Trails of the city

The sur­pris­ingly green flip side of ur­ban Sin­ga­pore

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Asia - VIR­GINIA JEAL­OUS

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

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