Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Southern Ridges

Dragonfly Pond
For a large metropolitan city Singapore is surprisingly well endowed with hiking opportunities, with perhaps one of the most celebrated being this route along the Southern Ridges, a small range of hills that overlook the dockyards and Sentosa Island.  It is not a continuous ridge but the city authorities have put in some ingenious engineering to overcome the challenges of dealing with the valleys that divide the hills.  The path is officially 10km in length but can easily be extended to include Labrador Park.  I also included Sentosa Island into the route for reasons that I shall explain later.  I began my route at Kent Ridge MRT station, which is the opposite end of the recommended route but walking from west to east always seems to make more sense to me.  It also ensured that I would see some of the highlights at the end of the route rather than at the beginning.

Kent Ridge View
From Kent Ridge station I took a left turn and another left turn to take me on to Science Park Drive, a wide road through what looked to be an area of hi-tech industry.  I was so taken with the shiny buildings that I missed the turn into the nearby park and only realised much further down the road when I came upon some tower blocks in the process of being demolished.  Such was the deliberate nature of the deconstruction that I could only assume that every available piece of concrete and metal were being recycled.  I wandered down into the adjacent park and soon found myself by the dragonfly pond.  I lingered here for a while watching the eponymous insects and enjoying the ambiance of the pond.  All was quiet in the park - I saw only a couple of joggers at this stage.

Friendly Lizard
I climbed up the steps and onto Kent Ridge proper where I got my first sight of the port.  When you are in the city the size of the port is not obvious but from up here you soon get a sense of why Singapore has become so fabulously wealthy.  The number of cranes and containers is quite bewildering and the scale of the port is not something I have really seen before.  I imagine that the docking fees and various tariffs is what keeps the country coffers topped up and why the local citizens are able to live such a good standard of life.  While admiring the view I also caught sight of a different kind of local - a small lizard observing me and making sure I wasn't going to be a threat.

Canopy Walk
I walked along the mostly empty car park to a mound further along that had a slightly elevated view of the port and from here I could see a wider aspect as well as a view back over the city for the first time.  This shaded area was far more popular with the locals and a couple of the tab;es were taken by professional people having work meetings - I imagine somewhere like that would be quite productive and popular.  A far cry from World War II when this ridge was held by a garrison hoping to repel the Japanese invaders who came in 1942.  One of the last battles for Singapore was fought here and the result made the British commanders that the game was up and they surrendered soon afterwards in what was one of the biggest defeats the British Army ever had.  Looking at the peaceful leisure surroundings now it is hard to believe that such a place could have such a bloody past.

Hort Park
The onward walk along Kent Ridge was a delight through a kind of arboretum (although it wasn't billed as such).  There were lots of different types of trees and although I couldn't really name any of them I did enjoy their different spreads, foliage and colours.  At the far end the ridge I went to look at Bukit Chandu War Memorial but sadly it was long term closed for renovations.  I met a chap who encouraged me to come again to visit when it's finished as he said it would be well worth it.  I left Kent Ridge here and walked along the tree top canopy walk to get to the next path.  Singapore does these walkways so well - they are all a treat and provide the walker with excellent opportunities to see the foliage and fruits/ flowers that would be impossible from ground level.  One tree I remember in particular was the gloriously named Tiup Tiup tree, a lanky one that is able to recolonise poor soils.  It had small fruits on it that I was able to reach out and touch courtesy of my lofty position.

Hort Park Butterfly
From the walkway it was also possible to see the Former Ford Factory (or at least its rough location for I couldn't really pick it out).  This is another of those iconic buildings in Singapore that is closely associated with the Japanese Occupation for it was in this old car works that the Allied commander, Lieutenant-General Percival surrendered to the Japanese and more than 2 years of occupation took place thereafter.  It is now a very interesting museum recounting this chapter of the war (I visited myself the following day).

