I just left Pulau Aur, Mersing, Johor after a 3D2N snorkeling trip. Before I reach home and see how burned I am, let me just say that it was a very nice trip 😍. The coral was beautiful. The snorkeling activity was comfortable. The view was amazing. The resort and beach was private. The host was very nice. The package was worth it as well.
Actually I can’t recall if I’ve been to any snorkeling trip since high school, which is at least a decade ago, so I don’t have much to benchmark against. I don’t usually go for beach or island holiday where I actually get into water as well so read this review with a pinch of salt. Hahaha.
The Journey to Pulau Aur, Johor
Kuala Lumpur > Mersing
We departed from Kuala Lumpur to Mersing Harbour Center by car at about 3.30am. It’s a grueling 4.5-hour drive because it’s a wee hour of Friday, which meant that we barely had any proper rest after long workday on Thursday! 😴
Thankfully our designated driver friend was a champ. He drove six sleeping souls over 365km of highway and winding oil palm plantation road to arrive at our destination safely by 8am.
We had breakfast at the jetty, where the stall keeper was telling us Pulau Aur is known as the heaven among the locals. Whoa. That definitely elevated our expectations.
Mersing > Pulau Aur
We met our coordinator at about 9am and departed on a small 12-passenger boat towards Pulau Aur. It seemed that if the group was smaller than ten pax, we’d had to take a slower ferry. We had just nice; seven in our group and three more in another group.
Before we got on the boat, our coordinator told us that it’d take 1.5 hours to reach Pulau Aur. Honestly, most of us didn’t know it’d take that long because we didn’t do our research. When we got on the boat, the driver told us it’d take maximum of three hours. Wait a minute. What?! Even longer?!
We hoped and prayed that the wind would be on our side so that we didn’t need such a long boat ride in. Long story short, we took 2.5 hours in the end. We could only be thankful that we didn’t have to take the slower ferry 😂. And that the bumpy boat ride was smooth enough for our talented friends to still catch some snooze sitting upright on a speedboat 👏🏻.
Gilligan’s Lodge & Retreat, Pulau Aur
There are three operating resorts on Pulau Aur. Gilligan’s Lodge & Retreat (also Gilligan’s Dive Resort) is located at its own private beach where it’s only accessible by boat now. It claims that its coast has the best coral reef as well; more on this later.
To manage expectation, it’s not a luxury resort. In fact, it’s nowhere close to that. Think 2-star accommodation. There’s basic bed, aircond (on schedule), wall fan, dim lights and heater shower (inconsistent water pressure) in the rooms. There’s a restaurant and simple bar in premise, which takes care of all main meals and provides free flow (generally filtered) water, tea bags and coffee bags.
But we’re here for snorkeling, not the amenities so who cares. As long as there’s no bed bugs, no mosquitoes, no pirates (LOL) and no food poisoning. Yay!
To give context, this resort was deserted for 4-5 years when local authority banned visitors to allow coral reefs to recover from pollution. As visitors are allowed in for the past two years, they are slowly restoring and upgrading the place again.
Side note: if you prioritize beautiful coral over comfortable resort, go as soon as possible before the corals suffer from another round of pollution!
According to our host, Bryant who manages the resort, Pulau Aur used to be a diving haven, before it became a fishing paradise and now a snorkeling hidden gem.
Speaking of our host, Bryant, he’s the superman on the island. He can cook 3 meals a day for everyone on the island. He can dive for sea creatures. He can guide (and drag) our friend who was too nervous to snorkel. He was very kind to and easy going with us, making the trip extra enjoyable.
Food on Island
Let’s just look at the food we ate throughout our stay before I continue with the activities we did.
Back to the activities…
Hiking at Pulau Dayang
Interestingly, our first activity wasn’t snorkeling but hiking. We actually thought we’d have free and easy on Day 1 until they told us after our first lunch that we’d go hiking at 2pm. Whatttt? *gulp*
Bryant told us to bring our shoes if we have so we did. But the other visitors wore bikini and slippers 😱. Actually can hike in bikini and slippers but have to be as steady as them. They actually climbed better than us, who were in hiking gears 😂. I want to raise my kids (boys and girls) like them 💪🏻.
Snorkeling Around Pulau Aur
From this point on, we did multiple snorkels the next 24 hours.
Right after hiking, they brought us to a place with calm current to practise using our snorkeling gears. Nothing much to see. It’s more about getting comfortable with the gears, really.
