September, that’s the dry season and when the sea is flat. Out of season the islands virtually close down.
Diving here is not as consistently good as Sabah but can be very good when the visibility is good. Visibility averages about 15m. Most dives are suitable for all levels of diver and are quite shallow. Many dive sites are equally good for snorkelling.
Tokong Laut is one of the Perhentian Islands best dive sites. It’s a pinnacle that just breaks the surface and drops underwater to 24m. Boulders spread out around the site and are covered in hard corals, soft corals, sponges and anemones. The rocks are home to vast amount of marine life including big schools of snapper and fusilier. Other reef fish include pufferfish, parrotfish and several species of anemone fish. Turtles are occasionally seen feeding here. Bamboo sharks can be found under coral ledges. During certain months whale sharks pass by. There is a mooring buoy at this dive site.
Pulau Rawa is a boulder dive site located to the north west of Perhentian Kecil. Boulders slope down from the island’s edge to 28m deep. Bamboo sharks are seen under coral outcrops. Stingrays can be seen in the sand. There are a couple of small caves and swim-throughs. Soft coral and sea fans cover the boulders and reef fish are prolific.
Pasir Kerangi is an artificial reef on the west site of Perhentian Kecil. It’s a framework of PVC pipes which were weighted down by the Department of Fisheries in 1991. At a depth of 18m coral crowth has developed around the pipes which are now a nursery to many smaller reef fish species. Currents are mild here and visibility is rarely more than 10m.
The Sugar Wreck, or MV Unistar, sank in 2000 and now lies on her starboard side in 18m of water. She is a 90m cargo ship and penetration is possible into the engine room, the wheelhouse and the cabins. The propeller is still in place at the stern. Coral growth is already impressive and many schools of fish have taken up resifence in and around the hull. Malaysia DivesitesSchools of snapper and trevally patrol outside the wreck. Lionfish, scorpionfish and stonefish can all be seen as can moray eels and bamboo sharks. Barracuda are often seen in blue water. Leopard sharks can be seen resting in the sand around the wreck.
The Pasir Tani Wreck is located off the south west coast of Perhentian Kecil. It is a Vietnamese boat that sank in 1976 and now lies upright in 22m of water. Soft coral covers much of the wreck. Lionfish and scorpionfish have made their homes here. Visibility is 5-10m and currents can be strong at times.
Gua Kamping is a rocky boulder dive site on the east coast of Perhentian Kecil. In the sand at the edge of the reef at 15m look foe blue spotted stingrays and Jenkins whiprays. Bamboo sharks can be found under coral ledges. Patches of staghorn and table coral are scattered around the boulders along with reef fish such as pufferfish, cornet fish, parrotfish, lionfish and butterflyfish. Moray eels can be seen in the rocky crevices. Currents are mild at this dive site with visibility averaging about 10m.
Batu Nisan is shallow reef on the east of Perhentian Kecil that is good for day and night dives. Hard coral such as staghorn, brain and mushroom coral fight for space with giant clams, sea urchins and anemones. Cristmas tree worms and feather stars add to the colour. Stingrays can be found on the sandy bottom.
Rubix Cube Reef is located of the south west coast of Perhentian Besar and is another artificial reef at a depth of 20m. It is made up of scattered square concrete blocks and round concrete blocks plus the remains of a Vietnamese fishing boat. Malaysia DivesitesThe blocks act as a deterrent to fishing boats who snag their nets on the blocks. Visibility is pretty poor here but the marine life is prolific with large schools of fish. Sweetlips, pufferfish, parrotfish, lionfish and scorpionfish are just some of the species that are thriving here.
Tanjung Besi located around the northern headland of Perhentian Besar is prone to strong currents and therefore attracts bigger fish such as barracuda and trevally. Visibility is good at this dive site, often 20m. Maximum depth is 25m. There are some small caves and swim-throughs.
Terumbu Tiga or Tiger Rock as it is known in English is regarded as one of the best dive sites in the Perhentian Islands. This dive site has it all. Boulder formations create valleys and swim-throughs which are lined with gorgonian seafans. There are patches of hard coral such as staghorn, table and brain coral. Soft coral and barrel sponges plus sea whips and feather stars provide the colour. Small reef fish like anthias and damsels flit in and out of coral heads. Schools of snapper and fusiliers move together as groups. Leopard sharks can be seen resting on the edge of the reef in the sand. White tip reef sharks can be seen further out in the blue. The maximum depth is 20m and visibility ranges from 5-15m. Currents can be strong.