Monday, 8 May 2017

St. John's Island, Singapore

Following advice we received from two friends, we decided to take a day trip to St John's Island off the south coast of Singapore. Taking the ferry from Marina South Pier, it was no time at all before we found ourselves on the shores of this tiny blot of land.

Immediately I noticed it was a lot more cultivated than I had anticipated it to be, with paved paths everywhere leading to gazebos and picnic tables. Honestly I had hoped for a more lowkey trip - it felt like the island had been built up a little for family outings rather than just being left to grow more wild.

From the beach that we found to the right of the pier, you could easily see Sentosa island and mainland Singapore. It's barely more than a frisbee throw away! Luckily, even though it was the weekend, there weren't too many other visitors to St John's. Two possible factors were that the ferries don't run terribly frequently, and that it was an overcast day with the threat of rain.

Knowing how small St John's was, we decided to explore every last inch of it that we possibly could. We started by heading from the beach to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (a Tropical Marine Science Institute), and on the way we found the first of many stray cats that would make themselves known to us.

We didn't hang around the institute long, because you can't go in and we didn't want to disturb the people who worked there, so after a quick snack we headed back towards the waterfront. On the way we found a second cat friend who presented us with his belly for scratching. What he truly desired was food, but he had to gain our sympathy before revealing himself as a beggar. We called him John, after the titular island.

This impressive tree was signposted as a "strangling fig" - how dramatic! I posed on its roots with our sturdy Wilby umbrella, which (SPOILER ALERT) we would be needing later in the day.

Though Google Maps knew nothing about it, there is accommodation on the island in the form of a campground and a few bungalows.

The campground was very well-defended, being behind a long barbed wire fence and then another layer of chainlink fence (with barbed wire along the top). Though the gate in the chainlink fence had been left ajar, there was still no way a trespasser could enter the campground unless they had bolt cutters or enjoyed boosting each other over prickly barriers. Hmmm...seems like they're hiding something to me. Perhaps it's to keep the cats out.

A nearby basketball court was also over-guarded, with tall fences topped with coils of barbed wire. This door was left open as well, and without a second layer of fencing (how negligent) any old hooligan could get in!

The island does have a very small number of residents, but these buildings were not in use by them and had been left abandoned decades before. The history goes back to the late 1800's, when a quarantine station was set up for immigrants with cholera. Over time, those suffering from beriberi and leprosy were also fobbed off onto St John's. Then in the mid-20th century, it was transformed into a rehabilitation centre for opium addicts as well as a penal facility. 

From St John's you can walk across a short bridge to the neighbouring Lazarus Island, where an even lovelier beach can be found. So this was where all the daytrippers were! They had been chilling on Lazarus beach all day long.

We rested at the beach for a time, lazing in the clement temperature and snacking on our provisions. Knowing there were no shops available, we packed ourselves a hoard of goodies including chips, lollies, pineapple, edamame, carrot sticks, apple slices, biscuits, raisins and Nākd bars (as well as an enormous bottle of water).

As well as visitors arriving via ferry, there were also several catamarans which had dropped anchor off the beach and were living that 360 holiday lifestyle. When the rain began, we propped up our umbrella and stayed for a while longer, not minding that we were getting a bit wet. We were at the beach in our swimsuits after all! It was around that time that we had to make a decision: leave right then to get back to the ferry and depart back to the mainland, or wait two hours for the next ferry. As the rain showed no sign of abating, we chose to pack up and catch the ferry.

Almost everyone else on the island had the same idea! As we didn't realise that we could sit outside on our ride that morning, we made use of the top deck on the way back (our Wilby umbrella helped us out there) and took in the sights as the boat stopped at Kusu Island and then onwards to Marina South Pier. We had considered alighting at Kusu, as there is a temple and turtle sanctuary, but by that time we felt we had explored enough that day, and from the dock it looked much the same as St John's. Overall, it was a nice relaxing day, and a more laid back option than Sentosa for a beach getaway.