Subaraj Rajathurai takes us into the untamed areas of Singapore, to experience the ecosystems that he has fought to preserve.
So you’ve shopped till you dropped at Orchard Road, taken your mandatory selfie with the Merlion, and marvelled at the skyscrapers at Marina Bay. Want to see more of Singapore? Head to these offshore islands for a Singaporean experience unlike any other.
St John’s Island
Calling all cat lovers, skip the cat cafes and head to St John's Island for some quality time with your favourite furry friends—the island has become famous in recent years for the many friendly felines lounging around. St John’s Island has also seen its fair share of history—what was once a quarantine centre for infectious diseases and later a drug rehabilitation centre, was transformed in 1975 and given a new lease of life as an oasis where travellers enjoy swimming lagoons, beaches, picnic grounds, trekking routes and more.
Getting there: Catch a ferry to St John’s Island from Marina South Pier (S$18 for a round trip).
Perhaps the most well-known of Singapore’s offshore islands, Pulau Ubin is the place to be if you’re looking to connect with nature or take a walk on the wild side. Pulau Ubin is home to one of Singapore’s last kampongs (a small village of community houses), and the island is brimming with rustic charm. Grab your bikes and cycle around the island, or take a van to the Chek Jawa Wetlands, where you can stroll down the kilometre-long boardwalk and observe all sorts of wildlife such as carpet anemones and mangrove-dwelling fiddler crabs.
Getting there: Take a 10-minute bumboat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal (S$3 for a one-way trip).
The one traveller gripe about the beaches at Sentosa or East Coast Park is that it gets too crowded for an idyllic beach escapade. To experience a real island getaway, head to one of Singapore’s best-kept secrets, Lazarus Island. Think lounging on white sandy shores and dipping your toes in clear turquoise waters. Remember to pack your towels and sunscreen though, as the Lazarus Island tropical paradise experience comes without convenience stores.
Getting there: Hop on the ferry to St John’s Island from Marina South Pier (S$18 for a round trip). Then take the link bridge from the St John’s jetty to reach Lazarus Island.
Take a trek to Coney Island to get in touch with nature. While the nation mourns the iconic bovine that once called the island home, Coney Island is still worth visiting sans cow. There are great cycling trails on the island—we’d recommend cycling over walking, as the terrain can get pretty rugged. The 50-hectare Coney Island Park is also a sanctuary for a diverse range of Singapore’s flora and fauna and a good spot for bird-watching. Do keep a look out for those long-tailed macaques.
Getting there: From Punggol Point Park, walk about 500 metres east along the Punggol Promenade Nature Walk to get to Coney Island West Entrance.
Kusu Island is famously home to a tortoise sanctuary (‘kusu’ actually means ‘tortoise’ or ‘turtle’ in Chinese). Legend has it that a giant tortoise turned itself into an island in order to save two shipwrecked sailors, who then returned to the island to give thanks. Visit Kusu Island during the ninth lunar month and you’ll be joined by throngs of people going to the island to pay their respects at the Chinese Da Bo Gong Temple. If you're feeling up for a challenge, take on the 152-step climb to the top of the island, where 3 keramats (holy shrines of Malay saints) sit. Many believe them to grant wealth, health and fertility.
Getting there: Kusu Island can be reached by ferry from Marina South Pier (S$18 for a round trip).
Two islands separated by a narrow channel, Sisters’ Island is said to be named after various versions of a folktale where a pair of sisters drowned at sea. Find out which version of the legend you believe when you explore the island, which is a popular spot for picnics and camping. You can also head to the Sisters’ Island Marine Park, home to plenty of Singapore’s native marine biodiversity.
Getting there: Sisters’ Island can be reached by ferry from Marina South Pier (S$18 for a round trip).