3D2N Snorkeling Trip at Gilligan’s Pulau Aur, Johor – Apr 2019

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.

mersing jetty harbour centre
Hello, Mersing Harbour Centre! Look at the clear blue sky that greeted us 😃.

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.

mersing ferry to pulau aur
Our boat into the island. We then realized later that it’s our boat for 3D2N. It brought us everywhere.

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.

gilligan's beach signage
Welcme to Pulau Aur Gilligan’s Lodge & Retreat!

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!

gillian's pulau aur
Half of our beach with the restaurant and bar on the left of the photo. Our accommodations were behind the tree on the beach. There’s a nice hut on the rock in front of our rooms.
pulau aur hut
The nice hut overlooking the sea.
pulau aur room on the rock
This is the view of the beach from the hut. Ahhh~
pulau aur private beach
And here’s another view from under the tree on the beach. We chilled on the beach under this tree to find refuge from the sun in the afternoon.
pulau aur gilligan's lodge and retreat
Full view of Gilligan’s Pulau Aur from the water. Yup, it’s not a big place at all and see, there’s only beach access!

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.

pulau aur food
Our first lunch on the island, prepared by Bryant single-handedly. Different dishes for almost every meal.
seafood pulau aur
And since we were on an island, we had a fair share of seafood during our stay there! Not sure if we were hungry or his cooking was really that good, we could smell the dishes from the beach as he was cooking in the kitchen.
barbecue by the beach
On our last night, there’s barbecue on the beach during sunset. p/s That’s not Bryant. It’s our friend who decided to be a volunteer cook, relieving Bryant of his duty for a while. Haha.
seafood barbecue
Look at this seafood galore! Not the best time to check cholesterol level.
mersing crab
Everybody got 1 crab each. Actually we always get 1 portion of everything so the serving size was big enough to feed us after depleting all our energy in the sea.
mersing sea urchin
Special menu of the night: fresh sea urchin. My first time. Totally did not expect the flesh to melt in my mouth. Amazing.

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 💪🏻.

hiking pulau aur
I think we started melting the minute we saw this trail. Steep, hot and dry! But look at her! Bikini, shawl and slippers to rule the island!
hiking pulau dayang
Our two guides just kept soaring the rocks like it’s their backyard. They’re barefoot!
bukit dayang rock hiking
Look at our unexpected adventure. Climbing up was manageable but going down was freaking scary! My mind was totally disoriented, trying to abseil down a hot rock in reverse manner. Definitely held on to the rope for dear life.
kampung adidas hiking
Super glad I had my trusty Adidas Kampung with me. I would have tripped and slipped many times if I wore slippers. #clumsy
bukit dayang peak
Yay! We arrived at the peak after a 20-30min hike! The hike was quite easy for most parts but certain parts like the previous photo was definitely nerve-wrecking and challenging, especially under the blazing sun.
pulau dayang peak
The top of Bukit Dayang is a rocky plane that overlooks Pulau Aur and our beach.

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.

pulau dayang snorkeling
RK jumped into the emerald sea for our first snorkeling session. #nofilter #noedit
pulau dayang snorkeling
That’s me jumping into the sea. Taken by Jacy on her GoPro.
mersing snorkeling
That’s me again squirming in the water. It’s quite deep here so we could see giant corals. Taken with Jacy’s GoPro as well.
Look at the contrasting colours of the sea, island and boat. This is not edited. #samsungs7edge
pulau aur beach
Check out the different tones of water on this beach in front of our island. Crystal clear on sandy beach, then bright turquoise coral-filled sea water, and lastly deep blue ocean.
pulau aur coral
Another view of the coral-filled shallow beach.

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!

Snorkeling is tiring. Need to nap. #life.

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.

stargazing johor
Captured by RK’s Xiaomi Mi 8.

Interestingly, three stars stood out from the countless other stars. Everyone spotted this trio because they lined up in a row, shining bright in the moonless sky, right in front of the beach. Internet connection was poor (inconsistent for Maxis and hopeless for others). Otherwise, I think we’d end up spending the entire night identifying star constellations and learning astronomy 😍.

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.

pulau aur coconut
Sipping on their island specialty “gassy” coconut water and thinking “What a bliss”.

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.

gilligan's pulau aur snorkeling
Thanks, Jacy for capturing this photo for us!

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 mainland. But if you have a group of ten or more, they can host you during weekdays. If I’m not mistaken, they can arrange diving trips as well. My only advice: go ASAP.

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!

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