Trails of the city
The surprisingly green flip side of urban Singapore
THE Russian cyclist is pedalling hell-for-leather off the mountainbike trail, where he has been chased by monkeys. In Singapore this seems unlikely, but then few visitors are tempted away from the city-state’s urban attractions to explore the bush on its boundaries.
Bush is a fairly loose term, of course. Here, it denotes a tamer sense of the wild than in Australia, but the sense of space and solitude offers a similar restorative.
The parks and reserves of the Southern Ridges form a swath of green overlooking the south coast where almost 10km of walking tracks link Mount Faber, Telok Blangah Hill and Kent Ridge parks. A combination of bush trails and sealed paths, with occasional access points from the road, intersect with sculpted footbridges. Bird’s eye-view walkways navigate highways and hillsides, while the main trail makes its way through quiet tropical forest, past ocean views and across landscaped sections of park.
Emerging from the labyrinthine chaos of the HarbourFront Centre transport hub to locate the trail head is the first orientation exercise of the day. The Marang Trail up to Mount Faber starts to the right of the bus station and it is like entering another world. Tall trees immediately muffle the traffic noise and the cicadas are deafening. Vines droop and sway in the heavy, scented air. Birds sing. Small creatures rustle in the undergrowth and squirrels with chestnut bellies play hide-and-seek around trunks and branches.
The real world encroaches again, briefly, at the top of the mountain. Cable-cars disgorge less energetic visitors into waiting tour buses, and into the cafes and restaurants at the summit. Walkers bypass all this within a few minutes, on the way to the vertiginous Henderson Waves footbridge between Mount Faber and Telok Blangah. This long, undulating wooden footbridge passes 36m above the highway, is edged with curvaceous shelters and shaded seats, and has views over the distant harbour.
The Telok Blangah paths are well used. On this weekend morning, pampered and coiffured dogs are being walked by similarly wellpresented owners. Groups of walkers and runners are exercising while elderly folk practise tai chi in the shade of pavilions.
The opulent 1852 Alkaff Mansion, just beside the walking track here, is the place to rest and refresh. It is one of the few visible reminders of Singapore’s early Arab settlers, built by a Yemeni merchant trading family as his hilltop retreat. Now an Italian restaurant by night, during the day its garden cafe is ideal for a breather.
Back on the main Southern Ridges trail, the track changes dramatically into an extraordinary 1.3km steel canopy walk, a solid pathway at tree-top level, sweeping along hillsides and over gullies, taking in views of the harbour and distant skyscrapers.
Halfway along is quiet Preston Road, with its classic Singapore black-and-whites — two-tone bungalows from the colonial era. Now heritage-listed and owned by the government, they are rented as private residences.
Alexandra Arch — another sweeping footbridge, with its own nightly hi-tech light show — takes the Southern Ridges trail through HortPark. Here, green- fingered locals get ideas for growing anything anywhere, from a narrow balcony to a rooftop garden to a public space. This weekend, cheerful middle-aged women are getting their hands dirty in one of the volunteer community vegetable gardens.
Above HortPark is Reflections at Bukit Chandu, a small museum dedicated to the Malay Regiment’s role in the battle of nearby Pasir Panjang, just before the fall of Singapore during World War II. It is low key and very beautiful.
In Kent Ridge Park, the waterfront views widen. Basking quietly beside a pond, a startled turtle plops into the water. There’s a kerfuffle in the trees as two red-billed malkohas engage in energetic, if ungainly, courtship rituals.
Undeveloped nature trails meander through this part of the forest, as does the mountain-bike trail. This is where the Russian makes his sudden appearance. Calming down, he says he can’t believe this is Singapore. He rides off, temporarily monkey-free, back into the trees.
top The Henderson Waves wooden footbridge above Walkways in Telok Blangah Hill Park