Balabac Sojourn: Onuk Island, Pink Beach and Melville Lighthouse

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Balabac

It was on our third day in Balabac that we started exploring the islands, our boat captain cum guide was no less than the well versed and knowledgeable Kap Andong of Barangay Poblacion 4 in mainland Balabac. I bet no other person in town knows Balabac more than Kap, he knows the history, the hidden spots, the best beaches and even the little known secrets of the town and its people.

Balabac
Another beautiful day in Balabac! Perfect for island hopping!

The water was totally calm that morning, the sky was blue, the horizon was clear and the tide was slowly getting higher, a good day to hop from island to island. By nine in the morning, Louie, Sir Rene and I boarded the boat with Kap Andong and Bagdong, we sailed southwards to the direction of Pulau Batu, in an area that locals call Nasubata. I took the spot on front of the boat and fixed my eyes on the beautiful hues of the water.

Balabac
I haven’t seen a vast sea as clear and beautiful as this!

Halfway to Pulau Batu, Kap spotted some dolphins, so he and Bagdong turned the boat around and maneuvered it to where the dolphins were heading. In a few minutes, the dolphins were already at the nose of our boat and racing with us, occasionally jumping to the surface as if showing their might. Wow! We were all stunned in amazement!

The dolphins would swim out of our path but Kap would turn the boat around to their direction and the dolphins would race with our boat again. He turned the boat around four times to chase the dolphins and we were the happiest passengers ever! Woohooo!

Balabac
Free dolphin show! πŸ™‚

We continued our journey to Nasubata and an hour-and-a-half passed, the water became shallow and its color turned into a beautiful hues of turquoise. The sea was unbelievably calm and clear that we could see the seabed, the corals and the fishes beneath. Slowly, our boat circled around Pulau Batu before heading to the nearby Onuk Island.

Balabac
Uninhabited Pulau Batu

Onuk is the island popularized by the winning photo of George Tapan. No doubt, the place looks stunning in photo specially during low tide when the island looks like a wide stretch of white sand beach. At high tide, the wide stretch of white sand submerges leaving only a small sandbar and rocky island on the surface.

Surprises kept coming as we spotted three sea turtles and one stingray on the clear water between Pulau Batu and Onuk Island. Fifteen minutes passed, we reached the former, supposedly our second stop for the day, but we were barred from getting into the island without prior arrangement from the owner. The staff advised us to leave, so we left.

Balabac
The famed Onuk Island duringΒ high tide.

There was a sigh of regret as we left the island but we had no choice but to continue our journey. Our next stop was forty five minutes away from Onuk, a privately owned island named Comiran that also boasts of its fine sand beach. But unlike the other beaches in Balabac, Comiran Island is not white. It’s quite pink!

Balabac
Another surprise – Comiran Island!

As soon as the boat landed in Comiran, we all immediately went down and walked on its shore. Except for Kap, we were all equal as first timers in the island. I walked barefooted to feel the sand, it was fine and cold even at midday!

Balabac
I can live here!

Comiran is just a small island surrounded by pinkish sand, one can circle the island in no more than 10 minutes. At first, its beach reminded me of the island in Apo Reef but as I walked along the shore I realized that it resembles the pink sand off the coast of Zamboanga City. So I searched for the culprit – the red colored corals that make the sand look pink. True enough, chunks of red corals are scattered on the beach. From then on, we decided to call it pink beach and that’s how the island got its new moniker – Comiran Island, the pink beach of Balabac!

Balabac
Red corals when crushed by tide make the sand look pinkish.

I wanted to stay longer but the midday sun was already taking its toll on me so I returned to boat and admired the island once more from my viewpoint. When everyone was back, we continued our journey. Next destination was Melville!

Comiran Island and Melville are approximately one hour and thirty minutes apart on a calm day, enough time to have our lunch onboard. That was how the cowboys on us used the idle time and it guaranteed us of more time to explore and experience the attractions.

Our boat sailed westward towards the mainland… to the southernmost tip of Balabac Island marked by the old Spanish Lighthouse. I tried to hide my excitement because Melville Lighthouse was the very reason that convinced me to join the trip in the first place. I just watched as the island became bigger and closer. Then we found ourselves in a calm bay with yatch and outrigger boats quietly floating around. Obviously, the yacht wasn’t from the Philippines, it was most probably from the neighboring Malaysia and just temporarily anchoring in our water. There was another yacht going away towards Kudat, a Malaysian island. Kap said that Kudat is just three to four hours away.

Balabac
Larindon Bay with some yachts that seem to come from Malaysia.

The area is known to locals as Larindon or Binaatan, an enclosed natural bay covered with mangroves. These mangroves hide a secret… a secret carefully protected by time.

Kap Andong and Bagdong maneuvered the boat through a small opening, to an area which looks like a ruined structure. There were bricks of different sizes and traces of old walls and stairs which were all leveled and submerged to the water.

Balabac
Passing through mangrove forest to check out the forgotten bits and pieces of history.

