Sabah’s trunk highway hurries through the northern suburbs of KK to the more pastoral environs of Tuaran. From here, the atap houses of the Bajau water villages, Mengkabong and Penimbawan, are only a stone’s throw away. Just outside Tuaran, the main road forks, with the eastern branch heading towards Gunung Kinabalu National Park and Ranau, then onwards to Sandakan.
Continuing north instead, the main road arrives at bustling Kota Belud, where a weekly tamu attracts tribespeople from all over the region. Beyond, the landscape becomes more colourful: jewel-bright paddy fields and stilted wooden houses line the road for much of the way up to the Kudat Peninsula, with Gunung Kinabalu dominating the far distance.
On the way to Kudat, the first administrative capital of the East India Company, it’s possible to stay at a Rungus longhouse in Kampung Bavanggazo. North of town the area known as the Tip of Borneo has quiet beaches and a few guesthouses. Remote islands reached from the peninsula include Pulau Banggi and Pulau Mantanani.