Singapore’s Southern Islands offer both a welcome retreat from the pace of city life and the chance to embrace an unprecedented side of Singapore that is only a short ferry ride away.
If the thought of peace and solitude, warm sand between your toes, fresh sea air, gently lapping waves and tweeting birds are all sensations you would love to experience, then Singapore’s Southern Islands will offer all in abundance with a few surprise extras added for good measure.
SINGAPORE’S SOUTHERN ISLANDS
ST JOHN ISLAND AND LAZARUS ISLAND :
As we arrive at the white clapboarded jetty and step off the boat with 6 other people, you have the immediate sensation that you have stepped back in time, away from the gloss and glamour that is present day Singapore.
Our first encounter is with a black cat who greets us with a carefree sleepy stare as it sits comfortably on a bench. The island is home to a well cared for collection of strays and by the look of this cat, life looks quite peachy.
St John Island as it is known today, was formerly called Pulau Sakijang Bendera and lies approximately 6.5 kilometres south of the main land. Spanning 40.5 hectares this hilly island oasis offering solitude, sandy shores, swimming lagoons and much more, only enjoyed its transformation back in 1975. Previous to its new lease of life the island had a fascinating history.
Sir Stamford Raffles anchored here in 1819 before meeting the Malay Chief of Singapore. In the late 19th century the island served as a quarantine station for cholera stricken Chinese immigrants and later became the worlds biggest quarantine centre for both Asian immigrants and malay pilgrims. After large scale immigration ended in the 1950’s the island served as a penal settlement and later, a drug rehabilitation centre for opium addicts. Today, it is home to a Tropical Marine Science Institute and a Marine Aquaculture Centre.
We head towards the right from the jetty and wander along the shadowy path before sinking our feet into the warm golden sand and look out over the swimming lagoon towards the city which feels like a totally separate entity to this peaceful haven. As we wander around the island the only visible sign of life is a couple more cats, some beautifully coloured butterflys and the soft birdsong among the verdant green fauna and flora showcased along the route. Stopping to take in the view the soft breeze brushes my hair across my face and I close my eyes to savour the tranquility and serenity of this alluring sanctury.
Meandering our way back towards the jetty we continue to the other side of the island and follow the paved link bridge across to an even quieter Lazarus Island. Before we reach the other side we are immediately met by a collection of stray cats who are incredibly vocal in their welcome. Continuing along the path we are met by a magnificent swathe of white sand skirting clear, turquoise water and it becomes obvious where our other ferry companions disappeared.
The sand is almost white in appearance with the pristine beach dazzling in the sun. The Singapore government even went to the trouble of having the sand inspected for sandflies before importing thousands of cubic metres from Indonesia and it was worth every effort as this really is perfect in every way. It is incredibly hot so we don’t sit too long but if you are up for some exercise you can trek northeast to the tip of Seringat for panoramic views of the mainland.
TIPS FOR VISITING THE ISLANDS :
- Take plenty of food and drink with you as there are no food outlets/kiosks on either island.
- In order to protect yourself from the strong sun bring sunblock, a hat and umbrella.
- St John Island has toilets to the left of the jetty near a small mosque. There are also toilets and beach shelters to the right of the jetty, by the swimming lagoon.
- Lazarus Island has toilet facilities next to the private jetty, about a 5 minute walk from the beach.
- Lazarus Island has three beach pavilions offering shade and numerous coconut trees lining the beach to sit under.
- Allow plenty of time to walk back to St John Island to catch the ferry.
- Visitors who plan to stay overnight on St John Island can book the Holiday Bungalow, which comes furnished with a kitchen and sleeps up to 10 people. This is the only island where you are able to stay overnight.
- Plan your trip using the ferry schedule especially if you also want to visit Kusu Island.
KUSU ISLAND :
One of Singapore’s Southern Islands that offers a distinctively different experience is Kusu Island or to give it its Chinese name, Tortoise Island.
