Destination Life Rambles My Singapore Travel Rambles

Beyond Singapore City: Day Trip at St John’s and Lazarus Islands

Singapore is so boring. There’s nothing to do!”

I’m guilty of the same biases that locals rendered this lovely, sunny island city that we called home. ‘Boring’ is a state of mind, not entirely based on what a destination has to provide (or lacks of). Forgotten by most, Singapore has over 60 islands. While the number of islands has shrunk over the years, there is life (and adventures!) beyond the mainland, and alas, if you are feeling bored, you may consider visiting the Southern Islands and have a fun day out on a fine Sunday morning. Like I did.

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In the southernmost part of Singapore (we are a sovereign city-state and island country in Southeast Asia with 1 main island & 62 other islets) lies the Southern Islands at ~ 6 km to 10 km from the mainland. Of the 8 major islands, there are the well-known Sentosa (Asia’s leading leisure destination) and Kusu Island (popular with pilgrimage groups). In recent years, St. John’s Island, Lazarus Island and Sisters’ Islands have been gaining recognition, and these are the islands on my must-visit list. Admittedly, I am a great procrastinator but ‘it’s better to be late than never’. Hence, a friend and I visited St. John Island, Lazarus and Kusu Island last Sunday.

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Island living inspires wistful sentiments, and reminded us of bygone days and sweet memories. The islands, especially St. John’s island, was a great surprise with its abundant nature, certainly enhanced by the excellent tour provided by NParks volunteers! I was most impressed by our young guides that imparted their knowledge unreservedly.

Sea Almond and Casuarina trees stood tall amidst the company of golden brown monkeys in a beautiful coastal ‘forest’ while lazy cats lounged around the various natural habitats on the island. A snake weaved its way through a maze of barbed wire that told of the island’s heritage as a detention centre amongst other roles. There’s much to explore on St. John’s island, making it a great destination for either a day trip or weekend retreat from Singapore. If you have yet to visit the Southern Islands or wish to explore more of Singapore, read on for:

Things to do on St. John’s Island

Discover Nature

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If you are a nature lover like yours truly, you would be excited to identify the Orange Fiddler Crabs that live on mudflats around mangroves. Turn left upon exit from the jetty and continue walking towards the mangroves. Go during low tide because that’s when the crabs come out to feed, and keep a lookout for the male, which is distinguished by its enlarged claw! Like humans in a relationship, sometimes our mate of interest can be pretty obtuse, hence the proactive male Orange Fiddler Crab will wave its big claw vigorously to attract its mate. Cool eh?

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But, don’t only look down. Cast your sight above once in awhile, and you may catch a glimpse of rare native birds such as the Oriental Magpie Robin. We spotted quite a number of Pink-necked Green Pigeons – a common native pigeon that feeds on the fruits of trees such as figs and the Tembusu (that same tree on your SGD5 note). As you stroll around the island, you can admire 10 heritage trees as well.

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Nature abounds in St. John’s Island, which is part of the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park – established in 2014 – that covers 40 hectares. Protected under the Parks and Trees Act, this public marine park was established to promote, educate, research and conserve the coastal and marine environment of Singapore. On St. John’s Island, there is a public gallery within the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre that imparts information on the marine life within the region.  

Join a FREE Walking Tour

Did you know that Sir Stamford Raffles (modern founder of Singapore) first landed at St John’s Island prior to arriving at the mainland? Once used as a flag station, pineapple, coconut, guava and plantain plantations spoke of simple, idyllic times before the island was made into a quarantine facility. It has weathered cholera, smallpox, World War 2, and was even a detention centre for political prisoners (from 1948) and Opium Treatment Centre (1955 – 1975) not too long ago!

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For an educational visit before you start relaxing by the beach, you may wish to join a FREE guided 90-minute walking tour organised by NParks (more details here) that is available on the first Sunday of every month. Alternatively, one can explore the history, natural habitats and biodiversity of St. John’s island by following the island trail that features 15 information markers.  

Just wind down and relax

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The idyllic St John’s Island makes for a quick getaway from city life, allowing one to relax fully and enjoy simple pleasures such as reading on a hammock (please bring your own), taking nature photography, fishing, or even a picnic with family and friends. Shelters, tables and benches are available though no food is sold on the island so you have to bring your own. There’s a lagoon for swimming, and bathing / toilet facilities are nearby. Nothing rejuvenates better than sunshine and blue waters that glitter like jewels. Should you prefer to stay beyond a day trip, there are chalet units available for rental (although amenities are very basic and there’s a minimum group size).

While you are on the island, head on to Lazarus Island, which is known for its much-raved beach. Lazarus Island is accessible only on foot via St John’s Island (approximately 15 minutes) or if you happened to be on a private yacht, just swim on over!

Things to do on Lazarus Island

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“No shoes, no shirt, and no problems … …♪ ♫  ~” the tunes of Kenny Chesney came to mind.

Good to know:

  • There’s no dustbin (don’t leave your rubbish behind)!
  • There’s no toilets / bathroom (nearest facility is at St. John’s Island)!
  • There’s nothing much to do with the sparse environment, and plenty to do with oneself and companions.

The best thing about being on a beach is the fact that you can do nothing, and enjoy the passing of time. Hike, swim, sunbathe as you like, or do nothing at all. Practise yoga by the beach, have a picnic, fly a kite and run down the stretch of bare sandy coast… there’s much that you can do or not do – depending on one’s preferences.

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Sinking my feet into the soft white sands of Lazarus Island, I heard my companion lamenting, “if only I can live like this always”. Island living can differ greatly, depending on which island you find yourself on. Just a 30-minute ferry ride away, our metropolitan island city, Singapore, glitters – echoing her prowess even from a distance. We were on Lazarus Island, and what a great difference it is.  

“Islands are metaphors of the heart, no matter what poet says otherwise.” – Jeanette Winterson

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If islands are metaphors of the heart, I imagine an idyllic, unspoilt beach, natural as its own until development begins, transforming a rustic natural hideaway to a metropolitan island city, a settlement of sorts, a resort destination, an impregnable prison; sometimes welcoming (or so until it gets overcrowded), others concealed and elusive, but constantly evolving, and more often than not, totally removed from its natural form.

We are the makers of our own doing. Life can be simple but with ideals of improving life and wanting more, we sometimes get more than we asked for. With that in mind, it is always good to take a break and relax once in a while, go back to basics and do something for the simple pleasure of doing it. 

“Singapore is so not boring. There’s nothing plenty to do!”

If you are planning a visit to any of the Southern Islands, here’s the ferry schedule: http://www.islandcruise.com.sg/ferry-schedule/

Note the limited ferries during weekday. A return trip ticket by Singapore Island Cruise costs S$18 per adult and S$12 per child on a loop from Singapore – St John’s Island – Kusu Island – Singapore. The nearest MRT station is Marina South Pier.

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The above information is based on the author’s own experience and should only be used as a reference.  

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