Pulau Aur - Johor Malaysia
Sitting a fair distance, some 80km east of the Mersing jetty,are the islands of Pulau Dayang, Pulau Lang, Pulau Aur and Pulau Pinang *. This cluster of islands is particularly difficult to get to -one reason being that the boats going to and fro are irregular and another being that many of the dive operators seem to have monopolised the islands for 'weekend' SCUBA divers and friends.
But it is not impossible to travel to these islands if time and money is not an issue. Of course there are packages offered by a few live aboards and dive boats that take passengers on a passage to discovery, or you could hire a boat to take you to the island (with a group 10 friends or so to split the cost), or even join in with weekend dive or snorkelling groups organised by the dive operators from Singapore or Malaysia. Do bear in mind that most of the resorts on the islands are owned by these weekend dive operators or have joint-partnerships with the locals which means that often when the weekend crowd returns home, the resorts will close for the week. There are of course a few locally owned resorts at the villages where you can stay.
If you have the time, you could hop on the weekend dive boats to the islands, stay a week and then hop back onto the next batch of boats heading to the mainland the weekend after.
One can only but wonder if the Aur islands have been reserved specifically for the elite with a lot of money to spend. However, this really shouldn't deter the traveller in a quest for the perfect island to explore, to laze about or to indulge in the culture and hospitality of the local fishermen and their families. Once you're there, you'd know that all that hassle was worth every penny. The relief is that once the weekend crowd has disappeared, you will discover the true beauty of the islands and its waters.
* (Pulau Pinang sounds mighty familiar to you? Don't be misinformed now, it is not the one also commonly known as ' the Pearl of the Orient'. There are a number of islands around Malaysia with the same name, named after the betelnut trees found growing on the islands - pokok pinang, so!)
The battles at Aur
Pulau Aur has always been a stopover point for fishermen. With a supply of frsh water and plenty of fish in the waters, a few later moved their families to the island. However Aur was never the peaceful island as we see now. The deep dark secrets of the wild days are only beginning to unravel within the historic data collected from salvaged treasures hoisted from sunken Chinese junks, sailboats and old merchants ships found shattered in its watery grave.
In 1803, whilst the Napoleonic War was raging in Europe, a sea battle was brewing in the South China Sea. The Emperor of France and his advisors decided that it was time to infiltrate and dislodge the British from their trade stronghold with the Chinese. With this, France sent a fleet of 5 warships under the command of Admiral Linois to Pulau Aur. By early January 1804, Admiral Linois' fleet had safely parked themselves at Aur.
News that war had recommenced with the French in Europe had not filtered down to the East at that time. Many of the heavily laden ships that had set sail before the war were vulnerable to attacks and the captains were unaware that war had broke out in Europe. The ships lacked accompanying warships to fend off marauders and they were caught off guard. With this advantage, Admiral Linois' fleet successfully intercepted a handful of trading ships along the way.
Meanwhile, on 31st January 1904 also unaware of the danger, a 30 British-China fleet and a single armed brig left Canton for Pulau Aur. Upon leaving China, Captain Nathaniel Dance who was the Commanding officer,had the foresight to fit 3 of the merchant ships with false gun ports and have them fly the Royal Navy flag.
Admiral Linois laid in wait for the fleet from China to arrive in hope of a surprise attack which would put the French in a favourable position to confiscate the lucrative cargo. When the China-British fleet sailed into Aur on February 14th, Admiral Linois was himself taken by surprise by the three 'warships' accompanying the fleet. Uncertain of the strength of the British warships, the Admiral went ahead with couple of disastrous attacks and eventually retreated to Batavia (Jakarta) in defeat. Captain Nathaniel Dance sailed back to England and was showered with rewards especially from the insurers of the fleet and rightly so as the cargoes had at that time an estimated value of 8 million pounds! Emperor Bonaparte suffered an embarrassing defeat and just to add salt to his wound, it was his British sources that first broke the news to him.
In the 19th Century, Aur harboured a thriving population of about 1,400 inhabitants consisting of fishermen, traders and slaves. The islands were an ideal location for pirates to run their business of pillaging, ravaging, slave trading and even sinking a great number of boats during fierce raids with foreign boats enroute to Indonesia or to Thailand and beyond.