Arriving at the jetty after a 5 minute ferry ride from St John island, Kusu has a different feel about it, but the one thing in common with St John Island is the solitude and quietness which engulfs you as you step down from the ferry.
Perusing the map it is evident that this island packs a punch in terms of sights. With two swimming lagoons and beaches the island also offers local heritage, mythical origins, nature and views in abundance.
Starting life as two tiny outcrops on a reef, land reclamation in 1975 has transformed the island into an 8.5 hectare resort. Whilst many versions of the island’s mythical legend abound, most tell the tale of a giant tortoise which turned itself into an island in order to save two shipwrecked sailors, a Malay and a Chinese, who later returned to the island to give thanks for their safety.
We set off to explore the island and walked along the pavilion walkway across the Turtle Lagoon.
The pavilions are striking with their brick red pillars and intricately ornate jade green roofs. In the central pavilion is a wishing well where a walkway off to the right leads to Da Bo Gong Chinese Temple, built by a wealthy businessman in 1923. Dedicated to the Chinese God of Prosperity, the temple houses two main deities, Da Bo Gong and Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy). Worshippers usually pray to the deities for five blessings, namely longevity, wealth, physical health/peace of mind, love of virtue and fulfilled destiny.
Walking through the temple accompanied by the wafting of incense smoke was both calming and poignant.
For the Chinese, the tortoise is a sacred animal and this is visible at the specially constructed Tortoise Sanctuary, with dozens more tortoises housed at the temple.
There are plenty of clean public toilets and showers available for visitors and during peak times (Kusu Pilgrimage) use is made of a hawker centre to provide food and provisions.
A climb of 152 steps takes you to the top of the hill and the home of 3 Malay Shrines or “Keramats”, which commemorate a pious man (Syed Abdul Rahman), his mother (Nenek Ghalib) and sister (Puteri Fatimah) who lived in the 19th century. On the ninth month of the lunar calendar, devotees will visit Kusu Island to pay their respects, give thanks and pray for wealth, good health and harmony and good marriage blessed with children.
We wander back to the jetty via the swimming lagoon and sandy beach admiring the views across the city.
TIPS FOR VISITING KUSU ISLAND :
- Take plenty of food and drink with you as there are no provisions on the island.
- In order to protect yourself from the strong sun bring sunblock, a hat and umbrella.
- There are plenty of toilets and some showers located by the Tortoise Sanctuary.
- There are two swimming lagoons and plenty of beach shelters dotted around the edge of the sand beach.
- Overnight stays are not permitted, so take a picnic for a day trip.
- Plan your trip using the ferry schedule especially if you also want to visit St John Island.
HOW TO GET TO SINGAPORE’S SOUTHERN ISLANDS :
The offshore islands are managed by the Singapore Land Authority. A regular ferry service, provided by Singapore Island Cruise, serves Kusu and St John’s Island on a fixed schedule from Marina South Pier.
Alight at Marina South Pier MRT and follow signs to the pier where the ticket booth will be on the right hand side. No advanced bookings are needed and you purchase your ticket before boarding the ferry. The ticketing booth closes daily at 3pm.
Website : Singapore Island Cruise
Ferry Schedule can be checked here. Ferry Fare: Prices for a two way trip are fixed at $18 for adults and $12 for children aged 1 to 12 years old.
Boarding of ferries are on a first come first served basis and subject to availability, extra ferries may be scheduled outside of standard timings.
The ferry heads to St John Island first, which takes 30 minutes, then continues to Kusu Island which is 15 minutes from St John Island.
Be sure to thoroughly check the timetable for timings to and from each island.
For an off beat Singapore experience it is definitely worthwhile visiting the Southern Islands both for an alternative view of Singapore, beautiful beaches with swimming lagoons and a dose of peaceful serenity.
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- 3 Day Guide To Singapore
Have you visited the Southern Islands while in Singapore, and if so, which was your favourite island?
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