More companies are offering nature appreciation tours in Singapore as people are amazed by the wildlife found in the city state. By Lea Wee
Kayak through the tranquil mangroves of Ubin, embark on a night walk to spot owls at Bukit Brown Cemetery or dive in the waters around Pulau Hantu to explore its rich marine life.
These are just some of the experiences offered by specialist nature tours in Singapore.
There are now 18 licensed tourist guides specialising in nature and at least three organisations that offer eco-tours here.
This is a far cry from 26 years ago, when nature guides and tours were non-existent, says freelance licensed tourist guide Subaraj Rajathurai, 53.
Since 1990, he has been taking Singaporeans and foreigners on tours to various nature areas in Singapore, including Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
He believes nature tours are getting more popular among Singaporeans because nature has become a rare commodity in the urbanised city state.
“Those who grew up in kampungs especially miss nature.”
Tourists, too, are increasingly open to the idea of eco-explorations here.
Mr Rajathurai says: “People say there is little nature in Singapore and we cannot compete with the bigger national parks in neighbouring countries. But not everybody wants to go to such parks, which take many days to explore. Some want an experience that combines many things in one day, for instance, a city tour with food stops and a little nature thrown in.”
And it is possible to achieve this in Singapore, he says, where one can go from a five-star hotel in the city to a rainforest or mangrove swamp in less than 30 minutes.
Mr Leong Kwok Khuen, 49, from Edu Outdoor Activities, which leads nature walks, agrees. “Many of our participants are often amazed that there’s still so much nature to be seen in urban Singapore.”
The Sunday Times talks to three organisations that offer eco-tours here.
KAYAK AND CYCLE AROUND UBIN
Kayak around the mangroves at Ubin with Asian Detours. Photo: Adventures by Asian Detours
Pulau Ubin’s rich heritage and rustic charm make it a natural home ground for outdoor adventure company Asian Detours.
The company has been leading mangrove kayaking and cycling trips there since 2010.
The expeditions combine a good workout and nature appreciation, with professional guides pointing out flora and fauna and historical landmarks, says Ms Nicole Chua, 36, the company’s director of sales and marketing.
Its three-hour cycling trip takes participants to what is called the German Girl’s shrine, which used to hold the remains of a young woman who lived on the island before World War I; Butterfly Hill, a knoll created out of wasteland to conserve butterflies; and the Chek Jawa wetlands.
Those who want more out of their trip can hike up to the highest point at Puaka Hill to get a bird’s eye view of the Ubin Quarry.
Another trip takes kayakers on a 21/2-hour journey through mangroves in the western part of Ubin, where they might spot kingfishers, hornbills, otters and monitor lizards.
The more challenging four-hour “bisect kayaking” session follows a north-to-south route “bisecting” the island, with a short stretch where participants have to lift their kayaks overland.
Each trip is limited to about 10 to 30 people, depending on the activity, to minimise the disturbance to the delicate natural landscape, says Ms Chua.
As mangrove kayaking must be done during high tide, the company introduced a 31/2-hour trip round the nearby Ketam island. This can be done at any time and takes up to 40 people.
Mr Marcus Tun, 44, an operational project manager in a financial institution, went mangrove kayaking with his wife and two daughters, aged seven and 11, in June.
He says: “It was interesting to understand the make-up of the mangroves, their uses, how they propagate and their ability to prevent coastal erosion.
“One of the biggest takeaways was that the kids saw a part of Singapore they had never seen before, even though it is not far from where we live.”
Price: Mangrove Kayaking Adventure, $79.50 (adult) and $59 (child); Ubin Bisect Kayaking Adventure, $95 (adult and child); Round Ketam Kayaking Adventure, $85 (adult) and $65 (child); Ubin Bike Trail Adventure, $79.50 (adult) and $64 (child)
Next: Diving to see marine life