Today, not much of the tumultuous history can be traced from above the shoreline. Beneath, there are several wrecks that has been discovered and partly recovered but beyond the reaches of recreational divers. They are rumoured to contain treasures and wrecks beyond our imagination. Perhaps they should left in peace in these graves together with their masters from a long forgotten era of great sea voyages.
Trekking & Diving
A huge rock in the shape of a lion on Pulau Aur is known as Batu Berhala and according to legend was formerly home to an 'orang bunian' or a good spirit. The 'orang bunian' was believed to have stashed away a horde of cargo from a shipwrecked Chinese junk in a secret cave within Batu Berhala. Those who believed in the good spirit and required help would perform specific rituals to appease the sentient being and when satisfied with the offerings, a door would spring open from the face of the rock. A tunnel led into the cave filled with everything one would wish for. The only other condition was that everything borrowed from the cave must be returned after their use had expired. However due to the second nature of most human beings, many never returned the items taken. Disappointed with such behaviour and disrespect, the orang bunian left Batu Berhala never to return.
From Kampung Berhala, the village facing Pulau Dayang, one can take short trek up a well-trodden path to the back of the rock until you come to the base of the monolith. Then be careful for there will be a little extra work on climbing, squeezing between rocks and even climbing up a chimney. The rock surface can be slippery so please take precaution. If you wish to visit the other village to the back of the island, there is a coastal walk from Kampung Berhala right across, with well maintained steps most of the way. The trek takes approximately 1 hour each way and also takes you through some great views so bring along some water and camera for a longer than expected trek!
Diving at Aur
1. House wreck, Pulau Dayang
(dive difficulty: openwater and above)
Time in : 0730 out: 0815
Decomp stop: - Depth: 10m(30') - 26m(80')
On our last day at Aur, we decided that we shouldn't go too far for our first dive of the day so we opted for the house wreck instead. The house wrecks are actually two Thai fishing boats, confiscated by the Malaysian Marine Patrols for trespassing into Malaysian waters. The resort owners bought over the boats, unplugged the holes and sank them to create artificial reefs. We descended from the buoyline, which took us down about 80' (26m) to the first wreck. A group of squirrelfish and some fusiliers hung round the hull. This hull is pretty much what's left of the boat. Even after 2 years, coral growth has been extremely slow here, virtually non-existent actually! Between the 1st wreck and the 2nd wreck was sandy bed with little sproutings of hard coral. A pharaoh cuttlefish came along our way in search of an early morning feed. A large brown moray made its home under a few large blocks of concrete. From here, it is a short way to the jetty where a large school of fusiliers swarmed around divers upon ascent.
2. Pulau Pinang
(dive difficulty: openwater and above)
Time in : 1430 out: 1510
Decomp stop: 15' 3min Depth: 20m(60')
Visibility was fairly poor on descent, so we kept to a depth of about 20m. A pleasant, easy dive where encounters with 2 huge pharaoh cuttlefish just five minutes into the dive was a real treat. Small patches of trunicates(sea squirts), soft hand corals, tennis ball sponges, sea whips & a few harp corals litter the area as were stag horns, table corals and a rather impressive bommie coral. Parrotfish, wrasse, titan triggerfish, fox face rabbitfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, fusiliers, map puffer, a large batfish at a cleaner station and lots of dacyllus, a shy barramundi, a large coral trout (grouper) resting under a table coral - all almost oblivious of us and going about their own afternoon routines. Superb introduction to the P.Aur dive sites.
3. Pinnacles 2, Aur
(dive difficulty: openwater and above)
Time in : 1610 out: 1645
Decomp stop: 15' 3min
Depth: 18+m (50+')
One of the more popular sites at Aur. Pinnacles 2 is about 1/2hour by boat from P.Dayang and just a little distance from P.Pinang. Descending by buoyline to the bottom, we headed off on an anticlockwise direction round the pinnacle, taking us through sea whip gardens & plots of soft dendronepthya sp. This dive location is home to a large variety of juveniles - juvenile barracudas, lots of young groupers, fusiliers etc. the chromydia nudibranchs are often spotted on boulders and sometimes beautiful clusters of eggs are found close by. Just look out for colourful looking ladies' garters.