Keppel Building
At the bottom of the zig zag canopy trail my eyes were drawn to a bird in the top of the tree above me.  It teased me a little with singing and hopping about just out of range of me being able to see it properly.  I tried and largely failed to get a decent picture of it but eventually gave up - I reckon I am a rubbish naturalist as I don't have enough patience.  It was a beautiful yellow colour though - easy to spot through the foliage. At the bottom of the hill I passed through a gate and into Hort Park.  I smiled as I entered as it hadn't previously occurred to me that this was in fact a horticulutual park where there was clearly quite a lot of research going on.  I soon became aware of hoards of kids too as they were all visiting on a school trip - I mostly gave them a wide berth as I tried to enjoy the peace and quiet of the flower gardens.  It was an exquisite place to wander around - the place was full of butterflies and other insects.  I had hoped that I might have some refreshment at the visitor centre but sadly it was closed on the day of my visit and I had to push on rather more quickly than I had hoped.

Arrival From Singapore
Just outside the garden was the graceful looking Alexandra Arch Bridge which connects this park to the next one at Telok Blanglah.  Apparently it looks particularly special after dark when all lit up.  However, before continuing on to there I decided to take a look at the alternate route that is offered by the parks service and explains why they suggest that the route is completed in the opposite direction.  If approaching from the other direction the suggestion is that the walker either chooses the Labrador Park option OR the Kent Ridge option.  Over-achiever that I am I wanted to do both, especially as I wasn't sure when I might get here again.  I turned right down Alexandra Road after the bridge, passing by a man who was sitting and selling nik-naks (mostly brushes).  This is a sight that I am used to in Thailand but not here - I think it is probably unusual outside the main ethnic areas of Chinatown and Little India.

Dragon's Teeth
The walk down Alexandra Road wasn't that pleasant as it is a very busy road.  To be fair though the city authorities had provided a decent walkway and segregated cycle track.  I was feeling quite hot and bothered as I walked down towards Labrador Park and was very pleased when I saw a shopping centre on the way.  I dived in and had some lunch and enjoyed some air conditioning for a while before continuing onward.  I was pleased to see that there was a system of footbridges linking the shopping centre with the nearby MRT station for that was where I needed to go next.  Behind Labrador Park station is the Berlayer Creek boardwalk.  This was a rather different kind of experience for it passes through a mangrove creek where it is possible to observed wildlife.  To be fair I didn't see much other than the odd monitor lizard, squirrel and crow but that was probably due to the fact that I was now in the middle of the day and most creatures are too smart to be out then.  The mangroves did afford plenty of shade and this seemed to be a popular place for running for I passed many joggers along the way.

Harbour From Labrador Park
Eventually I came to the sea and the channel in front of me was quite popular with several hydrofoils making their way to and from Indonesia judging by the insignia they had on their paintwork.  Although there were of course plenty of people sitting in the park enjoying the warm weather rather bizarrely there were plenty of chickens wandering about too.  I turned right (although the left hand turn along more boardwalks looked equally if not more tempting) and headed towards Dragon's Teeth Gate where I came to the mouth of this particular part of the harbour.  On the opposite shore was the holiday island of Sentosa where I would eventually be headed.  The Dragon's Teeth Gate is an interesting feature as it just looks like a pile of random rocks.  The one that is there now is merely a replica - the original was destroyed by the British when widening the harbour  in 1848.  Just beyond it is an old light beacon and from there I surveyed the biggest number of ships I have ever seen in one place - literally dozens moored offshore awaiting their next assignment.

Former Battery
This was a different if no less interesting perspective of the harbour.  Across the way I could see the towering cranes and the hundreds of containers being swapped between ships and shore transport.  How on earth must it have looked before containers were invented or widely used?  The armies of people employed at these docks must have been unimaginable.  Now the only signs of people interesting with the water were a couple of fishermen fishing in spite of the signs forbidding it.  I looped around this very attractive waterfront park and then headed through the gatewa to the old hill where the wartime batteries can still be found.  This hill was one of the best defended in Sigapore - the only problem was that the guns were pointing out to sea and the enemy came from land via the Malayan jungles back in World War II.  This meant that the defenders were hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with what was a very fierce army.  Although the remains of the batteries are still well preserved any chance of them being used to defend the port would require a serious amount of vegetation and tree removing first as they are all seemingly just enclaves in the forest.  In one of the batteries there was a mock up showing how life must have been for the soldiers manning the guns.  At the top of the hill was supposed to be a viewpoint across the harbour but alas it was mostly blocked by trees.