Then when we got back on shore at our resort, our boat driver cum guide was kind enough to offer to bring us out again to snorkel outside our resort.
The tide was low and OMG, I thought the corals were really pretty. And for the first time in my life, I actually thought snorkeling is pretty amazing.
There were corals of all shapes and sizes — purple corals that looked like giant mushrooms, green corals that looked like peppercorns, lime green spikey corals like how we usually imagine corals to be, yellow corals with brainy texture and hairy plants where clownfish (Nemo) are found.
We saw lots of fishes too during this snorkeling session and the many other sessions at different areas.
The corals and fishes at different parts of the ocean were quite distinctively different. Small corals and fishes at shallow sea beds and big corals and fishes at deeper sea beds.
I didn’t manage to see the friendly 6-foot resident shark at our beach (not sure if I wanted to also) but I saw a school of black fish swimming towards coral and feeding off (?) the coral. In fact, I thought I could hear them knock against the corals. Does this even make sense?
I chased after schools of tiny fishes (like anchovies). I stalked a giant coral reef to peek at a giant fish hiding underneath it; that’s probably the biggest fish I ever saw and honestly, I’d actually be terrified if it came out of its hiding. The eyes were protruding sideways from its bulging head as it inched in and out. *goosebump*
Another memorable encounter was catching a sight of a long snake-like fish. I wonder if it’s an eel. Anyway, there were tonnes of other fishes but it’s hard to remember and appreciate them when I had no clue what they were 😆.
All in all, this was definitely the most beautiful coral reef I’ve seen; the ones outside our resort was my favourite. I felt like I was floating on top of a giant aquarium and maneuvering around at ease like I lived there. The nice gears that the resort offered probably made the experience more comfortable as well.
One thing though, I never swam this much in my life so I’m gonna be quite sore for a while. And I’m so glad I wore long pants and shirt down the ocean because that protected my skin from the scorching sun!
Stargazing and Meteor Spotting
At night after dinner when everyone returned to their rooms for an early night, we decided to sit on the beach to stargaze. We actually told the resort to turn off all lights on the beach so that we could watch the stars.
My my… Not even gonna attempt counting how many stars there were on the clear night sky. It was magical.
Interestingly, three stars stood out from the countless other stars. Everyone spotted this trio because they lined up in a row, shining
As it was, RK was already checking his Google Maps to figure out where the passing airplanes were landing and departing from. The answer: Singapore! We saw streams of red beeping lights flying across the horizon. A very busy airport indeed.
Besides the flying red light from airplanes, what the rest of us were trying to catch were actually meteors 😘😘😘.
We were on the beach for about two hours and we collectively caught about 10 meteors! I saw 6 of them, mostly incidentally so I felt super lucky! The 5th that I saw was a huge and long one that everyone, except one, saw. We cheered so much when we caught the 1.5-second spectacular phenomenon. Yeah, it’s very short-lived so it’s thrilling when we caught any.
We also had sighting of Blue Tears as the waves gently swept the beach we’re on. Blue Tears were very sparse, just a handful at any one time but it was my first time seeing it so it was pretty interesting.
It seemed that the night before, sizable crabs crawled on the beach but they didn’t visit us that night. Saved my toes from any potential pinching. Haha.
And that was how we spent our last night at Gilligan’s Pulau Aur ❤️.
We thought we signed up for a snorkeling trip but we got so much more.
While I was in the sea looking at the thriving yet mysterious life underwater, I felt great respect for the nature for there are so much more that we don’t know. While I sat on the beach looking at the big sky, I felt great admiration for our forefathers who figured so many things out by diligently studying and inventing.
What a fulfilling trip. Couldn’t ask for more. It’s gonna be a strong favourite for a while.
Anyway, FAQ time.
- Where is this? Gilligan’s Lodge & Retreat (or Gilligan’s Dive Resort) on Pulau Aur, which is an island 1.5-hour to 3-hour away from Mersing, Johor by boat. Google it now!
- How much does it cost? We paid RM680 for twin-sharing package, including transport from Mersing Harbour Center, accommodation, main meals, hiking and snorkeling for 3D2N. It’s a steal if you ask me.
The place is open Friday to Sunday only due to its far proximity from
p/s I’m home and have seen my tanned self by the time I finish writing this. I’m glad to say that the damage is not bad. Phew. Let’s recover before pre-wedding photoshoot!