4. Rayner's Rock, Aur
(dive difficulty: openwater and above)
Decomp stop: 15' 3min
A 15min boat ride from Pulau Dayang Resort landed us at Rayner's Rock. We descended and drifted with the current taking us through a landscape of boulders, hard corals with a myriad of familiar denizens ie parrotfish, wrasse, seastars, dacyllus, damselfish, giant clams, puffers, batfish, butterflyfish. The rest of the time as we headed back round the boulder we had to swim against current and if there were any whale sharks, spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins or even manta rays- well, the visibility surely cloaked them well from us! Rayner's Rock, however, is reputed to be the best place to chance upon the beautiful creatures mentioned.
- Snorkelling gear - mask, snorkel, fins, booties, life jacket (prescriptive mask if required)
- Diving equipment - mask, snorkel, fins, booties, regulator and octopus, BCD, dive table, dive logs, marine life ready reckoner, dive computers, knife, lycra or 3mm skin suits, gloves, underwater torches, dive watch - it's advisable to bring your own kit as rental can be expensive. If you require dive equipment best to inform the operators upon booking of package. Equipment rental is charged separately.
- Dive card
- Life jackets especially for children
- Waterproof pouches, torch
- Clothing - shorts, t-shirts, sarong, towel , light dress
- Toiletries - toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturiser, after-tan lotion, shampoo, soap, women's sanitary products, shaving foam and shaver, comb
- Sun block, mosquito repellent, mosquito netting, hammock
- Travel journal, reading material
- Prescriptive medicine, dietary supplements, motion sickness tablets
- Some resorts require you to bring your own blankets and bath towels
- one more, leave your Ego behind!
There is electricity on the island and run on normal 240V but may not be on 24hours
The general phones are at the reception and some resorts allow overseas call. However there is no Internet service on the island.
The resorts do not carry such facilities - Photo Developing There are no developing shops on the island. If required, Mersing town has 1 hour developing shops.
A few resorts will be able to change US dollars and Singapore Dollars.
The staff at all resorts can speak English but if need to, it will be best to talk to the reception for any enquiries, requests or grievances.
Things to buy
The resorts do sell some toiletries and some t-shirts and island souvenirs but nothing to shout about. The villages have sundry shops that can provide your basic needs such as toiletries, snacks, towels. DO NOT BUY any souvenirs made from corals, shells and other marine animals such as starfishes. Anyone found in possession of such items will be fined RM5,000. If the villagers don't know better, advise them not to exploit their environment. Even dead corals - the bleached ones sometimes found washed ashore should be left where it is found. Did you know that hermit crabs do not grow their own shells? ..they inhabit abandoned or empty shells. For all you shell collectors out there, have a thought for these poor, homeless creatures. Leave those shells where you found them!
Food and Drinks
If you're staying at the 'dive resorts', food and drinks are available. Beers are available at select resorts. Bring your own if need be. There are little cafes at Kampung Meriam.
getting there and away
All boats to Pulau Aur depart from the Mersing Jetty in Mersing town.(in the state of Johor). Please refer to http://www.journeymalaysia.com/MC_mersing.htm for more info on travelling by road.
- By Boat to Aur from Mersing
You either have your return trip fixed for you by your dive/tour operators or you may want to sit at the jetty and keep an eye out for any boats going to Aur which will cost you about RM50 one way per person. Okay please note that since departure of boats is usually dictated by the early/late arrival of coaches from Singapore then you may have to wait from 1 to 3 hours. The boats quite often leave just before midnight Friday and arrive at Pulau Aur or Pulau Dayang at around 4.30am Saturday. The travel time depends on the type of boats and the conditions of the sea. Several of the dive boats can seat about 40 - 60 pax and be a little cramped and uncomfortable so be prepared. You may also encounter a few unpleasant fellow divers on the trip who have a habit of reserving rows of seats for themselves so that they can rest easy during the boatride, sacrificing others' comfort. This despicable act was witnessed several times and it does not rule out Westerners too!
Please refrain from throwing rubbish overboard. I have seen a number of Malaysian and Singaporean guests tossing plastic bags, cigarrette packs etc over the side. (Yes, Singaporeans too! obviously, to some, the mandatory 'no littering' rule they have adopted does not need to be adhered to if not in their own country)
best time to go
Apparently anytime between February and early November. But the weather being what it is, try checking with your dive operators before setting off.