Alexandra Bridge
At the top of the hill I rejoined the road and looped back around to Labrador Park MRT station and thence back to the shopping mall for a little relief from the hot sunshine.  I retraced my steps back up to Alexandra Bridge and turned right when I got there.  This led to the Forest Walk, another of those seemingly impossible canopy trails that led up to the top of the next ridge.  This one was supposed to be 1500 metres long but it seemed a lot longer.  It was surprisingly quiet - only the odd walker using it.  I heard a lot of bird life as I walked it but in all honesty I don't remember seeing much of it, except for one of those yellow birds which I got a better look at this time.  I learned that it was a black-naped oriole, one of the most common birds that live in parks in Singapore.

Henderson Waves View
The canopy walk seemed to take a while to reach the top of the ridge, not that I was in any hurry for it was the most delightful exploration of the forest.  Singapore really has mastered the art of keeping nature close to city life - I cannot think of too many other cities that have done this quite so well.  It is possible in places to imagine that you are deeper in the jungle than you actually are - with the vibrant city in some cases only a few hundred metres away.  At the top of the hill I came to Telok Blangah Hill Park and initially I walked along a quiet road to a car park not too much further on.  As I did so I became away of a lot of monkey movement in the adjacent part of the forest.  I was relieved when it died down - I didn't much like the idea of being 'mugged' by these creatures who seem to be conditioned to steal food, sunglasses, cameras and any number of loose items.

Henderson Waves
At the car park my onward path was marked by the most amazing tree - it wasn't especially tall but had the most amazing wide spread.  Just before it I passed the most famous house on the hill - the Alkaff Mansion.  This old place is famous as a wedding venue these days and although normally photogenic there was a sign outside asking people not to take pictures as it wasn't at its best during renovations.  I imagine they didn't want any illusions shattered!  From the big tree I had to climb again in order to reach Henderson Waves, an astonishing $25million bridge across to Mount Faber Park.  It is audaciously designed with seven undulating curved steel ribs and built of a locally sourced timber that can deal with everything a tropical climate can throw at it.  The bridge is almost impossible to photograph properly while you are crossing it - you just have to appreciate the engineering as you go.

Cable Car
At the far side of Henderson Waves I was now at Mount Faber Park and the views across to Sentosa Island seemed to make it more appealing.  I determined that if the cable car wasn't too expensive I would try it out.  However when I got to the Mount Faber station I was quoted a price that I thought a bit steep.  I walked away thinking that I wouldn't do it but then changed my mind, went back and was rather pleased when I was offered a discount.  That definitely sweetened the pill and I was soon travelling across in a cabin all on my own - the view across the city was awesome and well worth the price of the ticket.  The first stop on the cable car is a shopping centre and rather bizarrely the station is on the top floor.  The route then continues across the harbour to the island where it drops you right in the heart of all the holiday entertainment.  Sentosa is where Singapore likes to party and there are theme parks, resorts, beaches, all manner of thrillseeker sports and everything you might want from a holiday.

Sentosa View
I took the other cable car that took me to the far end of the island.  I wanted to see a different Sentosa - the old fort that was built to defend it during World War II.  It was a fascinating visit, which I just about managed to squeeze in before the old place closed for the day.  Inside the fort you can see the living quarters, gun batteries, medical centre and various other reconstructed areas and including sound effects that helped you imagine what it must have been like for the defenders.  It is a part of Sentosa that most probably don't come to and I pretty much had it to myself.  I did find it very moving there though - certainly a different experience than the World War II places I'm used to back in Europe.  Once I'd looked around I sensed that it was going to get dark soon and so I went straight back to the cable car and did the two stage journey all the way back to Mount Faber.  I probably could have got off at Harbourfront but I decided to complete the whole journey and was back at Mount Faber in the now fading light (it gets dark very quickly in the tropics)

Mock Up Fort at Sentosa Island
In fact by the time I did get back and walk down the steps to Harbourfront station it was already growing dusk.  I even managed to miss the sunset!  Nevertheless I was pleased that I hadn't come up this way - it would have been quite a stiff climb at the beginning and my route was definitely gentler.  Harbourfront was a more convenient getaway point too - closer to the city centre.

Returning From Sentosa Island
I loved this walk - so much history, architecture, wildlife, forest and views all rolled into one.  Although it seemed a modest length I worked out that after all the additional stretches that I did it was actually 18km in length!  I probably drank my body weight in water during the day; something to factor in when trying to do any walks in the tropics even when surrounded by a big city.

Final View From Mount Faber

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