Nov 2, 2017

Go on a New Nature Trail on St John's Island & Visit the Marine Park Public Gallery for FREE!

To mark the end of Ash's PSLE exams (and our torture), the wifey and I decided to celebrate it in a special way... so we hopped on a ferry and found ourselves on a deserted beautiful beach!

Is this in Singapore? Yup! Well, technically it is not on the main Singapore island but on another island 30 minutes away by boat.

When was the last time you set foot on St. John's Island? For us, it was more than 3 years ago when we visited Lazarus Island so when I heard about the newly-launched curated trail at St John's Island, I knew I had to bring the monkies there!

St. John's Island can only be reached via Singapore Island Cruise which is the one and only company in Singapore that provides daily ferry transport services to Kusu Island as well as St John’s Island. Board the ferry from Marina South Pier, where you can purchase the tickets before departure. A two-way ticket costs $18 for adults and $12 for children aged between 1 and 12 years old. (The ferry schedule can be found at HERE.)

The journey from Marina South Pier to St John's island took about 30 minutes and once we set foot on the island, we were all ready to begin our nature trail.

Did you know that St John’s Island was known to navigators even before modern Singapore was founded in 1819? ErĂ©dia, a Portuguese-Eurasian explorer, marked ‘Pulo Siquijan’ on a map he made in 1604. This was probably a misspelling of the island’s Malay name, Pulau Sekijang, which means ‘Barking Deer Island’. European sailors later corrupted ‘Sekijang’ into ‘Sijang’ and finally, ‘St John’s’.

The island has served as a quarantine station for infectious diseases such as cholera and leprosy in the late 19th century, as well as housing Prisoners of War (POWs) during the Japanese Occupation, with gruesome tales of a human chessboard where prisoners were used in place of chess pawns. It then became a penal settlement housing political prisoners and ring leaders of secret societies, before turning into a rehabilitation centre for many of the nation’s opium addicts.

In 1976, the island was converted into a holiday resort with swimming lagoons and campsites. Today, the island serves as a base for marine research with the establishment of the St John’s Island National Marine Laboratory.

Definitely one chequered history for a small island.

Okay, enough of history. Time to put our legs to good use!

The trail is a relatively easy walk, and takes between 1 and 1.5 hours. The total distance covers 2.8km and is suitable even for young kids.

As you can see from the map, most of the checkpoints are along the coast of the island. Comprising of 15 stations, the trail will take visitors through various eco-systems on the island, including mangroves, coastal forests and intertidal zones.

At each station, there are informative panels which introduce the varied marine life that resides around and beyond the shores of the island.

If I may offer a tip, go during low tide if you can so that you are able to walk along the intertidal flat at the lagoon. I was told that sea stars, sea cucumbers, crabs and marine snails will be out in full force then.

Unfortunately for us, the tide was not in our favour.

But that was not not to say we did not have our fair share of nature.

Somehow, the grasshoppers on St. John's Island seemed to be a little friendlier? LOL.

If you are looking for a quiet spot, head to the lagoon area on the east side of the island. Here, the water is calm and there are plenty of marine life waiting to be discovered.

Like this marine snail. In fact, they were everywhere on the rocks!

We also spotted lots of fishes swimming in the clear water.

Oh, and one unexpected visitor too!

But whatever you do, do NOT miss paying the Marine Park Public Gallery a visit if you are on St John's Island.

Opened in July 2015, the Marine Park Public Gallery features the rich marine biodiversity in Singapore's waters and allows visitors to learn more about marine biodiversity and conservation in Singapore.

And yes, entry is FREE for EVERYONE!

The public gallery is a short 10-minute walk from the jetty but the terrain is slightly upslope along the way - but at least that means it will be down slope on your way back to the jetty!

And it will be well worth the slight trek uphill because since its opening, new exhibits have been added to gallery which includes immersive 3D dive experiences, a mangrove mesocosm, a viewing pool, and aquariums.

There are some hands-on interactive activities to keep kids busy but I think the viewing pool at the back of gallery will be the greatest attraction for them.

There is no need to get one's feet wet here. Kids (and adults) will be able to see some of the common local marine life in the viewing pool, like damselfish, feather stars, sea cucumbers, cleaner wrasse, hermit crabs, and anemones.

And when there is anemone, there will be this cute little fella.

Do note that the marine life in the viewing pools is not meant to be touched. Only viewing of the organisms is allowed.

Then, it was time to head back to the beach.

There are no food or drinks sold on the island so if you are going to spend more than half a day there, please remember to pack some munchies and water.

Not that the monkies were too keen on eating anyway. They were looking forward to playing on the beach more actually!

If you have more time, you may wish to walk over to Lazarus Island where the beach is more pristine and secluded. Read more about our previous experience HERE.

Since the ferry service goes on a loop trip between Marina South Pier, St. John's Island and Kusu Island, we were able to extend our offshore island excursion a little while longer with a short stop at Kusu Island.

Also known as Peak Island or “Tortoise Island” in Chinese, Kusu Island becomes packed with thousands of people during the ninth lunar month as they visit the island to pray for peace, good luck, health, happiness and prosperity. The famous Chinese temple Da Bo Gong is located here while on its hill top also stands three shrines to Malay sites, where people climb up 152 steps just to pray.

Kusu Island is also a visitors’ favourite thanks to its picturesque lagoons, clean beaches and varied animal life. There are scores of tortoises to spot as well!

And while we were there, I also spotted this.

A hawker centre on Kusu Island??? Perhaps it will only be open during the busy Kusu Pilgrimage season.

For a day's worth of a different kind of fun, head to St. John's Island and explore its rich biodiversity and history. The monkies definitely enjoyed themselves, especially the Marine Park Public Gallery!

Useful Information

St John's Island Trail

DIY Trail: Download the DIY trail e-guide HERE before you go.
Free Guided Tour: A free 90-minute guided tour (capped at 45 participants) will be held on the first Sunday of every month. NParks volunteers will introduce you to the key features along the St John’s Island Trail. This land-based trail covers a distance of 1.6km. You can purchase your own ferry ticket at Marina South Pier and take the 9am ferry to St John’s Island. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. Register HERE.

Marine Park Public Gallery

The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Public Gallery at the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre is open daily: 10am to 2.30pm on weekdays; 10am to 3.30pm on Saturdays; and 10am to 5.30pm on Sundays and Public Holidays.

How to get to St. John's Island by Ferry
Singapore Island Cruise operates ferries from Marina South Pier to St John's and Kusu islands. Visit for the detailed ferry schedule. Prices for a two way trip are fixed at $18 for adults and $12 for children aged 1 to 12 years old. No advanced or prior bookings needed.

The ferry will head to St John's island first before going to Kusu Island. Journey from Marina South Pier to St John's island takes 30 minutes and 15 minutes from St John's to Kusu.

Singapore Island Cruise 
#01-04 Marina South Pier
31 Marina Coastal Drive
Opening Hours: 8am - 4.45pm (Ticketing booth closes at 3pm daily)
Tel: 6534 9339

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