Friday, September 19, 2014

Go Local :: Singapore Southern Islands {St John's, Lazarus & Seringat} Heritage Tour

Other than Sentosa, it has been years since I visited our Southern Islands. Been wanting to go on a family trip to St John's this year, but never got down to it.

Since Singapore Heritage Festival {SHF} 2014 is themed "Our Islands, Our Home" {they've a different theme every year - 2013 was "Memories of Tomorrow" which had an aviation feel}, there were some excursions to our offshore islands and I signed up for the one to visit St John's, Lazarus & Seringat islands.

It's only for participants aged 16 years and up, so obviously Lil Pumpkin can't go but I thought I can recce the place first for our family trip haha. Like the Singapore Lighthouse Trail, the Island-Hop Trail was fully booked within the first few hours and I was put on waiting list.

I only got to go for it last Sunday morning, a few days after we returned from our Gold Coast trip. I had some holiday fatigue but still glad I managed to wake up early for the 7.30am trail to learn more about our Southern islands and marine life.

The special tour focused on the social and natural histories of three Southern islands - St John's, Lazurus and Seringat. We set off again from Marina South Pier on a small ferry, which took us for a 20 minutes ride to reach St John's Island {previously known as Pulau Sakijang Bendera} first.

At St John's Island, where time seems to have stood still, former quarantine quarters are a reminder of the island's past.

Did you know that the island used to be a quarantine station for cholera cases detected among immigrants in the late 19th century? It was later used to quarantine patients with other diseases e.g. leprosy as well as to house a penal settlement for political prisoners & triad members, and a drug rehabilitation centre.

It was also on St John's Island that Sir Stamford Raffles anchored on 28 January 1819, the eve of his historic meeting with Temenggong Abdul Rahman!

Later on the government redeveloped it as a getaway location with swimming lagoons, beaches, picnic grounds, trekking routes and soccer fields. It is still very popular now with people who want a quick day-trip from our bustling city. If you want to stay over, you'll need to get permission from Sentosa Leisure Group {more info on that below}.

Unofficially, St John's Island is also known as "Cat Island" due to the large population of stray cats. There's about 80-100 stray cats there cared for by the island's residents who are mostly {all?} Malay Muslims and hence don't keep dogs. They definitely outnumber the island's human population and live a rather carefree life with no fear of getting run over by cars or plenty of free space to roam about.

The cats seem pretty tame too and will come straight up to you for food. The guides said that these cats are genetically different from the main Singapore island cats. Not too sure about that as I'm not really a cat fan :P

Since we arrived around low tide, we had the opportunity to walk at the shore line and explore the many interesting living organisms there. Spotted some interested worms and crabs.

After that we took a walk in towards the Tropical Marine Science Institute {TMSI} on the hilltop, but couldn't enter since it was closed for the weekend. Learnt more about the interesting research work they did and also found out that it will be closing for good in 2015 as they move back to Kent Ridge, NUS. Such a pity! It's so convenient to obtain seawater for experiments on the island but now they have to move inland and make sea water on their own {again}.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority {AVA} also has a research facility there to develop and harness technology to facilitate the development and expansion of large-scale hatchery and fish farming production in Singapore and the region.

Then we went walked towards the causeway to cross to Lazarus Island {Pulau Sakijang}... passed by some of the island caretakers' houses. Most of them have lived there for many generations.

I really like seeing such "kampong" houses. My mum used to stay in something similar when she was younger.. I also spotted a white chicken!! Ok, maybe they aren't very rare but to a city girl like me, they do seem pretty fascinating ;p

The mangrove swamp on the way there was interesting too. Learnt that mangroves actually helped to save some of the villages in Sumatra during the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster as they acted as barriers to prevent or at least soften the damage caused by the tsunami and high tidal waves.

The causeway linking St John's to Lazarus Island was built in 2000 to make the islands more accessible and to attract more visitors.

Saw a few people fishing along the causeway. Was quite nice to actually just sit down here and enjoy the cool breeze and scenery too :)

The natural, rocky shore of Lazarus Island. We didn't explore much of this island but I heard there's a pretty beach here.

Seringat Island is actually a man-made island extended from Lazarus Island, which we walked to as well. There was a lot of walking that day!

Thousands of cubic metres of sand was imported from Indonesia to make the beach, which actually looks pristine and beautiful. The island was completed in 2000 and built by reclaiming the 2 submerged reefs and joining these to the existing Lazarus Island.

Singapore Tourism Board {STB} had a plan then to develop the Southern Islands into a tourist attraction. Over the years, there has been suggestions to turn them into a centre for water sports, place to promote eco-tourism, retirement village or even another integrated resort with casinos but none of these plans have materialised so far.

In STB's grand plan, they wanted to promote Seringat Island to visitors as a Mediterranean resort-like setting a short ride away from Singapore, patterned after Italy's renowned vacation spot, Capri. It was also supposed to include a luxurious hotels and waterfront homes. However, these plans have been shelved too. Possibly due to lack of funding.

Personally, I'd like to have the islands developed into a culture site to promote our local history and heritage. Keep the natural greenery and lush foliage, and just add more ways for people to find out more and experience our past island-life.

  • To get to the 3 islands, take a ferry {return trip fee: adults S$18, child aged 1-12 years old S$12} or hire a private boat from Marina South Pier to St John's Island.
  • Wear proper walking shoes and clothing.
  • Bring insecticide, sunblock, water, food, extra clothing, camera etc.
  • You can stay overnight at the Holiday Bungalow on St John's {only 1 available!!}, which comes with a fully furnished kitchen and sleeps up to 10 pax. Prices start from S$53.30/period of stay, and book personally at Sentosa Station {VivoCity, Level 3}.
  • Bigger groups up to 60 pax can book a Holiday Camp accommodation at St John's. Prices start from S$64.20/day, and book personally at Sentosa Station or call Mr Eddy Bin Ali on 9138 5029 {Mon-Fri, 8am-5pm}.
  • Overnight camping is not allowed on all 3 islands.
Other Singapore heritage places:


Masshole Mommy said...

It's so cool to see the differences and similarities in our cultures through posts like these.

Theresa Mahoney said...

It looks so beautiful there! I lovely place to relax. Though I am not sure about all the stray kitties, though I do know they would excite my girls!

Stacy said...

Sounds like it was a fun outing. Never knew Singapore had so many non-commercialised nooks and crannies.

An Apel a Day said...

It's so pretty there! I love the skies in all the photos. WOW the colors are pretty.

Grace said...

That's such an interesting fact about mangroves. You know, my mum's from Sumatra, but more towards the eastern coast so her family weren't affected by the terrible tsunami.

Anonymous said...

If I was a cat, I reckon that'd be a pretty sweet place to live! No cars, friendly humans, lots of fish!

Rina said...

the fact that you took this trip only few days after you come back from you long Gold Coast trip is amazed me haha... if me, I would have been dead tired. but the photos are awesome as always! another reference for my future Sg trips :)

Sweetday said...

Lovely places! Thanks for the tips!

EQ said...

I just went last Sat, anyone can stay overnight at St John or any of the link island. Kust inform e guard once u stepped out of the ferry.
I toom the 9am ferry and saw many ppl satyef overnight there on e island.