We were amazed as we stepped on the bricks and walked around the ruins. We know for a fact that those bricks tell a lot of stories which our history books failed to keep. Was it an old Spanish quarter, or a garrison, or a prison, or a brick manufacturing site? No one really knows today, even my research yielded no concrete answer. But history tells us that aside from the lighthouse, the Spaniards also built other structures in Melville in preparation for their planned invasion of Borneo. When we left Larindon Bay, the thought of digging deeper on the history of Balabac when I get back to Manila was playing on my head.

Balabac
If these bricks could talk.

Our boat stayed near the coast as it traversed and circled the southernmost tip of the island, it slightly turned to its right to the western coast in the general direction of Melville Beach. We could see the lighthouse from the boat and the community of Molbog along the beach who stopped and looked on us as we wade on the water and approached them. At their village, we uttered our “good mornings” while Kap, as if a local celebrity, did the usual round of polite “how are you.”

Balabac
Approaching Melville Beach. Can you see the lighthouse?

From the beach, the trek to the lighthouse takes at least half-an-hour on a clear and gradually ascending trail, passing along an area planted with coconuts and some rice fields. Built in late 1800’s, the century-old lighthouse of Melville is one of the few remaining Spanish-era lighthouses in the Philippines. It was first lit in 1892 to guide ships traversing the waters of Southern Balabac particularly those crossing the sea that separates Borneo and Palawan. Although the lighthouse is already decommissioned and replaced with a newer structure, its imposing presence still reminds us of its once glorious past.

Balabac
The lighthouse blended well with the towering coconut trees.

Some say that with its remoteness, Melville Lighthouse is one of, if not, the hardest to reach Spanish colonial lighthouse in the country. Others hail it as the most beautiful, the grand dame of all the lonely sentinels of the Philippines seas. For me, it’s a dream come true! Only few have seen it up close and I am privileged to be among them. No doubt, it is beautiful. It is beautiful!

Balabac
The grand dame of all lonely sentinels of the Philippine seas.

I fixed my eyes to the lighthouse as our boat distant itself. I still couldn’t believe that a long time dream has just been realized. Slowly, the lighthouse vanished from my sight. As slow as the changing hues of the sky.

Balabac
A view to end our day.

It was a long day that started and ended in the water. As soft as the daybreak, my body started feeling the weight of our activities. The captivating sunset, the stillness of the water and the murmurs of the sea all connived to set the mood for the day’s end. It was already dark when we reached the main town.

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18 thoughts on “Balabac Sojourn: Onuk Island, Pink Beach and Melville Lighthouse

  1. Hello Sir.

    Can you please recommend a lodging house or a place to stay in Rio tuba? We are bound for Balabac on May 20, 2016 and we are looking for a place to stay within that area so that we can be on time during the meetup.

    Appreciate your response.

    1. Hi Mary,

      If you arrive early in Rio Tuba there are lodging houses in town where you can stay. White Heaven Lodge near Rio Tuba bus terminal has P250/night for a very basic fan room with common CR but mind you, very very basic and common bathroom. Other lodges in town are Corpuz Lodging, Duazo Lodging, Triple J Inn (the only one with wi-fi), Kharis Lucky Inn, Tagle Pensionne, RZ Lodge and Dolotte Lodge. Expect also basic accommodation from these lodges. I think pinakamatino na ang Tripple J.

    1. I do not recommend this for solo sir, quite expensive. The boat alone for island hopping costs at least P10,000. 😐

  2. My girlfriend and I are planing a trip to Palawan in early March. We are both Australian and in our late twenties and have traveled extensively before.

    We were looking at the possibility of heading down to Balabac / Onuk island and staying for a few nights, if we can. We will be coming from El Nido. Just wondering what your thought on the best way to get there / time for travel?

    Also and more importantly is we are hearing mixed things about safety down that way in regards to kidnappings and just general instability. What is your feeling on this?

    Would love to hear some feedback.

    Thanks

  3. Hi,
    Thank you for posting this, is beautiful. How did you organise this? Where can I contact Kap Andong? Do you have a phone number or an e-mail?

    Thank you
    Nicoleta

    1. hello nicoleta:
      you might also want to contact mr. renato prinsipe at 0929 140 3125, he arranges tours to balabac island. minimum of 6 persons. recommended by mr. lakwatsero.

      tnx
      wayne

  4. Hello. Would you recommend balabac trip to a 12year old? Can you email me a complete itinerary of the place.☺

  5. I really enjoyed your adventure in Balabac Island. Your photos said it all. Will definitely add Balabac Island on my to-travel list. πŸ™‚

  6. I enjoy reading your blog. Are you considering leading a tour to Balacbac next year – 2016? It is so beautiful that I would certainly like to join. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Palawan is really more than Coron and El Nido. Andami pang magagandang lugar sa probinsya. Thanks for sharing Balacbac to us. realy amazing. Ang ganda especially the pinkish beach πŸ™‚

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